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Brazil Takes No Chances in Security Preparations for Papal Visit

July 15th 2013

Brazilian firebase

The Brazilian military will deploy more than 13,000 troops during Pope Francis’s July 23-28 visit to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day (WYD) — an event likely to attract 1.5 million to two million people.

The Coordination Center of Area Defense (CCDA/RJ) will manage defense and security actions in Rio and in the “Campus Fidei” [Field of Faith], venue for the closing vigil and Papal Mass, which is located in the Guaratiba region, about 70 kilometers west of central Rio.

Gen. José Alberto Costa Abreu, coordinator of the CCDA/RJ and commander of the First Army Division, said the recent Brazilian protests did not change WYD security planning.

“It was anticipated that possible demonstrations, with different motivations, could happen, so we prepared ourselves with our riot control troops and serious intelligence work,” Abreu told Diálogo by phone July 9 from Rio de Janeiro.

The number of Armed Forces troops involved in WYD slightly increased to 10,200, but that had nothing to do with last month’s protests, he said.

“Rather, we replaced a private security company that would operate inside the Campus Fidei with a motorized infantry battalion from the city of Petrópolis [68 kilometers from Rio] to get better results,” he said.

Three major challenges

Overall, the “Pope Operation” will mobilize about 13,700 men from the Armed Forces, the Organs of Security and Public Order and other institutions. The Army alone will deploy 7,000 troops and 410 vehicles — including 360 operational and 50 administrative vehicles.

“Surely, we won’t see demonstrations in Guaratiba with as many people as we recently saw in the center of Rio,” Abreu said. “Guaratiba is far from the city center. It takes you a long time to get there. Moreover, authorities decreed holidays on Thursday the 25th and Friday the 26th, and Guaratiba events will be held on Saturday and Sunday.”

Nevertheless, Abreu said expects brief demonstrations to take place, and that the military is prepared to deal with violent, radical protests. “We are isolating the meeting area at Campus Fidei with three lines of defense, using Army troops, so that we can contain any type of protest and prevent it from getting close to the Pope,” he said.

Abreu told Diálogo that WYD poses three major challenges for Brazil’s Armed Forces: maintaining an image of security, dealing with crowds and concerns about terrorism.

“We are providing security for a global personality. The world’s eyes will be on Rio,” he said, explaining that while not everybody can be searched with metal detectors or every bag inspected, “metal detectors will be used to search people who will stay in the area of the Campus Fidei stage that is closest to the Pope.”

He added: “We are doing intelligence work to detect possible signs of terrorist threats. There has been no such indication, but it’s something we can’t neglect.”

Pope’s visit: biggest event in Rio’s history

Officials and analysts say Brazil has never seen an event of this magnitude. Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, recently told reporters that WYD will be a bigger headache than even the 2016 Olympic Games.

Abreu agrees. “It’s a challenge to security, but we are aware of this type of activity after working on major events such as the Rio +20 and the Confederations Cup. It is a singular event, but we are prepared.”

The Brazilian Army, Navy and Air Force will team up to guarantee security during the visit of Pope Francis. The Rio-based 9th Motorized Infantry Brigade will supervise protection of the stage and altar at Campus Fidei. It’ll also occupy 14 strategic structures related to water distribution, electricity, telecommunications and transportation.

Likewise, the artillery unit of the 1st Army Division, from the city of Niterói, will concentrate its efforts on tourist hotspots outside Guaratiba, as well as places visited by President Dilma Rousseff. The Brazilian Navy will maintain maritime security along Rio’s Atlantic coast and patrol the waters off Tom Jobim and Santos Dumont airports.

The Navy will employ two operating groups of sailors: one to reinforce the Paratroopers Infantry Brigade and the other to focus on downtown Rio and port areas.

CCDA’s Rio command center

The Brazilian Air Force will also play a role. The Brazilian Aerospace Defense Command (COMDABRA) is to supervise airspace control, and two Special Aeronautics Infantry Battalions (BINFAE) will control security at Tom Jobim and Santos Dumont airports.

The joint teams also include cyberdefense; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense; prevention, suppression and combating terrorism; border cooperation, and explosive monitoring, according to the Armed Forces.

The CCDA/RJ is operating within Rio’s Duque de Caxias Palace, which serves as headquarters of the Eastern Military Command. From this place, military officials and law enforcement agencies are monitoring the city’s strategic points 24 hours a day, the Army said in a statement.

A similar structure was used successfully during the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio +20, and remains available for defense and security operations during big events such as WYD as well as the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Avoiding violence at all costs

Officials say they want to avoid a repeat of the massive protests that spread to 100 cities across Brazil last month, leaving five people dead and hundreds injured. While those protests were largely peaceful, vandals looted businesses and targeted cars, banks, road signs, traffic lights, and public buildings.

The movement began with a few hundred students against transportation fare hikes, but turned into a wide wave of protests against corruption, high taxes, lack of infrastructure, poor public services and excessive spending on the Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.

On June 20 alone, more than one million people gathered across the country. In Brasília, protesters threw Molotov cocktails at Itamaraty Palace, the seat of Brazil’s Foreign Ministry. Rio became a battlefield when masked men tried to break into City Hall. Demonstrators also confronted police in Salvador, Pôrto Alegre, Belém, Campinas and Fortaleza.

Organized groups infiltrated demonstrations in Belo Horizonte to “destroy the city”, said Col. Antonio Carvalho, Specialized Battalion commander of the Minas Gerais Military Police.

Analyst: Police faced ‘tense situation’

Marco Antonio Villa, a social sciences professor at Federal University of São Carlos, said the police have done a good job by Brazilian standards.

“Overall, despite the problems, the police action was exerted to guarantee the right to peaceful protest from those who wanted to speak up, as well as protect public and private property as our constitution states,” Villa said.

“Even for a trained agent, it’s difficult to deal with very tense situations where people throw homemade bombs and stones,” he added. “Most often, there is a disproportion between the number of police and protesters. For instance, we saw about 30 shock troops trying to defend a building surrounded by 5,000 people. It’s very complicated.”

Political analysts agree that demonstrations where vandalism is coupled with massive political protests are unprecedented in Brazil’s recent history.

There was no such thing over the course of pro-democracy campaign “Diretas Já” in 1984, nor during the “caras pintadas” [painted faces] student movement that led to the impeachment of former President Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992.

“The current protests caught everyone by surprise, even the police,” said sociologist Luiz Flávio Sapori, coordinator of the Center for Studies and Research in Public Security (CEPESP) at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais.

Eduardo Szklarz writes for Dialogo, from where this article is adapted.

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