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In Rio, shadow 'opening ceremony' takes off – in protest of Olympic Games

As tens of thousands have taken to the streets in protest of the government and Olympic spending, activists use music to voice their discontent. 

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    A demonstrator with her face covered marches during a protest on the route of the Olympic torch against the money spent on the Rio's 2016 Summer Olympics, in Niteroi, Brazil, on Aug. 2, 2016.
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A huge, abandoned concert hall in Rio de Janeiro was filled Thursday night with performances by Brazilian musical stars from iconic pop star Chico Buarque to contemporary Rio rapper BNegão. 

The Olympic Games inspired the event, but the musicians, speakers, and crowd were not there to celebrate international athleticism, or even to trumpet their own nation's stars. 

Rather, it was “the anti-Olympics,” the rapper BNegão, whose real name is Bernardo Santos, told The Washington Post. Or, more specifically, this was an event known as the "Ceremony-Party-Act of Olympic Re-existence," a politically satirical name for a protest concert that drew crowds to the abandoned Canecão: the "Big Saucer" concert hall that has been closed since 2010.

The event was just one of the many ways that protestors are voicing their frustrations in Brazil, as the 2016 Olympic Games, whose Opening Ceremony kicks off Friday night, have become a flashpoint of contention amid government corruption scandal and economic instability. More than 63 percent of Brazilians believe that the Olympics, as a financial and social burden, will bring “more harm then good” to the country. And they have already shown discontent in several ways.

One of those was the concert Thursday evening, which opened with Chico Buarque, perhaps Brazil’s most famous musician, reviving a song he wrote while the country was under the thumb of a military dictatorship (translated to English):

How are you going to explain yourself
The sky is suddenly clearing,
Without punishment
How are you going to stop
Our choir when singing
In front of you

The concert, which included political speeches in addition to music, was free and open to the public. This creates another contrast with the Olympic Games, a ticketed event, although the Games have made some effort to be affordable: some tickets cost around $30, or a tenth of the monthly minimum wage in Brazil.

“An event like this creates an island in society. It is an elite and a group of foreigners,” said Laio Rocha, a 20-something activist who is part of a group occupying the abandoned concert hall in protest.

Mr. Rocha and other activists, however, are not purely Olympic-minded. A major theme of the concert was resistance to the interim president, Michel Temer. Some activists say they will remain occupying the concert hall until he is out of office, since they believe that the impeachment trial for former president Dilma Rousseff is a fraud, The Washington Post reports.

But the Olympics weigh heavily on the mood in Brazil, which is predicted to sink deeper into a financial crisis that has brought accompanying health care cuts, higher unemployment, and heightened inequality. Even city police were seen protesting a budget crisis at the airport, holding an English sign for new arrivals that read "Welcome to Hell."  

Protests around the country have taken more traditional forms as well: Public spaces in Rio and São Paolo have been swarming with tens of thousands of protesters in the weeks leading up the Olympics, as supporters and opponents of Ms. Rousseff, who is undergoing an impeachment process, take to the streets.

And as poor neighborhoods have been demolished for Olympic grounds, and traffic congeals into gridlock with the opening of an “Olympic lane,” the Games shade the discontent even darker, some feel.

“It’s a lot of spending for uncompleted works that will serve for nothing after the games,” protestor William Dalvo tells McClatchy. “What people want is security, education, health care.”

Other demonstrations of discontent have a uniquely Olympic ilk: The torch has born the brunt of frustration as it toured 325 cities in Brazil – sometimes meeting harassment along the way (and extinguishment in Angra dos Reis last week). Some Rio residents plan to await the torch with buckets of water as it makes its way to the opening ceremony at the Maracana Football Stadium, Al-Jazeera reports.

For those at the political concert, or who have been part of the months of rallies, the season of unrest has been lit by a torch of discontent – with criticisms of the government, the Olympics, and the economy all combining to fuel protests.

“This government, installed in a coup, is capitalizing on the Olympics because it has no legitimacy,” said Bruno Falci, who attended the concert, to The Washington Post. “This is a lie.”

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