Authorities have spent billions to ready the city, and each time tourists flocked in, local businesses braced for a bumper season. Nowhere is this clearer than in Centro, the downtown area of Rio, tucked in the shadow of the newly-constructed Olympic Boulevard. Once home to the historic red light district, Centro has since become the beating heart of big business, with towering office blocks bearing the names of major corporations such as Petrobras, BG, Total, Chevron, Electrobras, BNDES and Vale.
And yet, a closer look at the shop fronts suggests the presence of another kind of commerce. Amanda De Lisio, Bournemouth University, Author provided The Rose Without Thorn is nestled in a quiet lane, not far from the Saara — a street market that is usually crammed with pedestrians.
As an illegal brothel operating within the financial district, it survived, even thrived, alongside the decade-long Olympic facelift. But the music, which ricochets down the narrow staircase entrance and into the street, hints at something more. Inside, working-class men perch on stools, often alone with chopp Brazilian draft beer in hand, while women move throughout the house in barely-there lingerie and high-heeled shoes.
Now 24, her work is the sole source of income for her and her two children. As Pedro the manager says: Amanda De Lisio, Bournemouth University In Brazil, sex work has forever existed as a semi-legal, entrepreneurial pursuit for those in search of financial stability and social security.
As such, places such as Rose Without Thorn operate at the discretion of law enforcement and a local elite. As Rafael, a civil servant, explained: Post-Olympic crisis At the time, Brazil was named as the first Latin American host of an internationally-recognised sporting mega-event, and it was on the brink of economic boom.
The Lula oil field formerly, Tupi old field was found in , off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, and with it came the promise of economic prosperity.
But the nation continued to rely upon the export of raw material commodities — a temporary solution, much like the sporting mega-event — instead of establishing a more sustainable, internal economy. The ongoing Petrobras corruption scandal deflated political-economic optimism for the future, and by , the state government of Rio de Janeiro was paralysed with possibly its worst recession in history.
Amid halted salaries, political tumult and severe economic debt, the promise of the boom has since been long lost. Military police on patrol outside an Olympic venue in Copacabana, near a major prostitution zone. Amanda De Lisio, Bournemouth University But people still need to earn to survive, and for some, sex work serves as a viable option for survival. And so, the economies and social networks created around commercial sex have so far survived the fall.
As Simone, 54, widower, mother of five, and madam of the house expressed: We live together everyday. I live more with them than my own children. Rose Without Thorn is famous. It is not very fancy but it is certainly well known. It is the heart of downtown! But after the [Olympic] Games, even we started to feel the crisis. No one has the money to come like before. Before the bust , the Olympic Games was a highly anticipated business opportunity in Brazil — a time for entrepreneurial creativity and innovation.
Yet many of the sex workers who anxiously awaited the boon from foreign clientele found that it did not materialise. This is a myth. Some of the biggest [sex-related] businesses in Ipanema went bankrupt during the games. And now it is worse.
The economy is a mess, so too is the government. And it all started around the games. The Olympics did not improve the situation. It only furthered the fall. Amanda De Lisio, Bournemouth University Instead, what surfaced was a heightened security presence in the street, provided in part by Centro Presente — a quasi-public police force, partially funded by the local commercial and business association.
Look, it was good. The city was beautiful. The party was fun. I really liked that Centro Presente provided more security in the street. But business here was not great. I prepared for more. A lot of money was spent in a city where too many people starve. I work today to give my children a better future, not to leave my daughter in public school. Healthcare is the same.
I pay for education and health insurance otherwise my daughter would be without them. To spend our money on tourist fun is hypocrisy.
During the mid-afternoon lull, Thayna ate her lunch on a twin bed. As she kicked through white rice in the foil container in search of another cut of red meat, she was bored with Olympic talk, and excited about the post-carnival time. It was the first week of the unofficial Brazilian new year, and she wanted to see her brothel with a queue. Names and places have been changed to protect anonymity.