L.A. Now
Water from broken main near UCLA won't be stopped for about an hour
Opinion L.A.
Observations and provocations from The Times' Opinion Staff
OpinionOpinion L.A.
Opinion

Brazil's '1984'-style World Cup security may be coming to your city too

BrazilCrimeSoccerPoliticsGovernmentJournalismFIFA World Cup
The disturbing truth about Brazil's World Cup security
How did Brazil police the World Cup? Read '1984'

The World Cup in Brazil ended the way it started, with authorities flexing unprecedented muscle to squelch dissenters, silence journalists and shield the carefully manicured event from disruption. 

President Dilma Rousseff promised to host “the Cup of Cups,” and her government spent more than $850 million on security — five times what was spent in South Africa in 2010 — to ensure its month in the spotlight would not be tainted by civil unrest. All told, the country deployed 100,000 public safety officials and 50,000 military personnel who used drones, mobile integrated surveillance units, facial recognition technology and good ol’ fashioned riot gear to maintain law and order.

Authorities clamped down in the days before the tournament, arresting several high-profile activists and citizen journalists in surprise raids. As the opening game played out in Sao Paulo, demonstrators clashed with police in Brazil’s largest cities, but the government redoubled its efforts to avoid more embarrassing scenes. 

On the opening day of play in Belo Horizonte, I watched hundreds of police seal off a small anti-World Cup rally in the city’s historic center. The number of protesters paled in comparison to last year’s Confederations Cup, but many believe the overwhelming police force had a chilling effect on demonstrations.

“There are a lot of people who don’t come out here because they’re afraid,” said Rodrigo Leparoi Chaves, who works at a bakery by day to support his studies at a nearby university. “But the feelings here in the plaza are more true to Brazil than what’s happening at the stadium right now.” 

An electric group stage of the tournament drowned out the protests, and soon people were calling Brazil’s tournament the best World Cup in recent memory. As nationalist fever swept the country, Brazilians seized the spotlight to show the world that their homeland is bigger, bolder and more complex than soccer and samba. But all the while, authorities were testing new technologies, pushing the limits of their power and establishing a security legacy that will last for years to come.

In Rio de Janeiro, military troops undertook 24/7 patrols in one of the city’s largest low-income neighborhoods as part of pacification efforts that will continue after the World Cup. Across the country, thousands of newly installed security cameras fed live footage to a massive video wall at the Center for International Cooperation of the Brazilian Federal Police in Brasilia, where 200 intelligence staff from 36 countries, the United Nations, Interpol and Ameripol feasted on the surveillance data. 

Yet no amount of security could mask the deep fissures exposed during the World Cup. Matches were largely attended by white elites, in sharp contrast to the majority of Brazil’s population. An accident in Manaus left hundreds of thousands of residents without water service. An overpass just two miles from the stadium in Belo Horizonte collapsed, killing two. Heavy rainfall in Natal caused mudslides and forced evacuations. And on the field, Brazil’s stunning loss to Germany left many fans scrambling to hit the reset button on the national soccer program.

By the end of the tournament, the government seemed determined to focus on factors within its control. The night before the final match, police arrested 17 activists and journalists on “temporary prison orders” to investigate them for armed gang formation. On match day, authorities doubled the security street forces to nearly 26,000 officers who patrolled roads, subway stations and other strategic points in the city. At a small demonstration near the stadium, police clashed with protesters and journalists, seizing cameras and injuring at least 11 journalists

General José Carlos de Nardi, Brazil’s chief of the Joint Staff of the Armed Forces, said these integrated security measures were “one of the benefits that the Brazilian people will enjoy when the Cup is over.” Looking ahead, any sports event attended by more than 3,000 people will demand security officers specialized in major events, and the new mobile surveillance and command centers will function in 14 states.

At first glance, this “1984”-style security and surveillance may seem like a temporary overreach for the World Cup and the impending Olympics, yet these mega-events often serve as blueprints for security measures in public spaces, allowing governments to field-test new levels of police militarization and encroachment on privacy.

Brazil’s $850-million investment bought peace of mind for many World Cup visitors, suggesting that similar security measures may be coming to a city near you.

“I feel safer here than in Chicago,” said Mark Weber, an IT manager from Chicago I met in Manaus during the U.S.-Portugal match. “I’d like to see this many police in the streets.”

Chris Feliciano Arnold is a recipient of a 2014 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. He has written essays and journalism for the Atlantic, Salon, the Millions, the Rumpus and Los Angeles Review of Books. Follow him on Twitter @chrisarnold.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
BrazilCrimeSoccerPoliticsGovernmentJournalismFIFA World Cup
  • Calling all opinionated poets
    Calling all opinionated poets

    Last year, when we asked readers to submit opinion poetry, we were overwhelmed. More than 1,500 poets answered the call, many with multiple entries. The poems we received dealt with every issue of the day, including the war on terror, the economy, the nanny state, student debt and the...

  • Why are conservatives afraid of Neil deGrasse Tyson?
    Why are conservatives afraid of Neil deGrasse Tyson?

    Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has been the recipient of a seemingly bizarre political backlash — after the conservative magazine National Review penned a takedown cover story on the “Cosmos” host last week depicting him as a smug, intellectual bully.

  • U.N. disabilities treaty deserves ratification
    U.N. disabilities treaty deserves ratification

    The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should not be controversial: It requires equal access for the disabled and bans discrimination against them in all countries that sign on. There is no question that the Senate should ratify it. The only issue is why it...

  • Congress can, and should, sort out the Internet's tax structure
    Congress can, and should, sort out the Internet's tax structure

    At the dawn of the broadband era, Congress recognized that the Internet was becoming so fundamental to communications and the economy that it barred states from taxing the services that enabled people to log on. But some anti-tax groups and online businesses have hijacked the "Don't...

  • Gov. Brown knows better than to let lobbyists pay for his Mexico trip
    Gov. Brown knows better than to let lobbyists pay for his Mexico trip

    Gov. Jerry Brown is on a four-day trip to Mexico City to talk to government officials there about trade and immigration issues. That's a reasonable thing for a California governor to do. Brown is not traveling alone: Nine administration officials and 15 legislators (some using campaign...

  • U.N. Human Rights Council's anti-Israel inquiry
    U.N. Human Rights Council's anti-Israel inquiry

    Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution, S-21, creating a "commission of inquiry" to investigate human rights violations in the Gaza war. Nowhere does the resolution mandate that the commission conduct a fair, impartial and balanced investigation....

Comments
Loading
Loading