Crime fears prompt Brazilian security blitz before World Cup

Saturation security a sticking plaster on systemic weakness, critics argue

Security workers carry a man simulating an injury, during a security drill in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Reuters/Pilar Olivares

Security workers carry a man simulating an injury, during a security drill in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Reuters/Pilar Olivares

Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 01:00

As is now traditional before any modern sporting mega-event, Brazil’s authorities have been busy in the build-up to World Cup emphasising that the party will take place under the watchful eye of a massive security operation.

To protect fans and avoid any trouble with anti-World Cup protesters, 157,000 police and soldiers will be deployed across the country, along with fighter jets, naval frigates and drones. In all, the federal government says spending on securing the event has topped €620 million.

Brazil seems particularly determined to emphasise such preparations, as it knows it has a certain image problem. If terrorism was the major reason for the huge security operations at the most recent Olympics in Sochi and London, in Brazil the motive is the country’s high levels of urban crime.

In recent decades gun-toting gangs of teenage drug dealers have joined other staple images of the country, such as carnival and tropical beaches, in foreigners’ minds.

Violent anarchists

Those worries have now meshed with the recent threat posed by fringe groupings of violent anarchists which have carried out isolated acts of vandalism at anti-Cup protests in recent months. Masked, unnamed protesters have spoken to local media of bringing “chaos” to the event.

But despite their stated hopes of being assisted in their ambitious goal by the country’s most powerful criminal organisation, São Paulo’s Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital, or PCC), the chances of this happening are slim.

Brazil has a good record of having large public events pass off relatively peacefully, largely thanks to saturation policing. Though none reached the same scale of a World Cup, in recent decades the country has organised peaceful global summits on the environment, papal visits and sporting events.

Even the protests that took place during last year’s Confederations Cup were largely peaceful, with much of the violence that did take place provoked by aggressive policing.

But the justice minister’s claim that the security operation for the World Cup will leave a security “legacy” is doubtful, say security analysts, who cite deep structural problems, such as antiquated policing structures and a broken courts system, as well as a lack of funds, as the causes of Brazil’s violence epidemic.

“The political class always seeks short-term results rather than undertaking difficult reforms that will only bring sustained improvements in the long term,” says Adilson Paes de Souza, a former police officer turned author on public security issues.

“Without them we are left with a criminal justice system that does not work. It is totally inefficient and this creates a lack of credibility and sense of impunity among criminals and rogue elements in the police.”

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