On May 15, 2014, anti-World Cup protests resurfaced across Brazil for International World Cup Resistance Day. In Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife, Fortaleza, and other cities that will host matches during the FIFA World Cup, protestors took to the streets in anger against the government for spending billions to build stadiums – money they say should have been spent on infrastructure, education, health care, social programs, and housing for the poor. Not just the poor have joined this latest round of protests. The participants include firefighters, railroad employees, bus drivers, teachers, airport workers and pilots, security guards, police personnel, civil engineers, and teachers. Further afield, the staffs of Brazil’s consulates and embassies have walked off the job as well in protest. A ripple effect spread to other sectors. Most banks have not opened because the security guards are not there to guard them; public transportation came to a standstill in Rio; and no teachers, meant closed schools. According to the president of one of Brazil’s largest unions, four hundred unions representing four million workers have taken the opportunity to renegotiate their wage agreements because employers have not paid sufficiently to keep workers’ wages on par with inflation. “And the negotiations are not going very well.” The union actions have more to do with leveraging the pressure on the government created by the fast approaching World Cup, with all of the international attention that brings, and the national elections later in the fall.
The “pacification” efforts by police, security forces, and the military in the favelas, to reduce crime by removing the gangs and drug organizations, have begun to come apart. The gangs are returning and re-establishing themselves; and crime is increasing. On May 8, the Federal Police union issued a threat that its membership not work during the month-long World Cup. The union president stated, in part, “If we don’t see a government response to change things, we will stop working during the World Cup.”
Another layer of trouble stems from a promise President Dilma Rousseff made to the population in July, 2013. In order to quell the widespread riots occurring then, she pledged change: political reform, better healthcare, improved education, and USD 25 billion spent on urban transportation. Her pledge, and public support for reform, got the protestors’ attention, and the bulk of the violence and protests subsided. However, elements within the protesting organizations issued a warning: if President Rousseff and the government fail to do all that they pledged to do, the protests and the violence would resume during the World Cup.
It is clear that the promised reforms and expenditures have not materialized to the extent expected. Were it otherwise, the teachers, police, firefighters, and even consular and embassy staff likely would not have resumed the protests as vigorously and single-mindedly as they have done. As the World Cup tournament gets underway next month, Pinkerton finds it highly likely that protests will increase substantially. That condition will attract anarchist groups from the “hacktivist” collective Anonymous, to the very violent Black Bloc groups – both of which organized protests and violent action in Rio de Janeiro this week. Given the strikes by state and municipal police that have occurred, it is highly likely that those organizations will not have the capability to hold the line and cope with the situation; and they likely will opt to walk out. While the federal police have threatened to strike during the tournament, it is not yet clear whether that will occur. In several of the recent walkouts by municipal police, the government sent in the federal force to take control of the situation. Pinkerton finds it likely that some federal police will stop work; what remains unclear is how much of that huge police force will follow through. The government does have other options to augment or replace striking police units. The country’s combined armed forces number approximately 371, 000 active duty personnel, about 170, 000 of them will deploy along Brazil’s extensive border before and during the World Cup. The military may have the ability to field another 50, 000-75, 000 personnel to step in if the federal police follow through with the threat, at the organizational level.
A significant threat to the half million foreign visitors anticipated (a number likely to drop greatly as the violence accelerates, ) will come from violent protests; and they should be expected. Travelers, sponsors, and the media should exercise extreme caution if any protest erupts into violence. Do not stay in the area; and do not spectate from a distance. Pinkerton finds it virtually certain that violence will be met with violence, on the part of security personnel, as they will seek to quell the riot as swiftly and effectively as possible. Do not spectate such incidents, even from a distance. Do not become drawn into a moving mob for, aside from the likelihood of injury, security forces will not distinguish between Brazilian protestors and visiting foreign nationals. With that said, crime will present the greatest, all pervasive, direct threat to World Cup attendees. Most reported crime occurs in the poorer sections of major cities, especially in the favelas. However, armed street robberies do occur in affluent neighborhoods, according the U.S. State Department, particularly those targeting electronic devices including cell phones and computers. In addition, organized gangs target victims withdrawing money from ATMs. Kidnapping gangs also operate in the country, particularly in large cities. Both for-ransom kidnappings and express kidnappings occur, however they are less common than in other Latin American countries. Armed robberies are common in Brazil, as there are over 15 million weapons in the country, with nearly half of them illegal. A rising trend is robbery of passengers in cars stopped at stoplights or other bottlenecks where fleeing is not an option. Petty crime is also a problem, including pickpocketing and nonviolent robberies of hotel rooms and residencies. The World Cup will very likely bring out thieves of all colors and stripes, as the event will present a very target-rich environment for them. Brazilian security forces are focusing a majority of their efforts on large cities that host the World Cup venues, and on the major gangs found there. Federal security resources are limited, and so they have focused on Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and the First Capital Command (PCC) gang found in the former, and Red Command (CV) found in the latter. This security posture could prove detrimental to states and cities not hosting the World Cup, because criminal organizations will flourish in the absence of a significant security presence. This also may allow more space for smaller criminal organizations in the major cities to remain relatively under the radar while security operations concentrate on the major gangs.
Crimes of opportunity such as robbery occur most frequently at night, particularly around street ATMs and on sparsely populated streets and highways outside the tourist and business sectors of major cities. Practicing good security measures can reduce risks of becoming a victim.
Finally, Pinkerton can assist with monitoring the threat environment in Brazil. For a one-time fee of USD $500, Pinkerton offers the FIFA Protective Intelligence Package:
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