Security: another problem for the Olympics in Brazil

Along with the financial crisis, number of street robberies is increasing

The Brazilian government faces its greatest challenge in terms of large events: ensuring the safety of more than 15,000 athletes and the seven million people attending the Olympic Games, including tourists, volunteers and professionals.

The 28 days of the Olympics and Paralympics will mostly take place in Rio de Janeiro, a city that has experienced increasing violence over the past year, according to statistics from the Institute of Public Safety.

In April alone, for example, 9,158 street robberies were recorded, up nearly 30% from the same period in 2015. In the last two months, a gang rape in the Morro de Barão area of Rio’s West Zone and a firefight during an attack on a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) in the hill communities of Morros de Fallet and Fogueteiro in Santa Teresa in the centre of the city also caused ripples in the international press.

The state department of security stated that these cases do not compromise the safety of the tourists who will be in the city during the Games.

“Rio de Janeiro has a tradition of hosting major cyclical events like Carnival and New Year’s Eve, as well as a series of international mega-events, and the issue of public safety has not been a problem,” State Special Undersecretary of Security for Major Events Roberto Alzir told Diálogo Chino.

“Brazilians, foreigners and athletes will be safe in an environment that was specifically prepared by public security forces with plans guarantee that the event will take place absolutely normally,” said Andrei Rodrigues from the Special Secretary of Security for Major Events, an agency linked to the Ministry of Justice. Alzir said that agency has received “very positive assessments of the policing scheme deployed and the state of security for national and foreign visitors.

“This year’s games have also raised concerns over the environmental impact of the mega sporting event, which will put unprecedented pressure on Rio’s transportation system, housing and natural resources. Brazilian officials have argued that hosting the Olympics has spurred efforts to clean up the city and reinvest in urban infrastructure.

However, experts have admitted that meeting environmental targets will be a challenge. For example, neither the bay of Guanabara nor the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon – two of Rio de Janeiro’s main outdoor aquatic sports venues – are expected to be pollution-free by the time the games begin on August 5.

Security fears

For the Games, 85,000 professionals will be on the streets, including about 10,000 National Force officers, a group composed of military and civilian police officers, specialists and firefighters trained to work in big events. Additionally, 38,000 soldiers from the Brazilian Armed Forces will be assigned to Rio during the period.

The ostentatious policing has been the target of criticism. “The entire logic of providing security for a large event consists of putting a huge contingent of police officers on the streets. This is incompatible with the spirit of what should be an Olympic moment,” criticised Itamar Silva, one of the directors of the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase). In Silva’s opinion, tourists will roam freely around the Olympic grounds.

“But I think in the city, the residents will experience a restriction of mobility, a feeling of oppression, since we will see a lot of police on the streets to give that sense of security,” he added.

For this researcher, ensuring the safety of tourists alone is not enough. “To be worthy of hosting the Olympics, the city must be worthy of its citizens. Because when the citizens feel safe, they pass that feeling on to visitors. But this is not the case in Rio de Janeiro.”

Investments and combating terrorism

Terrorist threats top the list of risks drafted by the Ministry of Justice. The strategy to prevent attacks is being led by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), which coordinates preparation of risk analyses, intelligence production, terrorism prevention and dissemination of information.

Secretary Andrei Rodrigues preferred not to comment on whether concrete threats exist. “Regardless of concrete risks, in Brazil we are going to host an event of such great importance that brings this visibility. This is why we have adopted the best global practices and policies for prevention.”

The country has created the Integrated Anti-Terrorism Centre (CIANT) specifically for the Olympic Games. Led by the Federal Police, it will house foreign police officers with experience combating terrorism.

“This international police cooperation began with eight companies during the Confederations Cup. At the World Cup there were 37 countries, and now, we have 57 countries cooperating with us,” said Rodrigues.

The Brazilian government has earmarked R$ 704.4 million (US$213 million) for security at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Since the World Cup, R$ 1.5 billion has been invested in security at major events, according to the Ministry of Justice. “The investment promises to bring returns for society, as a legacy of public security,” he explained.

International policing

One tactic to ensure the safety of foreign visitors is the presence of international police officers on the streets. Created for the World Cup, the International Police Cooperation Centre will receive professionals from more than 50 countries and institutions such as the American Interpol, which will circulate using their own uniforms.

“This cooperation has a dual effect of giving foreigners a sense of greater protection from recognising the police by their uniform, while at the same time inhibiting abuses by foreigners, who will be watched by authorities from their own countries,” said the Brazilian government.

They will circulate in places where citizens of their countries gather, without weapons and accompanied by the Brazilian police. Back at home, about five billion viewers will follow the competition and news about Rio de Janeiro during the Games. When it’s all over, the city will have to think of a post-Olympic agency, stated Itamar Silva of Ibase.

“We will have to return to the “old” topics like mobility and security, to what was promised as the legacy of the Olympics” There will be difficult times, predicts Silva, noting that the national situation is “very delicate, with many uncertainties.”

The country is facing challenges ranging from a financial crisis affecting the Rio state government and the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika.