Brazil World Cup: concerns over street crime, not terrorists

Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said on Tuesday that the country would focus efforts on tackling common crime, as opposed to larger-scale terror attacks during this year’s FIFA World Cup, which Brazil is hosting along with the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Rebelo admitted that Brazil knew less serious crime would be a possible issue for the country when it took on the responsibility of hosting the sporting mega-events:

“We [the Brazilian government] knew that we would have to live with being exposed to this risk. Not to the risk of terror attacks of a political of religious nature, which occur throughout the world,” he said, citing the Munich Massacre in which eleven Israeli players were murdered at the 1972 edition of the tournament in Germany.

The sports minister said Brazil was instead at risk of “social violence, common crime, which can be found in Brazil’s largest cities”.

Rebelo added that all football squads would receive support in terms of security, and that “additional preventative measures” would be taken to protect delegations, Brazil’s Agência Brasil news agency reported.

The comments were made as officials met in São Paulo to thrash out operational plans for the city’s hosting of the World Cup.

Officials have been quick to play down concerns of security, particularly in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where many crimes are on the increase.

In São Paulo, the notorious PCC (First Command of the Capital) criminal gang last year said it would unleash a wave of attacks, directed against police officers, during the World Cup if its members were moved to harsher maximum security prisons – known for their severe overcrowding.

The PCC, which operates from inside Brazil’s prison system, was responsible for a wave of attacks and counterattacks on police in recent years.

At the time, Rebelo said he did not believe that the PCC would disrupt the games or target tourists.

In Rio de Janeiro, a programme of so-called “pacification” has had some success in driving violent drug- and arms-trafficking gangs from slum areas, known as favelas.

Police forces implementing the policy – which has now installed some 36 police stations, known as UPPs, in favela communities – started with favelas close to areas frequented by tourists or located near venues of upcoming sporting events.

The policy was broadly praised, although criminals ended up being flushed from slum to slum, and some pacified areas have reportedly silently fallen back into the control of gangs.

And even where pacification has been largely successful, crime is still common, particularly given the fact that the areas often border more upmarket neighbourhoods, especially in the city’s Zona Sul region.

Crime experts in Brazil say that tourists are very rarely the victims of the worst types of crime, such as murders, and are far more likely to fall foul of pickpockets and muggers.

They underline that more often it is the poorer members of the community that bear the brunt of serious violence. Police have been widely criticised for the number of deaths of innocent residents during operations in favelas.

Police and security officials acknowledge the shortcomings of the pacification policy and certain police operations, but argue they are training police as fast as possible with the resources available.

Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo today admitted that there would inevitably be issues involving some tourists, and that it was a risk Brazil always knew it had to take.

However, in the run-up to last year’s World Cup prélude, the Confederations Cup, concern was expressed not with regard to the level of petty crime in host cities, but because of the wave of mass anti-government protests, which spread across the country taking Brazil’s authorities by surprise.

It culminated in high riot police presence in many of the host cities and tense standoffs with protesters, of which a small minority engaged in criminal activity, such as violence and vandalism.

Given the Confederations Cup was just a small-scale version of what awaits Brazil this June for the World Cup, Brazil is keen not to see similar scene in 2014. Indeed both President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA have repeatedly said that there will be no repeat of the violence seen in 2013 this year.

Edited version of article written for Anadolu Agency

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4 thoughts on “Brazil World Cup: concerns over street crime, not terrorists

  1. Ben, you as a journalist freelancer in Sao Paulo City know the Brazilian quiet well.

    You typed: Police have been widely criticised for the number of deaths of innocent residents during operations in favelas.

    My questions are : why do the poor and innocent people in the favelas never support the police when one dies by criminals, often supported by the same poor innocent in the favelas, while trying hard to defend the streets in their favela? Why don’t they educate them self on that issue? Why does the (Brazilian) Media never ask those questions and report it?

    What do Brazilians today think of self defence against crime and the gun control that doesn’t work?
    I hope you can answer that without being biased (not for, nor against), but as an investigative journalist.

    1. It’s a very very big and important question – which I don’t pretend I can give a full answer to.

      I believe it has a lot to do with a deep-sewn lack of trust between both sides. And that’s what it is – two sides against each other.

      The military police – that’s what they are – are the ones that coordinate the UPPs and the special operations in the favelas. They are a vestige of the military dictatorship when their job was to see the world as THEM versus US. It doesn’t appear that has changed.

      Fast-forward a few years – and these police officers, who have been shot at by gangs – and no doubt regular people – in favelas, are being asked to go in, rid the area of gangs and set up a little isolated building in the middle of the favelas.

      They don’t trust the residents around them, and the residents – through many, many fatal attacks on their communities by the military police – do not trust the police.

      It’s a stalemate at present, until the police understand that their job is to protect – not fight against – the public their serve, which – yes – includes favela communities (which account for something like 20-25% of Rio’s population), and until people then realise that the police are there to protect them.

      We’re years off from this yet though – it’s a mindset that has to be changed on both sides of the equation.

      Why do the favela residents prefer to side with the criminals in their midst? Probably out of fear and the old saying that it’s “better the devil you know”.

      Interestingly, everyone (pretty much) feels like the military police is against them. It’s just part of that THEM versus US game that is still in play.

      But that said, one favela community NGO last year made the very good point that, even when protesters were hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, they were only (only) shot at by police with rubber bullets and tear gas grenades, whereas any assault on a favela involves live rounds.

      It’s a question of time and gradual attempts to realign duties and trust between communities and the police.

  2. I have no doubt that we will see some protests in Brazil during the World Cup.
    In fact, I’d go as far as guessing that it’s unlikely we will ever see another mega event, wherever it might be, without some form of political protest and controversy thrown into the mix. This, I believe, is due to the way and how easily wide-reaching information travel this days.
    As far a Brazil is concerned, my personal guess is that we’re not going to see anything like the numbers we had in the streets last year – and even then, most people were happily watching the protests march by, from the side-walks, without any major problem.
    True, a small number of determined and politically motivated people, specially during an election, can cause a lot of disruption – but, as long as you don’t grab an anon mask and jump into the fire, I’m sure all tourists will be fine.
    Now, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, tourists should pay extra attention and not steer away from the well known touristy spots. It’s the only city in Brazil I’d be concerned about having my wallet nicked. But, it is a spectacular city, one that deserves to be visited.

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