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Rio: An island of relative safety in a sea of vulnerability?

Rio de Janeiro has made strides to improve public safety, leading the way for Brazil's other 26 states. But with upcoming mega-events, coordination between federal and state forces is still needed.

By Julia MichaelsGuest blogger / October 28, 2012



Brazil has 16,000 kilometers of dry borders, a totally vulnerable area, plus 9,000 kilometers of territorial ocean, and a river 4,000 kilometers long,” State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame told a panel audience last week at the annual Global Economy Symposium, held this year in Rio de Janeiro by the German Bertelsmann Foundation and the Kiehl Institute for the World Economy.

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“It’s very difficult,” he went on. “Arms, drugs, and mass munition aren’t produced in Brazil, much less in Rio… The country must have a very clear national policy to protect its borders… this problem isn’t being dealt with in a visible manner and with results that citizens can evaluate. It ends up in the hands of the states.”

Mr. Beltrame then shifted his sights from the Brazilian federal government, to other countries.

“Our number one enemy is the automatic rifle, but we don’t have Brazilian automatic rifles; this equipment comes from abroad, mostly from the United States. The producer country should keep track of these transactions. Worse than the weapon is the munition, because munition you buy over and over. There are mechanisms for finding these weapons. Countries have the capability to do this,” Beltrame said.

One plus one equals…

It’s impossible to hear this and not imagine a member of some angry splinter group, sect, or ethnic minority popping over to Rio for the Olympics, easily picking up a weapon, getting him or herself to the top of a building and doing a Lee Harvey Oswald at a delegation en route to some competition.

Which would not exactly be a boon for tourism in Rio de Janeiro.

The state and city governments of Rio de Janeiro are politically allied with [the capital city of] Brasília, but Beltrame’s plaint indicates cracks. And these, plus longtime neglect, have led to a situation, RioRealblog has heard, where the country has a spotty national crime database, crime prevention based more on static police presence than patrols, intelligence based on wiretaps and cellphone monitoring, border patrols that use cellphones (antennae-permitting) for long range communications and position mapping, and almost zero vessel monitoring in Guanabara Bay. Fuel is also short, for waterway monitoring in much of the country.

Just last year, Brazil experienced its worst natural disaster ever, with 800 deaths from flooding in the mountains of the state of Rio de Janeiro. Six months later, a state attorney general who volunteered to help there told an OsteRio debate audience of her experience. “There were several secretaries, lots of people, federal, state, and city officials, each with his own set of priorities, everyone defending his territory,” said Denise Muniz de Tarin. “Things got better only when a general showed up. He put a map on the table.”

The map, Muniz de Tarin added, dated from 1975.

Equipment: How to use it? Who uses it? In conjunction with whom? Communicating how?

In August, Beltrame said he was “all ears” to hear how much the state of Rio could expect budget-wise from the federal government for public safety during the Roman Catholic World Youth Day and papal visit in 2013, the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympics.

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