In March of this year, the main weekly magazine published in Brazil (VEJA) ran as its cover story a report prepared by the country’s intelligence agency (ABIN), outlining the six major threats carrying a potential to disrupt the upcoming FIFA World Cup, to be hosted in twelve capital cities of Brazil. The report, originally confidential, was accessed by the magazine, and listed the threats, in order of concern, as:
- Pressure Groups
- Work Stoppages/Labor Movements
- Urban Violence/Common Crime
- Criminal Organizations
The report went on to describe how these threats are perceived and their potential effects. Interestingly enough, a year ago, at least one of them would not make the list. Last June, a demonstration against an increase in bus fares initiated in São Paulo, South America’s largest and most prominent city, triggered a series of protests across the country, which have evolved into violent and non-violent activities, and a real surprise to law enforcement authorities and the government in general.
The recent economic boom experienced in recent years in Brazil, which prompted millions of inhabitants to ascend from poverty to the middle class, also brought to light the sentiment, among those and the preexisting middle class and intellectual elite, of extreme dissatisfaction. Billions of reais have been spent in construction efforts to ensure football stadiums met organizing body FIFA’s standards, rather than employed to improve public services such as healthcare and schools, or much-needed infrastructure projects, roads, airports and other initiatives. And the Brazilian people don’t seem to buy it this time.
Just this past week, activists broke into the corporate offices of three major construction companies engaged in stadium building for the World Cup; Brazilian consular officers in various cities around the world went on strike for two days, claiming for pay adjustments. Police officers, ground transportation workers, postal servants, and many other labor categories have pressured the government for better pay and working conditions. Their complaints are evidently not new; but they are using the stage provided by the high-profile tournament to draw real attention from the government, and the society as well.
The nation known around the world for its colorful scenery and joyful demeanor, along with its love for football, seems to be changing. The new generation does not revere Pelé anymore, for they are too young to remember his feats. High taxes combined with poor quality of life seem to bother more than not winning the World Cup. An omnipresent sense of insecurity, caused by pervasive crime in the various (and very diverse) areas of the country, claims for lasting measures, and visitors traveling to enjoy the tournament may suffer the consequences.
Measures announced by the federal government included the creation of a Special Secretariat to coordinate security efforts across the states and with international entities; training initiatives for policemen from multiple agencies, as well as the deployment of the armed forces to complement the number of officers, or to replace them in case new strikes are conducted.
The risk of terrorism, albeit low, has triggered heightened attention on the part of Brazilian authorities, as the mere presence of foreigners increases the likelihood of an attack. Intelligence agencies of various countries have assigned officers to work in conjunction with Brazilian counterparts in order to detect such threats.
Navigating the Brazilian environment during this World Cup, thus, will require travelers to observe a series of precautions – some are basic security measures, others more specific to the country:
- Being aware of your surroundings, watching your luggage at airports and hotels – pickpockets and other criminals are known to pose as fellow travelers (some come from neighboring countries) and take advantage of a distracted passenger at airline/hotel counters
- Avoid displaying any signs of wealth, such as jewelry and name brand clothes or accessories: in Brazil, a designer handbag is perceived as a sign of wealth, and can turn an otherwise smart traveler into a target
- In the major cities, most robberies occur in traffic, either in the form of a carjacking or a “snatch and grab”; if you are riding in a taxi or other hired vehicle, make sure your driver knows the route to be followed, and avoid displaying any belongings that can be seen from the outside. Whenever possible, travel with your windows all the way up while riding in the vehicle.
- Electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones should never be used in public – they are highly sought-after and hold great value in the black market. Store your laptop computer and other equipment in the trunk of the vehicle, and take extreme caution when using your smartphone as a camera
- Check intended routes prior to leaving for any destination; if faced with a demonstration along your route, avoid approaching protesters and authorities
- Carry photo identification at all times; if stopped by police, be courteous and attentive
- Avoid using public transportation; the special subway routes created to reach some of the stadiums should offer enough safety, but aside from those, public buses and transportation vans are generally not safe for locals and foreigners alike
- Save emergency contact numbers on your mobile phone, or carry card printed with them; try to memorize a couple of numbers as well
- Avoid walking alone, especially at dark
- Try to learn a few basic words in Portuguese – aside from “obrigado” (thank you), “preciso de ajuda” (I need help) ou “chame a polícia” (call the police) and other useful expressions.