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Brazilians Celebrate A (Mostly) Successful Start To Olympics


It's day two of Olympic competition in Rio de Janeiro. After a successful opening ceremony, organizational challenges continue with long lines to get into venues and chaotic transportation. Still, inside the arenas, athletes and fans are enjoying the games, with Team USA and Team Brazil doing well in early competitions. To get an update, we go now to our Rio de Janeiro correspondent, Lulu Garcia-Navarro, who's on the streets of the city.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I am at the so-called Olympic Boulevard. You might be able to hear a lot of noise around me. It's a place in downtown Rio on the bay, away from the venues. It's really a place that was meant for ordinary Brazilians and tourists to come, to intermingle. It's free. There's a big screen in front of me showing, of course, the events Brazilians are participating in right now - that's men's volleyball. The Olympic Cauldron is here also, in front of me. It's a sculpture which carries the Olympic flame. People are taking pictures in front of it. It's a really, really lovely atmosphere. It's packed. It's filled with families all wanting a little piece of the Olympic spirit.

SUAREZ: There was loud and vehement protests, a lot of concern and complaint leading up to the games. But in these early days, it sounds like Brazilians' mood has shifted. Why is that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, I've got to tell you, Ray, it flipped. You know, I've spoken to a lot of Brazilians, and they almost uniformly said before the opening ceremony, they were depressed. They thought it was going to be a, quote unquote, "fiasco." That was a word that many of them used. After it, it completely changed their view of these games. You know, the opening ceremony really changed the narrative. People here are telling me that they're now proud of what Brazil is showing to the world. Yes, there are still many problems, they say, but as one family told me, we needed this. We needed a few weeks of celebration.

SUAREZ: You know, when you hear about things like transportation problems and long lines to get into venues, that's something that happens at Olympics everywhere in the world, so that's not just a Brazilian problem. But still, it hasn't been entirely trouble-free. A stray bullet tore through the media tent at one of the Olympic complexes?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yes. A stray bullet actually tore through the Deodoro complex, which is where, for example, the equestrian events are held. It hit the press center. And as you can imagine, it caused a great deal of consternation. Police are still investigating where it might've come from, but they don't know. And those are the kinds of things that, of course, make people extremely worried. This is a country with a lot of gun violence. It is a country with a lot of crime. And it is something that people were looking very closely at to see how it would impact the games.

SUAREZ: Of course, the life of this giant and complicated country goes on even as the games continue. Brazil's in the middle of an impeachment drama, President Dilma Rousseff is suspended, awaiting trial, and both pro and anti-government demonstrators have been protesting in the streets. Have these political controversies crept into the Games at all?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They have, actually, and in a really interesting way that's caused its own controversy. At that opening ceremony the interim president, Michel Temer, was loudly booed when he actually made the formal announcement to open the Games. This is something that's expected of any leader of a country that's hosting the Olympics. And what actually happened was the organizers sort of swelled the music in order to mask that booing. And that, people said, didn't seem fair. If people were unhappy, it should've been shown to the world. That was part of the Olympic drama, if you will.

We've also seen several protesters being removed from Olympic venues because they're wearing shirts with messages that are against the government. And again, a lot of social activists are calling foul, saying this is repression of free speech. And you have to understand that this is a country that has a long history of repression, it's got a long history of dictatorship, and they take these things very, very seriously.

SUAREZ: Lulu, thanks a lot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.

SUAREZ: That was NPR correspondent Lulu Garcia-Navarro. She spoke with us from Rio de Janeiro, where she's reporting on the second day of the 2016 Olympic Games. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Ray Suarez