Embratur's Jose Antonio Parente

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With the Summer Olympics scheduled to start Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro, questions remain over the preparedness of the city, which faces challenges ranging from the Zika virus to Brazil's flagging economy to the country's political instability. Jose Antonio Parente, interim president of Embratur (The Brazilian Tourism Board), sat down with senior editor Danny King in Los Angeles and addressed some of those concerns through a translator.

Q:  Many global health experts have called for the Games to be either delayed or moved to another city because of concerns over the potential spread of the Zika virus. Should it go on as planned?

Jose Antonio Parente
Jose Antonio Parente Photo Credit: Danny King

A: First of all, the World Health Organization and the government of Brazil are guaranteeing everyone that it's safe to travel to Brazil. The month of August is winter in Brazil, and there's a very low incidence of mosquitoes and Zika at this time. The government mobilized over 200,000 people in the armed forces to combat the Zika virus [earlier this year, soldiers were sent house to house to give out leaflets and advice about how to best guard against Zika], and they've been very successful. The number of cases of Zika decreased tremendously from March to June, and they're hoping by August and September to completely eradicate the virus so that there are zero incidents.

Q:  With some golfers deciding to back out of the Olympics, are you concerned that more athletes will choose to stay away?

A: We hope not, because they'll lose a big chance of winning at the Olympics. We also want to emphasize that in the [2014] World Cup, we had a potential problem -- instead of Zika, it was dengue fever -- but it was also winter. And it was a fantastic World Cup. Only three cases of dengue happened during the same time of year, and we had more than 1 million visitors.

Q:  How has demand been for tickets?

A: It's less than expected, but it's growing. They're selling more tickets to the locals because they've opened several kiosks in Rio and Sao Paulo, so there's a boost. And we have a tradition which is common in Brazil in that people wait for the last minute to acquire tickets.

Q:  Is Rio ready for the Olympics?

A: We are completely prepared. We've met all deadlines we were given by the International Olympic Committee. The Olympic Games will be the cherry on the top off all of the events and games that have already happened in Brazil, starting with the Pan American Games in 2007, then the Rio+20 [United Nations] Conference [in 2012], World Youth Day and Pope Francis' visit [in 2013], the Confederations Cup [2013], the World Cup and now the Olympics.

Q:  Are there concerns that the country's political issues could hamper the Olympic presentation?

A: All political protests are done with respect to the constitution of Brazil. And we had much bigger political turmoil happening [during] the World Cup and with the Confederations Cup and everything went perfectly. And there was more turmoil than there was now.

Q:  What should the international audience know about Rio that will make it different from any other Olympic host city?

A: The people of Rio de Janeiro are very friendly. They will be completely interacting with the foreigners coming into Rio. It'll be much more friendly and integrating in a global manner than it was in Los Angeles, Greece, London and Beijing.

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