Brazil: Threat Assessment of Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games amid Deepening Political Crisis

Thursday May. 12, 2016

Brazil: Threat Assessment of Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games amid Deepening Political Crisis

Key Judgments:
  • Crime will pose the highest threat during the event, as petty theft, armed robbery, assault, and homicide have been on the rise in Rio de Janeiro since late 2015. Favela (shantytown) violence is of particular concern, as these communities are interspersed among tourist-oriented areas and Olympic venues. 
  • The ongoing political crisis, spurred by the temporary suspension of President Dilma Rousseff and the ongoing impeachment trial against her, has caused increasing civil unrest in the country and could contribute to a less secure environment for the Games. 
  • Protests and strikes related to economic and political issues will likely be pervasive during the Olympics, and have the potential to paralyze Rio de Janeiro, especially if public transportation, civil police, or airport workers are involved. 
  • Key infrastructure projects are still under construction, and concerns are mounting over the safety and quality of the new facilities. 
 
 
Executive Summary
 
The Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Brazil will be held August 5-21 at 32 venues in Rio de Janeiro, and soccer matches will take place at stadiums in Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Manaus, Salvador, and São Paulo from August 3-20 (map). For the duration of the Games, the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defense, and Rio de Janeiro State public security forces will implement an integrated security plan with the support of approximately 85,000 public and private security professionals. In addition to operations to deter urban violence and street crime, the government will have the support of an anti-terrorism center and an integrated security operations center to coordinate all security efforts. During the events, security perimeters, no-fly zones, drone-usage monitoring, and cellphone signal-blocking technology will offer additional protection. Crisis response plans are in place in the event of a threat or attack. However, due to financial hardship caused by the ongoing recession, the Rio de Janeiro State budget for the Olympics has been decreased by approximately 30 percent. Though the cuts will mostly affect marketing and the opening ceremonies, the reductions could compromise security if policing and crowd-monitoring activities are curtailed.
 
Infrastructure security is also a concern leading up to the Games; many of the venues are still under construction or have only recently been completed. On April 21, a stretch of the bike path constructed along Rio's coastline especially for the Olympics collapsed after a strong wave struck, killing at least two people. The event has prompted the international community to express concern over the structural integrity of other construction projects, such as stadiums and arenas.
 
Telecommunications is a concern for both security forces and visitors during the Games; current service infrastructure is not robust. Though 4G service is available, the network is often slow, and service frequently fails without warning. The influx of up to 1 million visitors to the city will put additional stress on the networks, likely resulting in little to no coverage, particularly in crowded areas and venues. Law enforcement authorities indicated that they have purchased new technology to facilitate communication among security forces and reduce dependence on cell service; however, the technology may not be fully integrated by the time the Games start.
 
Street crime is the primary threat facing travelers and residents in Rio de Janeiro and the other major cities hosting soccer matches. Most violent crime occurs in favelas (shantytowns) that are pervasive throughout Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, these communities are scattered across the city, though heavily concentrated in the North Zone, and often share borders with more affluent areas. In the soccer host cities, street crime poses the greatest threat to visitors. Although heightened security measures may make major tourist areas in the country safer than the northern areas, the large influx of tourists will present ample targets of opportunity for pickpockets, armed robbers, and express kidnappers.
 

Terrorism poses a low threat to travelers in Brazil; there are no known terrorist organizations operating in the country. However, given the international nature of the Games, terrorist organizations may target stadiums and sports facilities. In April 2016, the Brazilian National Intelligence Agency (Abin) reported on a November 2015 tweet, authored by a French national linked to the Islamic State; the message was directed to Brazil, claiming that the South American country was the next target for an attack. Abin remains vigilant regarding possible terror threats; lone-wolf attacks pose the greatest threat to the Games in Brazil. To help monitor terrorism threats, the government created the Anti-Terrorism Center, which is supported by international intelligence sharing and risk monitoring.

 
Geopolitical Situation
The Brazilian political environment is very tense due to ongoing impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. On May 11, the Senate voted 55-22 to officially suspend Rousseff during a trial that may last up to six months. Vice President Michel Temer will now assume the presidency, and it appears that he will make significant economic changes over the next 90 days. Pro-Rousseff groups have made it clear that they intend to protest and strike while Temer remains in office. Increasing polarization between anti- and pro-government politicians and protesters could lead to clashes in future demonstrations. Civil unrest is likely to continue, coinciding with the Games, and could cause significant transportation and commercial disruptions. Though there were large protests held against the FIFA 2014 World Cup in 2013 and early 2014, protests specifically against the Olympics have not materialized.
 

Popular anti-government groups, such as Vem Pra Rua and Movimento Brasil Livre, could call for demonstrations in the lead-up to the Games. During previous events, police have used tear gas, water cannon, stink bombs, and rubber bullets to disperse protesters. Clashes between rival groups occur, though police generally monitor the protests closely and attempt to neutralize confrontations.

 
Rio de Janeiro Security Overview
Favelas

Although street crime is widespread in Rio de Janeiro, it is generally concentrated in the city's favelas (map).  In the linked map, crime statistics by area are provided; high-threat areas are shown in red; medium-threat in orange; and low-threat in yellow. Statistics on violent crime (including homicide and attempted homicide, armed robbery ending in death, and assault) and on petty crime (snatch-and-grab theft, extortion, cell phone theft, and larceny) were used to determine the threats posed in each region. However, even the areas considered low-threat are not considered fully secure; though these areas tend to have lower threats of violent crime and armed assaults, petty crime remains a concern. Most violent favelas are located in the North Zone, where many drug trafficking and criminal organizations relocated following their expulsion from the tourist-oriented South Zone. In 2008, authorities implemented a pacification program to introduce Police Pacification Units (UPPs) into favelas to re-establish rule of law. Following intensified pacification efforts and forced evictions of communities in areas near stadiums in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup, violence increased, as criminal organizations launched retaliatory attacks on police and other authorities. Members of the evicted communities staged protests, burning buses and tires and preventing police entry.

 
Established favela communities in Rio de Janeiro with Police Pacification Units - Red icons denote favelas with increased levels of violence 
 
Though there were few reports of violent attacks on visitors during the World Cup, muggings and pickpocketing were common. During the first four months of 2016, violence has increased in favelas that have UPPs. Attacks on police patrols and UPP structures have become more frequent, and shootouts between police and criminal groups or between rival criminal groups have also increased. Due to budget constraints, the government's plans to pacify several favelas located in close proximity to Olympics-related critical infrastructure have been postponed. The US Consulate in Rio de Janeiro has advised US citizens to avoid favelas - including pacified ones - due to increasing insecurity.
 
Though the North Zone has a higher concentration of favelas and experiences more violent crime, pickpockets, armed robbers, and express kidnappers also operate in the South Zone; thieves are known to target tourists visiting Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Toward the end of 2015, an increasing number of arrastões, or large swarms of thieves, surfaced in the city; the groups robbed beachgoers in Ipanema and Copacabana in addition to people moving around the main business district, Centro. Criminal activity tends to increase at night and on the weekends, as Centro become more isolated. Lapa, also located in the central-downtown area, is known for its nightlife. Though often crowded, the area still poses a high threat to visitors, as thieves target people leaving clubs and bars. Tourists frequent Lapa to visit the Escadaría de Selarón, Arches of Lapa, and Samba clubs; snatch-and-grabs and armed assaults occur in this area, especially late at night.
 
Hotels in the South Zone, especially larger international chains, tend to have adequate security measures in place. However, most are fully booked for the duration of the Games. Though favelas tend to have lodging options, even pacified favelas are not considered secure. Visitors should seek accommodations in established hotels with adequate security and fire safety measures.
 
Political protests and strikes have become increasingly common in Brazil and are more likely in the lead-up to the Olympics. Actions specifically aimed at Olympics events have not yet occurred, and activists will likely remain focused on the political crisis rather than the Games. In addition to political events, Rio de Janeiro has also seen increased favela protests, in which community members, upset with violence and forced evictions, have burned buses and erected roadblocks.
 

Large protests tend to occur in the following areas (map):

 
The government in Rio de Janeiro is currently under significant financial strain as it prepares for the Games. Protests and strikes by civil servants, police, and transportation workers have the potential to seriously disrupt the Games. In early April, civil servants went on strike due to delayed salary payments; the incident disrupted many bureaucratic processes, though it did not seriously affect transportation or police services. Considering the financial situation in the state, workers could use the Olympics as leverage when threatening to strike or protest.
 
Infrastructure
Galeão International Airport (GIG) has undergone significant renovations and will offer more flights to cope with the increase in visitors during the Olympics. Santos Dumont Airport (SDU) is a purely domestic airport, located in the center of Rio de Janeiro. It will be subjected to no-fly zone measures from 1240-1710 Aug. 8-18.
 
Large transportation infrastructure projects are ongoing across Rio de Janeiro. In addition to securing exclusive lanes for Olympics-related bus transportation to event venues, authorities are working on Metro Line 4, which will be a 9-mile (14.5-km) metro extension linking Barra da Tijuca to Ipanema. Although the line is reportedly 95-percent complete and expected to be ready for the Olympics, financial constraints have put the project's completion in jeopardy several times. If the construction is not finished by August, officials plan to use metro buses to transport visitors from Ipanema to Barra da Tijuca. In addition to the metro, main highways and above-ground trains will facilitate public access to the venues.
 
Main highways and public transportation routes in Rio de Janeiro

Specific Olympics-related transportation options also include the following:
  • Light Rail (VLT) in Centro, Rio de Janeiro among tourist sites
  • Metro Buses: BRT Transolímpica (Deodoro - Barra da Tijuca); BRT Transoeste (Barra da Tijuca - Leblon); BRT Transcarioca (GIG airport - Barra da Tijuca) 
In late April, a bike lane built along the coast of Rio de Janeiro specifically for the Games collapsed and killed at least two people. Engineers reported that the bike lane was poorly constructed, instilling fears that other rapidly built venues could have dangerous structural deficiencies.
 
Though transportation infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro is generally adequate, highway travel poses a moderate to high threat to visitors. Rio de Janeiro has a limited number of thoroughfares that connect the Olympic venues with the rest of the city. Authorities have reiterated their intention to protect these highways from possible protests and strikes that may lead to blockades. Taxi drivers, in particular, have blocked major roads and bridges during previous strikes.
 
From Galeão International Airport (GIG), travelers heading to the South Zone, including Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon, will likely take the Linha Vermelha (Red Line) highway. This particular highway passes by the unpacified Maré favela. Criminal activity - including shootouts and mass robberies - often causes police to close the highway. Avenida Brasil, another important thoroughfare connecting the western part of the city to Deodoro and downtown Rio de Janeiro, also passes by Maré.
 
Thoroughfares and public transportation will likely be severely congested throughout August. In Rio de Janeiro, schools will have vacation in August to reduce disruptions. Additionally, the mayor declared citywide holidays on Aug. 6, 18, and 22. More holidays could be announced. Due to the influx of hundreds of thousands of visitors and the threat of public transportation strikes, companies may want to consider offering employees the option to telecommute.
 
Strikes by transportation workers, including airport and metro employees, as well as bus and taxi drivers, remain a concern during the Games. Strikes could occur without warning, due to the inability of some public sector unions to control unruly factions of their coalitions. Taxi protests against ride-sharing apps are increasingly common in Brazil. These protests can turn violent and cause serious disruptions, especially if drivers decide to double park, stage "go-slow" caravans, and/or block main thoroughfares.
 

Cellphones may have limited service in the Olympic venues; authorities have approved the use of cell signal-jamming technology in the event of a security threat or concern that warrants its use. Though all venues are equipped with back-up generators, temporary power outages cannot be ruled out.

 
Rio de Janeiro Olympic Venues
 

Four distinct areas of Rio de Janeiro have venues that will host Olympics events (map).

 
Barra da Tijuca
The main Olympic Park contains 15 venues and is located in Barra da Tijuca, in Rio's West Zone.
 

Barra da Tijuca is an upper-middle class neighborhood that is considered safer than many of Rio's other neighborhoods. Though there are several favelas nearby, they are generally small and located in the northern periphery. Though violent crime is comparatively higher in this region than in other tourist areas, these violent incidents are generally concentrated in the peripheral slums. However, due to the large influx of tourists, there is a medium to high threat of petty street crime.
 
Copacabana

This famous neighborhood will host competitions on Copacabana Beach, at the Copacabana Fort, and at Lagoa da Freitas and Marina da Glória.

 
 
Copacabana is an iconic tourist destination in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro. Several favelas are in the area, but none are particularly violent. Visitors face a low threat of violent crime; however, there is a high threat of petty crime due in large part to the large number of tourists in the area. The greatest threat to travelers and locals in this area is petty street crime, including pickpocketing. Beachgoers are often targeted when distracted or located in more isolated parts of the beach; the Lagoa area in Copacabana is heavily trafficked by people during the day and generally safe, though at night it can become particularly dangerous to those walking along the biking and jogging path.
 
Maracanã

The Estadio Maracanã, Estadio Olímpico, Maracanazinho, and the Sambódromo will host events.

 
 
The Maracanã venues are scattered throughout central Rio de Janeiro. All of the venues are located near officially pacified favelas, though these communities still pose medium-to-high threats of violent crime due to continued criminal operations. Petty crime remains the greatest threat near these venues, and the threat will likely increase with the influx of tourists. Threats of violent and petty crime significantly increase in and near favelas - both pacified and unpacified. Shootouts between police and criminals often occur in slums during routine patrols, and criminal groups have staged unprovoked attacks on police units; stray bullets sometimes hit bystanders. Though violent crime is a problem, it poses less of a threat than street crime, such as petty theft and scams. The presence of poor communities directly beside middle- and upper-income neighborhoods increases the threat of crime in these areas. The Centro of Rio de Janeiro includes the city's main business district, which tends to be vacant during weekends and after work hours. Even during the busy hours in the Centro, robberies frequently occur on crowded streets; criminals often target those who look lost or may be distracted with their phone or talking with another person.
 
Deodoro

Nine event venues are located in the Deodoro neighborhood in Rio's North Zone.

 
 
This region of Rio is more insecure and poses a higher threat than the neighborhoods where other venues are located, due to a higher concentration of less-secure favelas nearby. Though many of the surrounding favelas have been pacified, there has been an increase in police operations in these communities since the beginning of 2016 in preparation for the Games; these actions have often resulted in shootouts between security forces and criminal groups. Though violent crimes tend to be concentrated within the favela communities, bystanders have been hit by stray bullets in the past. Petty crime poses the greatest threat to visitors, and the threat will likely increase with the influx of tourists during the Games.
 
Soccer Host Cities Security Overview
 
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais State - Venue: Estadio Mineirão
Game Dates/Times:
  • Aug. 3: 1900 and 2200
  • Aug. 6: 1700 and 2000
  • Aug. 10: 1300 and 1600
  • Aug. 12: 2200
  • Aug. 13: 1900
  • Aug. 16: 1600
  • Aug. 20: 1300
Security
Belo Horizonte, like many large cities in Brazil, suffers from widespread street crime. The southwestern industrial suburbs of Contagem and Betim are more dangerous than the central, downtown areas of Savassi and Lourdes; however, robberies and assaults can occur here as well, especially late at night. Data from 2015 indicates that homicides fell sharply in the city during the first eight months of the year compared with the same period in 2014. The number of kidnappings also decreased and is a low threat to visitors. The Belvedere, Mangabeiras, Sion, and Buritis neighborhoods in the southern part of the city also tend to be safer than the outskirts, where resources and security forces are more limited. Nevertheless, these areas border some of the more dangerous areas of the city.
 
Strikes and protests have occurred in Belo Horizonte, including several large political protests in 2016. The events tend to occur in Praça Sete de Setembro, Praça da Liberdade, or Praça Raul Soares. Protests and strikes in Belo Horizonte tend to be smaller than those in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro; taxi and public transportation strikes sometimes occur, though they generally do not cause prolonged disruptions.
 
Transportation

Tancredo Neves/Confins International Airport (CNF) is one of two airports that services Belo Horizonte. The airport underwent construction before the 2014 World Cup to expand capacity and improve services. Belo Horizonte/Pampulha-Carlos Drummond de Andrade Airport (PLU) services only domestic flights. Taxi availability could be limited before, during, and after the games; increased traffic congestion is also likely on game days. Public transportation will likely be overcrowded and taxi availability limited.

 
Brasília, Federal District - Venue: Estadio Nacional
Game Dates/Times:
  • Aug. 4: 1300 and 1600
  • Aug. 7: 1900 and 2200
  • Aug. 9: 1600 and 2200
  • Aug. 10: 1300 and 1600
  • Aug. 12: 1300
  • Aug. 13: 1300
Security
Much of Brasília's criminal activity occurs in the western outskirts of the city, especially in the satellite cities of Ceilândia and Taguatinga. However, pickpockets and thieves frequently target tourists and pedestrians in the city center and near metro/bus stations and hotels. The central rodoviária (bus terminal) is particularly dangerous at night, as it is a common gathering place for drug addicts and prostitutes. Many areas of Brasília become isolated after work hours due to the city's layout.
 

Brasília has experienced large and often violent protests; prior to the World Cup, there were demonstrations against government spending. Significant anti- and pro-government protests took place in early 2016. Protests against the Olympics and government spending have not yet occurred, but as the event nears, there will likely be actions. The Landless Workers Movement (MST) maintains a presence in Brasília, camping out in different areas of the Esplanade near the soccer stadium; the group is known to hold large protests that often end in violent clashes. Protests typically occur along the central esplanade and generally end in front of the National Congress, National Museum, or Praça dos Três Poderes.

 
Transportation

Brasília-Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek International Airport (BSB) underwent significant renovations before the 2014 World Cup, increasing the facility's capacity by approximately 45 percent. An executive shuttle bus connects the airport with the center of the city. Buses in Brasília are generally safe within the Planopiloto area; however, buses that attend satellite cities are more susceptible to crime. Brasília's subway system is limited, providing service to satellite cites via the central rodoviária. Taxis are available, though game day-demand will likely provoke shortages.

 
Manaus, Amazonas State - Venue: Arena Amazonia
Game Dates/Times:
  • Aug. 4: 1800 and 2100
  • Aug. 7: 1800 and 2100
  • Aug. 9: 1800 and 2100
Security
Manaus suffers from high rates of street crime and petty theft throughout the city. The eastern zone is particularly dangerous due to the high concentration of favelas. In the downtown Centro, visitors and residents are particularly susceptible at night to pickpockets and armed assaults. Nevertheless, petty theft and mugging can occur at any time of the day, and criminals are known to target tourists and those with perceived wealth.
 
Protests and strikes are unlikely to cause significant disruptions in Manaus. Several small-scale anti- and pro-government events have occurred, though they attracted no more than a few thousand people. If taxis decide to strike, transportation disruptions are likely, as public buses may become overcrowded.
 
Transportation

Eduardo Gomes International Airport (MAO) services the Amazonian region and underwent renovations before the 2014 World Cup. Manaus suffers from a lack of adequate public transportation. Buses and minibuses will be the primary mode of transportation during game days, as the city does not have a subway system. The government will likely declare holidays on game days to reduce stress on the transportation system. Taxis tend to be the safest form of transportation; however, taxi service should be arranged in advance by a hotel concierge or obtained through official taxi dispatch services.

 
Salvador, Bahia State - Venue: Arena Fonte Nove
Game Dates/Times:
  • Aug. 4: 1700 and 2000
  • Aug. 7: 1300 and 1600
  • Aug. 9: 1600 and 1900
  • Aug. 10: 1900 and 2200
  • Aug. 12: 1600
  • Aug. 13: 1600
Security
Salvador's murder rate exceeds those of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo; however, most violent crime occurs in the city's low-income northern suburbs. Nevertheless, thieves and armed robbers present a threat in the city's center and popular tourist areas, such as beaches. Barra, Campo Grande, and Pelourinho neighborhoods are frequented by pickpockets and robbers, particularly at night.
 
Activist groups have staged no anti-Olympics strikes or protests to date and are unlikely to do so in the lead-up to the games. However, anti- and pro-government protests are common due to the political crisis. Protests typically occur at Barra Lighthouse, though they tend to be peaceful and relatively non-disruptive. Although Salvador has a history of workers' strikes, it is unlikely that large-scale actions will occur, as only a few soccer matches will be held in the city.
 
Transportation

Salvador-Deputado Luis Eduardo Magalhães International Airport (SSA) services the region and underwent construction projects that expanded and improved the facility prior to the 2014 World Cup. There are likely to be lingering construction projects at the airport, though they will probably not cause serious travel disruptions. Salvador will rely on public transportation to transport stadium goers during match days. In general, roads in the vicinity of the stadium will be closed to regular traffic before and after each match for several hours. Taxis will also be available, though it is safer to use prearranged taxis through hotels or an official dispatch service. Expect traffic congestion on game days.

 
São Paulo, São Paulo State - Venue: Arena Corinthians (Itaquerão)
Game Times/Dates:
  • Aug. 3: 1500 and 1800
  • Aug. 6: 1500 and 1800
  • Aug. 10: 1900 and 2200
  • Aug. 12: 1900
  • Aug. 13: 2200
  • Aug. 17: 1600
  • Aug. 19: 1300
Security
Petty crime is the most significant threat facing travelers and residents in São Paulo, though armed robbery and muggings are common. The influx of Games visitors, most of whom are likely unfamiliar with the city, may attract greater numbers of criminals to the city, including pickpockets, armed robbers, and kidnappers. Carjacking also poses a significant security threat. The outskirts of São Paulo, including the southern industrial, northern, and western neighborhoods, are more insecure and experience elevated rates of crime compared to other areas of the city. The Itaquera neighborhood, where the soccer stadium is located, has a high murder rate, though a large police force will be present. Central São Paulo, especially in plazas like Praça da Se and Praça da República, tends to be especially dangerous after dark and on the weekends, when there are often fewer people and decreased police patrols.
 
Though no anti-Olympics protests have taken place, an increasing number of large and disruptive anti- and pro-government protests in São Paulo have taken place along Avenida Paulista, in Praça da Se, Largo da Batata, and Praça da República. Taxi driver protests and strikes that oppose ride-sharing apps frequently occur in São Paulo. Taxi protests and strikes sometimes turn violent; taxi drivers have previously attacked ride-sharing app drivers. Large-scale strikes are unlikely to occur in São Paulo, especially since the majority of Olympic events will occur in Rio de Janeiro.
 
Transportation

Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) services São Paulo and is located approximately 25 km (15.5 miles) from the city center. Congonhas Airport (CGH) only services domestic flights. The influx of visitors for the soccer matches will likely cause traffic disruptions and overcrowding on public transportation. The subway system or the commuter rail (CPTM) can be taken to reach the soccer stadium. Since public transportation will likely be overburdened on game days, taxi availability may decrease significantly. Taxis arranged through hotels or via an official dispatch service are the safest option for travel and are more reliable than those hailed from the street. Police and security officials will likely erect roadblocks around the stadium before and after matches, disrupting traffic in the area.

 
Conclusion

When the International Olympics Committee awarded Brazil the Games in 2009, the country was economically and politically stable. However, in the past six years, the political and economic landscape has dramatically deteriorated. While crime poses the greatest threat to visitors in Rio de Janeiro, the ongoing political crisis and subsequent civil unrest could lead to large-scale, disruptive events that may affect the mobility and safety of those in the city.

 

 

Abbott Matthews is an Intelligence Analyst for the Americas Team at iJET International. Following her graduation from Colby College in 2013 with a BA in Latin American Studies and Government, she worked with the Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington, D.C., a US government regional security organization that works closely with security and education partners in the Western Hemisphere. Abbott has spent time abroad in Spain, Uruguay, and Colombia for study and field research.

In 2014, Abbott moved to Brasilia, Brazil for a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Brasilia; in 2015, Fulbright selected her to continue working with university’s programs in addition to supporting new Fulbright Scholars in the country. In addition to Fulbright work, she also worked with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as a research assistant on regional security issues. As a regional expert, Abbott speaks Portuguese and Spanish fluently.

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