Vandalism and Looting amid Protests during Confederations Cup in Brazil

By Dialogo
June 21, 2013

A democratic movement started on social networks a few months ago in the form of peaceful and democratic needs for a significant portion of the population. Outraged by high taxes, bad services (transportation, health, and others), overcharged costs of soccer stadiums, ongoing corruption, scandals and impunity, people from different segments of society chose the Confederations Cup, a time in which the Brazilian federal government would be very exposed, to start the concentrations and protests in the streets of many capitals and medium-sized cities throughout Brazil.

The moment intensifies the government’s vulnerability, since this is a period in which all resources are prioritized and focused on ensuring safe execution of activities linked to the Confederations Cup.

The intelligence system’s mistake was failing to monitor the political dialogues and evaluating whether the consequences were made clear. The differences between the two groups must be defined: the first expressed a peaceful and public demonstration of their dissatisfaction with the current situation, while the second group was comprised of vandals and looters, who were covering their faces and using the anonymity of crowds to challenge public order, destroy historical monuments, both public and private, and promote looting of local businesses. This second group premeditated their actions, because they not only used stones picked up from the streets, but they were also hiding their identity and had homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails that were launched at police officers.

Centralized planning by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) and decentralized monitoring by state intelligence agencies could have easily identified the possibility of these activities. Police officers were demoralized by images that were broadcasted globally. Unfortunately, many images clearly captured the desperation of the officers, who were shown shooting up in the air with rifles as an attempt to control the protesters, or when they dispersed and lost their compact formation used to control disruptions. Many police officers were seriously injured and cowardly attacked even after they were down. The control of this type of disruption requires specific training and the right equipment. It is crucial to avoid the current threat to the physical integrity of the officers by evaluating the headcount and the resources available.

The error may have been a result of the scenario evaluation made by the intelligence professionals, who underestimated the possibilities of how the event would unfold or, in case the risks had been identified, by the government, which decided to ignore the recommendations.

The protests will continue during the entire Confederations Cup and a contingency plan with an increased participation of the Armed Forces will take place, but the work to identify the vandals and looters will be slow and difficult. This activity is essential to ensure that the upcoming events will take place in a peaceful environment, because the greatest incentive for these activities is the notion of impunity.

In November 2010, Brazil was questioned regarding the country’s capability in ensuring security for the large upcoming events, following the wave of violence triggered by the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) criminal group in Rio de Janeiro. The country has until the end of the already disrupted Confederations Cup to show its management skills during this type of crisis and it will have to create resources to improve the process and mitigate the social tensions so that the World Youth Day, the World Cup, and the Olympic Games may take place under a calm atmosphere. Despite the great effort in creating the Peacekeeping Police Units (UPPs) for the slums and the 19-month participation of the Army Peacekeeping Force in the occupation of the Complexo do Alemão and Complexo da Penha slums, there is still a long way to go. Once again, Brazil’s capacity to guarantee security for large events was internationally questioned.

*Fernando Montenegro, Retired Colonel of the Brazilian Army Special Forces – Terrorism and Public and Private Security Analyst