Violence in focus ahead of World Cup

The latest outbreak was too violent, and too close to a popular tourist area, to be ignored, Patricia Rey Mallon writes.

Violence in focus ahead of World Cup

IN THE last month, Brazil has suffered a wave of violence that has put authorities on the edge. With the World Cup just weeks away and the world’s eyes on the country, the Brazilian government is rushing to stem the problem before kickoff on June 12.

Every policeman in Rio de Janeiro, the location of the tournament’s final game, will be on patrol duty for the entire month of the World Cup. Governor Luiz Fernando Pezão admitted last week that security in Brazil is still far from what it should be.

“We need more people in Rio to ensure a safe event,” he said after a revolt in one of the city’s favelas, or shantytowns, closed streets and prompted hotels in Copacabana to tell guests to stay inside.

The residents of the Pavo favela took to the streets on April 24 to protest the death of Douglas Rafael da Silva, a local 25-year-old whose body was found the night before, allegedly killed by police. The protest resulted in a battle with local police and, taking advantage of the chaos, the organised crime group Comando Vermelho attacked a police station. The confrontation required the intervention of the military to be subdued; one person was killed.

Images of the mayhem went global, showcasing that crime in Brazil is not as under control as the government has been proclaiming. Ever since the country started bidding to host the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, the government has , time and again, assured the world that violence was no longer a daily occurrence in Brazil.

At the announcement ceremony in 2007, Ricardo Teixera, the president of the Brazilian Football Association, assured safety would not be a problem. “Violence today is an international issue. We had a good example during the 2006 Pan-American Games in Rio; there was no violence there,” he said.

President Dilma Rousseff appealed for co-operation from all Brazilians: “Safety and security are a responsibility of the federal government, but we are all hosts,” she said. “We will not leave anything to chance in regards to the World Cup, an extremely important event in Brazil.”

Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, reacted angrily when asked about safety: “When we gave the [2010] World Cup to South Africa, the first question was about crime, too,” he said. But the latest outbreak was too violent, and too close to a popular tourist area, to be ignored. Copacabana is Rio’s postcard beach and its biggest tourist draw, together with the Sugarloaf mountain. That has prompted even Blatter to backpedal and point the finger at Brazilian authorities. “Security is a matter for the government and the state,” he said. “Fifa cannot ensure security.”

With a homicide rate of 25.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, Brazil ranked 30th in the UN list of most dangerous countries in the world in 2012. Trends have been worsening too. In 2010, the murder rate in Brazil was 22.2 per 100,000 people.

According to nonprofit Brazilian Public Safety Forum, Sao Paulo is one of the states driving the rise in murder. The country’s richest state saw a 14% rise in reported murders between 2011 and 2012. And the real numbers could be much higher.

“Real figures could be between 10 and 25% higher of official numbers,” sociologist Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, researcher at the Instituto Sangari in Sao Paulo, told The Rio Times. High numbers of deaths in several states remain classified as “unexplained”, and hence are not included in the official homicide data.

One of these states is Rio de Janeiro, which will host the final and four other games. Official numbers registered a 5.6% decline in murders between 2010 and 2012, but the figures have gone up since.

The lingering concern over safety is another sign that Brazil might be headed for a disastrous World Cup. Several stadiums are yet to finish construction, including Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, which might not be ready in time for the kickoff game.

Rousseff is still confident that her country will pull it off. “We will open our arms to receive [World Cup] in the best possible way: With hospitality, comfort, and safety.”

(c) 2014, Newsweek Inc

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