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Spectacle and surveillance in Brazil

The unprecedented series of mega-events which are set to take place across Brazil in the coming years have lead to heightened security in host cities – a gold mine for the global private defence industry.


Police patrol Manguinhos favela in Río de Janeiro. Santi Carneri/Demotix.

The Confederations Cup, to be held in June across six host cities, comes as a test for Brazil as it braces for a never-before-seen series of mega-events, including the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the summer Olympics in 2016. Among the top concerns for organizers, as is usually the case for major international events, is security, a concern that has been amplified by the country’s high crime rates. Brazil has taken up the challenge with a $900-million investment in security forces from the federal government, as well as a slew of measures, from CCTV cameras to drone monitoring, to the spectacular “pacification” programs run by certain World Cup host cities to clear the favelas from drug gangs. During the Confederations Cup alone, approximately 15,000 private officers will guard the various venues – twice as many are planned for the 2014 World Cup.

These mega-events, as well as the security apparatus they imply, come at a time of shift for Brazil in the arena of defense. The country, which seeks to increase its status on the global stage, is also looking at increasing the protection of its borders and natural resources (in particular, its oil reserves, located on the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro). Brazil has been lobbying for a permanent seat at the UN and has entered a phase of renewal of its military equipment; its president, Dilma Rousseff, has exempted defense companies from taxes for five years, in order to boost national production. Mega-events are clearly a way to showcase the country’s strength and credibility as a major player on the international scene. But using security for image building, as past examples have shown, can be akin to opening Pandora’s box.

Spectacle and surveillance

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault wrote: “our society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance,” in reference to Guy Debord’s society of the spectacle theory. In recent years, mega-events have blurred the lines between Foucault’s and Debord’s worldview, turning sporting events into showcases of security know-how, and security into a spectacle itself (a phenomenon called “spectacular security” by Canadian sociologists Philip Boyle and Kevin Haggerty.) Mega-events provide host countries and cities with the perfect opportunity to improve their credibility by proving they are in control of their territories. Therefore, the purpose isn’t to ensure security per se but to demonstrate an illusion of security that will reassure mega-event stakeholders. This illusion begins long before the events start, indeed the Brazilian government officials declared last year they were hoping to make the 2014 World Cup “one of the most protected sports events in history”. The willingness to perpetually outdo every previous event in order for host countries or host cities to distinguish themselves from others has led to an escalation in security bills. In the case of Olympic Games, they went from $66.2 million for Barcelona Games in 1992, to $179.6 million in Sydney in 2000, to Beijing’s $6.5 billion in 2008 and London’s $2.2 billion in 2012.

This rhetoric has been fuelled by the meteoric growth of the private security industry, one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, spurred itself by the post 9/11 global climate characterized by fear of unpredictable attacks. For these companies, major international events are a godsend – they provide the opportunity to sign huge contracts, showcase their products and knowledge, and establish new standards for urban security that will be replicated around the world. A vast number of companies and consultants now gravitate around the organization of mega-events, helping new host cities and countries learn from “best practices” in the field. Brazil has reportedly taken advice from the Royal Canadian Mountain Police after Canada hosted the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics, and from Spanish and American trainers, among others. Rio de Janeiro also signed a multi-year consultancy contract with former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani to learn from his “broken windows” theory (in spite of having mitigated results in Mexico).

But Brazil’s strongest ties with a foreign security industry are with those of Israel. Israeli companies like Elbit Systems, Israeli Aircraft Industries and Israeli Military Industries have been doing business with Brazil for years, while Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has bought a 40% stake in Brazilian GESPI Aeronautics. Back in 2010, Brazil and Israel signed a security cooperation agreement, with news reports stating the agreement dealt specifically with the World Cup and Olympics. Since then, officials from both countries have met to develop partnerships for mega-events and Israeli security experts have given several conferences and workshops for Brazilian officials and members of the Municipal Guard. In late 2012, Brazil’s chief of security for major events said Brazil and Israel were in the process of signing a protocol to share security intelligence.

Planning for the unthinkable

Interestingly, the “best practices” shared by these companies, as noted by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine and underlined by Stephen Graham, have been acquired in military settings – in the case of Israel, during the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and for the US, in Kabul and Baghdad. Through the knowledge transfer enabled by mega-events, these strategies and technologies irremediably find themselves in the streets of Western cities. The justification for using military techniques in a non-war context has become ‘common sense’ in the 9/11 era and the pervasive climate of fear the event has brought along. Preparation for mega-events now implies assessing the risk of a terrorist attack, a risk that isn’t truly measurable. Security experts therefore prefer to brace for any scenario possible, regardless of its probability, (what Philip Boyle and Kevin Haggerty call “precautionary governance”) and planning for the unthinkable. “While terrorists certainly could target a mega-event, the real likelihood of their doing so is often a complete unknown,” write Colin Bennett and Kevin Haggerty. “Analyses of terrorist activity have repeatedly demonstrated the ‘spatial displacement’ of attacks away from hardened targets to softer, less defended areas. This has been particularly true for recent manifestations of violent Jihadi extremism. Hence, beyond a minimal threshold of basic security measures, elaborate and intense additions to the security presence at mega-events typically does little to reduce the prospect that terrorists might attack at the periphery of an event.”

In the recent case of BRIC-hosted mega-events, security concerns have also been inflated by issues of local crime. Many observers have cast doubt over the fact that Brazilian cities, with large parts of their territories under the rule of drug gangs, could successfully host major events, even though Rio de Janeiro has held Carnival and New Year’s festivities for years. Interestingly, local activists don’t worry as much about security during the World Cup or the Olympics as in the aftermath – they fear the city’s commitment to the pacification program might end once the international media’s attention is elsewhere. Another concern is that local police forces are too weak to sustain the burden of securing the events (Brazil’s Military Police is known for being corrupt and its officers underpaid and violent). This has been used as the justification for increasing the role of private security companies.

One last point to consider when looking at the implications of Brazil ramping up its security apparatus during upcoming mega-events is the legacy these measures will leave behind. In the specific case of Rio, whose poorest neighbourhoods have historically remained in the center of the city, the pacification program has clearly been targeting tourist areas and Olympic venues, causing house prices to rise and, in some instances, instigated full-on gentrification. Generally, the urban revitalization effort spurred by preparation for the World Cup and the Olympics has clearly been giving priority to certain parts of the city, creating a spatial fragmentation that will increase social divisions. During the events, cities will give away control of entire areas surrounding sports venues to FIFA and IOC, with special rules of laws being applied regarding civil rights and commercial deals. “The general tendency of the mega-event mode of production is to limit the “right to the city” through the installation of a new form of governmentality that uses apparatuses of security as its essential technical element,” writes Rio-based geographer Christopher Gaffney. “No informed population with a strong civil society would consensually submit to this outlandish proposal, thus the security apparatus functions to establish and guarantee these new circulations through the exercise of violence.”

The question of whether event-specific technology (e.g. CCTV systems) and practices will remain is also a crucial one. In Rio, certain observers worry that a corrupt and already violent military police will then use the crowd-controlling techniques learned for mega-events, and that an influx of weapons will worsen the arms traffic (for example, Rio’s military police has signed a sponsoring contract with weapons manufacturer Glock to use its handguns during the Olympics). The city, which already faces near-war situations on a daily basis, will see the lines between civil and military life blurred even more, and the “state of exception” instated to meet the supposed needs of mega-events will become permanent. “The dynamics of securitization point towards the wider legitimation of surveillance, regardless of whether or not ‘things go wrong,” write Colin Bennett and Kevin Haggerty. “If no threat to security occurs, planners can boldly assert that their extensive measures have ‘worked.’ If a threat does materialize, it can be conveniently explained by unforeseen gaps in the infrastructure and used to ratchet up levels of security at the next event.”

About the author

Flavie Halais is a freelance writer based in Montreal, focusing on urban development. She is currently studying the impact of mega-events in Brazil and Rio de Janeiro's pacification program.

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For more see: RioOnWatch.org


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