Category Archives: Americas

Brazil FIFA World Cup: There is such a thing as bad publicity

Brazil blog1

How accurate is the negative international media coverage of the security risks for the FIFA World Cup?

The international media has increasingly focused on Brazil ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, scheduled to take place in 12 host cities from 12 June to 13 July. Most press coverage has been negative, highlighting crime and unrest in the country. Indeed, there have been a number of issues in the country that have raised some doubts over whether the event will pass off seamlessly. Such concerns include recent protests and rioting in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, high crime rates in major cities, and delays in completing World Cup construction projects. Despite all of these issues, a factor that has been largely ignored is the role of media reporting on such international events. Although there are considerable social and economic problems in Brazil, the international media has tended to present security concerns in an unpragmatic discourse that is unhelpful for persons attending the World Cup.

The media’s catch-22

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Whenever a country is assigned the responsibility of staging an international event, media attention on the host country is boosted. The media is responsive to its readers; when foreign interests in the country increase, whether it be a result of investment projects or the number of foreign nationals intending to visit a host country, the number of international stories on the country is likely to rise. The international media will generally seize the increased public attention to shed light on existing social, economic and/or political issues in the host country. However, there are several factors that limit the depth of coverage that journalists can provide on foreign countries. One of the obstacles to providing thorough analysis includes the imperative of providing succinct stories to match the generally superficial interest of a local audience reading about a foreign country. Moreover, the notion that ‘no news sells like bad news’ has gravity, particularly when the media is focusing on foreign countries. As a result, a number of news media agencies have provided diluted, neatly packaged summaries of ongoing issues in host countries that do not reflect realistic threats for foreign nationals in the country.

World “Crime” Cup?

Crime

Brazil has invested over US$855 million in security improvements and 57,000 troops, as well as 100,000 police, will be deployed for the tournament. In light of major security upgrades in the host cities, the crime risk will be somewhat mitigated. Nevertheless, it is important to note that Brazil’s cities have high crime rates by international standards. The following statistics illustrate the security gap in Brazil compared to developed countries.

Crime stats

While socio-economic and security problems in a host country may be credible, the international media has tended to overstate the security threats to foreign visitors, particularly when developing countries are scheduled to hold high-profile international events. Violent crimes are stressed in the news, hinting that foreigners are frequently victimised. However, in countries with high crime rates like South Africa and Brazil, locals residing in low-income districts generally face the greatest risk of being targeted in violent crime incidents. Thus, the major concern for visitors is petty crime in tourist areas and public transport hubs; opportunistic criminals may use the anonymity of large crowds for pickpocketing or bag-snatching.

Moreover, when considering the amount of resources that are typically invested in boosting security for internationally significant events, the risk of foreign nationals being victimised may be reduced. Indeed, when South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup, reports of both violent and petty crime significantly declined. Reports indicate that crime dropped by over 11 percent during the month-long event. The reduction in crime was preceded by a swathe of negative media coverage on South Africa, suggesting that the tournament would be marked by violent crime (in fact, there was a spike in crime incidents only in the months following the event). Nevertheless Even if overall crime rates significantly decrease in Brazil for the tournament, crime will continue to be a concern in the country. However, contrary to be international media’s emphasis on violent forms of crime in Brazil, petty crime is a more pervasive concern for foreign nationals.

Civil unrest

Civil unrest

Protests and strike action over government spending on the World Cup, among other grievances, have been increasing in the run-up to the tournament. National unity and ‘animacao’ (animation) over the World Cup are certainly not at an all-time high in the country. Indeed, local residents seem to be in competition with the international media over who is more critical of the upcoming games. Nevertheless, the most vocal critics who have called for disruptive protests during the tournament form a small minority; many Brazilians remain apathetic about the international event.

Numerous media sources have pointed to the unrest during the FIFA Confederations Cup (FCC) in Brazil in June 2013 as a gauge of what to expect during the World Cup. The FCC was marked by persistent, disruptive and at times violent protests. Although the initial campaign has lost momentum, associated gatherings have since taken place regularly in the lead up to the World Cup. However, the numbers of people protesting in recent months have not come anywhere close to the number of people who participated in FCC protests. It is likely that smaller protest groups will try to gather near high-profile locations associated with the World Cup. However, in light of the increased security measures expected in the vicinity of stadiums, Fanfests and other tourist hotspots, the likelihood of widespread violent unrest occurring or significantly affecting World Cup proceedings is fairly low.

It is also important to remember that increased protest action in a host country before a major international event is not uncommon (cf. London 2012 Olympics and the 2004 Olympics in Greece). Social movements and interest groups often view the increased media attention as a platform for airing grievances. In addition, threatening civil disorder ahead of an important event like the World Cup is an effective tool for gaining concessions from governments who are determined to prevent any major glitches during such high-profile events. This means that the social, economic and/or political circumstances driving protests may not necessarily all be worsening in Brazil; the mere fact that the media has a piqued interest in the country is one of the key variables goading unrest. Thus, the more the media reports on demonstrations, the more that activists will be emboldened to continue demonstrations in the coming weeks.

Capacity issues

stadium

Perhaps the most widespread issue that may affect foreign nationals in Brazil during the tournament is infrastructural shortcomings. The international media has provided a cursory acknowledgement of such concerns. Several construction projects and development plans for the event will not be completed by 12 June. There are concerns over public transport improvements, delays in completing stadiums (in Sao Paulo, Cuiaba and Curitiba) and insufficient mobile and internet network coverage in major cities. Such shortcomings mean that the capacity to respond to potential emergencies may be compromised. However, infrastructural inadequacies are more likely to just be a point of frustration for visitors in Brazil.

Will Brazil pull-off a hat-trick?

Although there are security concerns over how the upcoming tournament will play out, the international media has generally misplaced emphasis on the risks in the country, suggesting that existing problems in the country will suddenly worsen during the World Cup. By oversimplifying the issues in Brazil, international attention is drawn to risks less likely to affect foreign nationals, instead of highlighting more credible security and travel risks.

For further, balanced, information regarding the main risks associated with travel to Brazil during the World Cup, including specific host city information, please click here.

 


Analysis by Lara Sierra-Rubia, follow her @AmericaAnalyst

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Top tips for staying safe at the World Cup

brazil-flag-eye

Ahead of the Brazil World Cup, Nick Piper (red24’s Chief Analyst for the Americas) takes a look at red24’s top security tips for travellers going to the tournament.

 

  • Visit a travel clinic well in advance of your trip to obtain the necessary vaccinations.
  • Arrange to be met on arrival in each host city by a representative from your hotel or a trusted local contact whose identity can be verified.
  • Ideally arrange to arrive during daylight hours
  • Book at least your first night’s accommodation in each host city.
  • Avoid travelling at night, and limit the amount of time you spend walking around cities at night.
  • When possible, leave all important documents in a safe (or safe deposit box) at your accommodation.
  • Only carry certified copies of your passport.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash (only carry enough cash for a day) or wearing expensive jewellery or valuables.
  • Due to the risk of drink-spiking, do not leave drinks unattended or accept drinks from strangers.
  • Only organise a taxi through trusted local sources, such as your accommodation.
  • Do not hail a taxi on the street or enter one that has been hailed by persons you have only recently met.
  • Do not enter a taxi that is carrying other passengers.
  • If it is safe to do so, strongly consider exiting a taxi if it stops to pick up additional passengers.
  • Do not use ATMs on the street, particularly after dark or in a deserted area.
  • If possible, only use ATMs that are located in busy shopping centres, stores, banks and hotel lobbies.
  • In the event that you are a victim of crime, do not resist the demands of the perpetrators.

 


 

Interested in knowing more? Take a look at red24’s briefing on the security risks facing travellers going to the World Cup.

Or sign up directly for red24’s Brazil World Cup package. This is designed to provide travellers with advice, security updates and emergency support – both before and during the tournament.

Article by Nick Piper, follow him @AmericasRisk.

 

Brazil: Staying safe at the 2014 World Cup

The 2014 football World Cup will be held in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July. The tournament will be contested between 32 national teams and will see a total of 64 matches played in 12 host cities.

Security risks

Persons travelling to the tournament should be aware of the security threats in Brazil. All the host cities tabled above are assessed to be high-risk destinations. The greatest concern facing travellers is crime. Incidents of petty crime are common throughout these urban centres. Criminals may take advantage of the anonymity of large crowds to conduct their activities at matches, other events linked to the tournament and popular tourist areas. Violent crime is an established security issue in World Cup host cities. Although most instances of violent crime affect locals in lower-income favela areas, red24 is aware of several incidents that have involved foreign nationals elsewhere in host cities in recent months.

A further concern pertains to short-term express kidnapping. This form of kidnapping involves victims being held for a short duration while they are forced to withdraw money or hand over PIN details so that money can be withdrawn from ATMs; in other cases, they are held while being relieved of other possessions. Significantly, express kidnappings are equally likely to take place in affluent areas as in lower-income areas. Although the use of bogus taxis or rogue taxi drivers is a primary modus operandi of express kidnappers, incidents are also perpetrated near outdoor ATMs. There is a lesser threat of traditional kidnapping for ransom. Most cases of this longer form of kidnapping involve locals; the number of foreign nationals in the country on short-term visits that have been kidnapped is assessed to have decreased significantly in recent years. Nevertheless, the risk does extend to non-Brazilians; appropriate security protocols should be established to minimise the risk.

Sporadic demonstrations over socio-economic and labour concerns have been affecting Brazil since June 2013. The largest of these protest campaigns corresponded with the Confederations Cup football tournament, which took place between 15 and 30 June 2013. It is anticipated that there will be an attempt on the part of protest movement organisers to use the added media attention of the World Cup to highlight their respective causes. These groups have already indicated their intention to disrupt the tournament if their demands are not met. Gatherings will likely be planned in areas that allow for maximum exposure; these include sites associated with the World Cup, including in the vicinity of stadiums. Demonstrations have the potential to turn violent, as they are often infiltrated by disruptive elements, such as members of the anarchist Black Bloc.

The risk of terrorism in Brazil is low. There are no notable terrorist groups currently active in the country, nor has red24 received any information or intelligence to suggest that terrorist attacks are being arranged or planned; however, the risk of an incursion during a major international tournament such as the World Cup cannot be discounted. Any potential targets are likely to be symbolic and associated with the tournament.

 

red24 service capabilities

red24 has experience assisting clients in managing their risk during international sporting tournaments, including the London 2012 Olympics and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Our services include the creation of crisis management plans, facilitating security escorts, check-in and alert services, and hostile environment awareness courses. Our products and services are provided by a range of experts and facilitated through our 24/7 Crisis Response Management Centre.

We recommend that you clarify what support services are available to you via your insurance or your travel provider prior to departure. If you feel that there are any significant gaps in the support that you hope to receive in the event of a serious travel-related incident, please contact us. We have the capabilities to provide versatile, cost-effective solutions for both individuals and groups travelling to the 2014 World Cup.

Should you be interested in making use of any of these services for travel to Brazil, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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The growing threat of kidnapping in Mexico – Part 2

Mex soldierIs there a link between the war on drugs and kidnapping in Mexico?

As noted in part one of this blog series, 2013 marked the biggest year-on-year increase in the number of kidnapping cases reported per month since 2008. There are numerous theories that attempt to explain this apparent rise in kidnappings in the country and determine whether this trend will continue or even be further accelerated in years to come. A number of these theories examine the link between ongoing ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico, including the arrests of high-value targets (HVTs), such as top cartel leaders, and increases in violence and other forms of crime, such as kidnapping. Part two of this series provides a brief overview of these theories.

The war on drugs in Mexico

In 2006, Mexico’s former president, Felipe Calderon, launched an extensive anti-narcotics strategy in an effort to combat drug trafficking in the country. Under incumbent president Enrique Pena Nieto, the so called ‘war on drugs’ is continuing with his anti-crime strategy. Although Nieto declared that his strategy would be more holistic and focus on addressing the socio-economic roots of violent crime, to date there hasn’t actually been as much of a change in strategy as was proclaimed or even anticipated. The recent arrests of high-ranking transnational criminal organisation (TCO) figures, such as the 22 February arrest of Sinaloa cartel’s highest-ranking member, Joaquin Guzman (also known as El Chapo), illustrate that Nieto has not entirely abandoned the ‘kingpin strategy’ that was utilised by his predecessor.

Government focus on kidnapping

The fight against kidnapping in Mexico also forms a central part of the war on drugs and Nieto’s holistic anti-crime strategy. Nieto has promised to halve kidnappings during his term in office; however, evidence of this has not yet been seen. The government sees the threat of kidnapping as a serious concern. In January 2014, Nieto’s government re-pledged themselves to the fight against kidnapping with the launch of the National Anti-Kidnapping Strategy (Estrategia Nacional Antisecuestros). This strategy includes a ten-step action plan focusing on technological and legal improvements, the creation of additional anti-kidnapping units, and a focus on the ten states most impacted by the crime; these include Durango, Mexico, Guerrero, Michoacan, Morelos, Tabasco, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. According to government sources, as many as 74 percent of kidnappings occur in these states; however, it should also be noted that it is estimated that only one in ten cases of kidnapping is ever reported and all kidnapping statistics could therefore be misrepresentative of the actual threat.

To what extent the new National Anti-Kidnapping Strategy will come to fruition is still to be seen. Many have criticised the plan for being too broad and lacking specifics on exactly what is to be done to reduce the kidnapping threat in the country. However, the fact that the government has acknowledged the extent of this threat in Mexico is a positive sign as more resources will be made available to traditionally under sourced anti-kidnapping units. In recent months, increased concerns over the anti-kidnapping strategy have been raised; these include the continued use of the kingpin strategy and the effect that the ongoing war on drugs has on kidnapping in the county. The two most prominent concerns are examined below.

Diversification of cartel tactics

TCOs such as Mexico’s major drug cartels have been increasingly diversifying their operations beyond traditional drug trafficking in recent years. Cartels are expanding into new segments of the ‘criminal industry’ and also investing in business outside of the scope of its existing operations. Beyond drug trafficking, criminal groups are branching out into prostitution, piracy, human trafficking, human organ harvesting, illegal mining and logging, merchandise, oil and mineral theft, kidnapping for ransom and extortion, and various other illicit activities.

Traditionally in business, there are two dimensions of rationale for diversification in any industry; these are defensive or offensive strategies. In the case of organised crime in Mexico, it has been argued that the ongoing war on drugs has forced cartels to adopt a more defensive strategy in order to spread the risk as their traditional (drug trafficking) markets are contracting. According to this argument, the police and army crackdown on drug traffickers in recent years, including the arrest of major cartel leaders, has inadvertently forced cartels to peruse other avenues of revenue.

Although proving a direct link between the diversification of cartel operations and the war on drugs can be tenuous, this theory has received credence with various scholars and members of the Mexican government. According to this theory, the countrywide increase in kidnappings can in part be linked to this diversification.

Splintering of cartels and the rise of ‘super-powered’ street gangs

mexican-cartel-map

Another related trend contributing to escalating violence and the rise in kidnappings in the country is the fracturing of cartel networks. Since the 1980s, Mexican cartels have begun to fracture into smaller, geographically compact regional networks. This process of splintering (also referred to as ‘balkanisation’) has affected the operations of major cartels. There are various drivers for this balkanisation, including inter- and intra-cartel violence, external pressure from governments (including the arrest of cartel leaders), changes in drug production operations and the evolving global drug industry.

This balkanisation can in turn lead to the rise of what has been called super-powered street gangs. These smaller localised gangs could replace (or at least supplement) cartels as the major drivers of violence in Mexico in years to come. Hyper-local groups are able focus all their attention on a small area of operation and potentially control these areas more effectively than large cartels. They utilise an assortment of tools from social media, to contacts in government, the local community and police to spread fear and maintain control.

Tactics of these smaller street gangs often differ from that of the large cartels. Although most of these gangs are also involved to some degree in the drug industry, other forms of crime, such as kidnapping, and specifically express kidnapping, is often more lucrative for these smaller gangs. The rise of these groups can therefore be seen as a contributing factor in the ongoing increase in kidnapping.

Historically, the kingpin strategy has also been blamed as a contributing factor for the apparent splintering and decentralisation of violence. The most common critique of the strategy states that the killing or arrest of an organisation’s leader creates a void. This void in turn can lead to the internal fracturing of a cartel and allows rival groups (internally or externally) to challenge the cartel; this often results in violent conflict. Also, as mentioned above, this could provide opportunities for smaller groups to gain a foothold in the industry. Larger gangs can also split, as happened with the Gulf Cartel. This cartel was dominant in large parts of north eastern Mexico until 2010, when a split within the organisation saw its armed wing, Los Zetas, form its own cartel and subsequently supplant the Gulf Cartel as the foremost organised crime group in the north east. In turn, extensive infighting within Los Zetas occurred between 2010 and 2012 and lead to fracturing within the group. It should be noted that today this group is believed to generate about 50 percent of its revenue through traditional drug trafficking; the rest of the revnue comes from low-level criminal activities such as extortion, kidnapping, theft, piracy and other licit and illicit activities. It can be argued that this business model has been pursued due to fractioning within the group and also as a diversification strategy.

Findings and Forecast

It is important to note that although the above-mentioned theories have received strong support, proving a direct link between the war on drugs, including the arrest of cartel leaders and a change in kidnapping rates, is tenuous. Theories surrounding the diversification of cartel operations and the potential splintering of large cartels can be seen as contributing factors to the increase in crimes such as kidnapping; however, with the limited information available, the link is speculative at best. The problem lies in the dictum; correlation does not necessarily imply causation. There might be unknown lurking variables that play a crucial part in explaining and forecasting kidnapping trends in Mexico. The theories above should therefore be seen as guidelines towards the truth, but not as empirical proof in and of themselves.

However, with the information available, one can make a number of well-supported forecasts for kidnapping in Mexico. Firstly, it should be noted that the increasing focus of the government on kidnapping, and the launch of the Anti-Kidnapping Strategy, will eventually bolster anti-kidnapping units at a state level. It could also lead to a decrease in kidnappings in the long-term. However, this plan is still vague and will take time to implement. As such, the potential benefit from this plan is not expected to be seen in the coming months.

The government is also expected to continue its traditional approach to the war on drugs and use of the kingpin strategy in coming months. Most of the major heads of cartels have been arrested, but as new leadership arises, this strategy will continue. This in turn could continue to lead to increases in kidnappings countrywide, according to the theories posited above.

As noted in the introduction, Mexico already has an increasing trend in kidnapping. This trend is partially driven by the above-mentioned theories. As new kidnapping statistics are released, it will become evident to what extent these factors have impacted kidnapping trends. At present, it is anticipated that 2014 will remain consistent with previous years and see a continuation of the trend of increasing year-on-year countrywide kidnappings; there will likely be more abductions in Mexico in 2014 than in 2013. In terms of geographical area, kidnapping rates will remain high in states that have traditionally been badly affected by the crime and increase elsewhere. It is anticipated that there will not be any meaningful decrease in abductions in any particular state.

More free stuff, listen to our Mexico: Kidnapping Overview – January 2014 on SoundCloud


Part three of this series will focus  in more detail on violence and kidnapping in Mexico on a municipal level.

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

If you have thoughts and views on why kidnapping in Mexico is increasing, or have any questions about this article, please leave a comment below.

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The growing threat of kidnapping in Mexico – Part 1

Mex Kidnapping

This is part one of a three part series; part two can be found here.

During 2013, which was President Enrique Pena Nieto’s first year in power, Mexico witnessed a significant increase in the number of kidnapping cases. In 2012, the country recorded 1,407 kidnappings; by the end of 2013, this figure had increased by as much as 20 percent to 1,695 kidnappings, marking the biggest year-on-year increase since 2008.

The records used to arrive at these numbers are from the Mexican government and are not beyond reproach. Those with some conception of the security situation in the country will agree that most kidnappings are not reported by victims. In addition to this, there is a disincentive by local authorities to account for those cases that are reported. The extent of this total non-reporting rate is assessed to be between 1 and 10 percent; there were, therefore, likely somewhere in the region of 30,000 kidnappings in Mexico in 2013.

Despite the shortfalls in using government statistics, they are an effective means of establishing changes in kidnapping characteristics in Mexico. This is of importance in assessing trends, which are arguably more valuable to those with interests in the country than accurate absolute figures. The main trend that was seen in 2013, besides an increase in absolute numbers that is accepted to be at least 20 percent, was the consolidation of the risk in areas that have traditionally been significantly affected. These mainly include those border states that perennially exhibit high homicide rates, which in turn stem from elevated levels of organised crime violence. At the same time, central states exhibited significant increases in kidnappings in 2013, which accounts for why Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Michoacán, Mexico state, Morelos, Veracruz, Tabasco and Jalisco were ranked the top in terms of kidnapping numbers in 2013.

Trends identified during the course of 2013 suggest that the year ahead will not be characterised by a significant decrease in total kidnapping numbers in Mexico. This conclusion is supportive by the continued failure of the Mexican authorities to address the complicated root causes of the crime.

More free stuff, listen to our Mexico: Kidnapping Overview – January 2014 on SoundCloud


Part two of this article will focus  in more detail on various theories to explain this apparent rise in kidnappings in the country and determine whether this trend will continue or even be further accelerated in years to come?

Article by Nick Piper, follow him @AmericasRisk

If you have thoughts and views on why kidnapping in Mexico is increasing, or have any questions about this article, please leave a comment below.

This article was originally posted in the KR Magazine 2014 Forecast, for additional Kidnap and Ransom articles, including by other red24 analysts, subscribe here.

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Pele fears protests could ruin World Cup; but what do the analysts say?

Pele

Security at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil

The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be held in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July.  In a recent interview, Pele (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), the retired Brazilian football legend, stated that as a Brazilian, the ongoing civil unrest in the country not only saddens him but could also sour the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pele is one of the most lauded players in the history of football and is frequently ranked the best player ever. However, does his expertise carry over to the field of political and security risk analysis, and will the protests, as he believes, spoil the World Cup?

Brief background on protests

Sporadic protests over socio-economic and labour concerns have been affecting Brazil since June 2013. Although the largest of these corresponded with the FIFA Confederations Cup (FCC) period (15 to 30 June), related gatherings have been ongoing in recent months. The civil unrest was initially motivated by an increase in public transport fares in Rio de Janeiro; however, the campaign soon garnered significant support and momentum. It formed a convenient platform for various civil society groupings to voice their respective grievances, including issues regarding service delivery, concerns over the World Cup, corruption, etc. Despite significantly reduced support for the protest movement following the FCC period, periodic protests continue in the country and violence still remains a considerable concern at related events. Most recent socio-economic demonstrations have focused on Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. It should be noted that police forces often resort to heavy-handed tactics to disperse protesters (as seen in the video below):

(WarningVideo contains scenes of violence some viewers may find disturbing )

Will there be protests?

Yes, protests by a variety of disparate groups are expected in host cities during the World Cup. These groups have already indicated their intention to disrupt the tournament if their demands are not met. Pele’s views are therefore based on credible concerns. However, it should be noted that disruptions caused by potential protests are anticipated to be largely minimised by government security operations in the 12 host cities. It is red24’s position that these events will not reach the magnitude of those witnessed during the FCC period. This is due, in roughly equal measures, to the large-scale increase in security aimed at limiting disruptions caused by potential protests (the government has invested over US$2.2 billion into World Cup security in 2013 alone) and the placating options that are available to President Dilma Rousseff so as to counter any burgeoning protest movement. Nevertheless, gatherings will still likely be planned in areas that allow for maximum exposure; these include sites associated with the tournament. Further details on planned protests and city-specific protest hotspots can be found at red24.com. These events have the potential to turn violent, as these are often infiltrated by disruptive elements, such as members of the anarchist Black Bloc. A great source for additional views from Brazil, specifically related to the World Cup, can be found on the “A Brazilian Operating in This Area” – blog, by the local journalist, Mauricio Savarese.

What should Pele be concerned about?

According to the red24 2014 Threat Forecast, despite the media focus on protests, the most apparent risk during the World Cup is the high threat from crime in Brazil, particularly in major urban centres. Already-high petty crime rates will likely be elevated, particularly near stadiums, popular tourist areas and transport hubs; violent crime will remain an ever-present concern, mainly in lower-income areas and within cities at night. The government will attempt to reduce this risk through increased surveillance and an overall heightened police presence; however, official efforts are likely to fall short of significantly reducing the risk of crime in host cities.

A further concern is that of express kidnapping. This form of kidnapping involves victims being held temporarily while they are forced to withdraw money or hand over PIN details so that money can be withdrawn from ATMs. Although the use of bogus taxis or rogue taxi drivers is a primary modus operandi of express kidnappers, incidents are also perpetrated near outdoor and isolated indoor ATMs. In recent years, there have been a number of instances of this short-term form of abduction affecting foreign nationals in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other cities that are set to host World Cup matches. Although somewhat mitigated by an increased security force presence, there is still a credible concern of express kidnapping facing those visiting host cities.

It should also be noted that there is a risk of terrorism at the World Cup that is associated with all international events. Lastly, those visiting host cities are not immune from the prevailing kidnapping for ransom risk.

Brazil security Overview of risks in Brazil

Pele’s concern over protests in Brazil is therefore valid, but it is unlikely at this stage that these gatherings will ruin the World Cup. As seen above, there are various other concerns of which visitors to Brazil should be made aware. However, by adopting a number of commonsense precautions, these risks can be greatly mitigated.

red24 has launched a tailored package of services for visitors to the 2014 World Cup. This has been designed to provide travellers with detailed advice, security updates and 24/7 telephone support during the event. For more information about this package, please click here

Article by Barend Lutz, follow him @LutzBarend

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Venezuela: The link between politically motivated protests and regime instability

JORNADA DE PROTESTA DE LA OPOSICIÓN EN CARACAS

In light of near-daily anti-government protests and violent unrest in Venezuela since 12 February, Chief Americas Analyst, Nick Piper,  analyses the possible short-term and long-term political outcomes in Venezuela.

For the full free analysis, click here

Analysis by Nick Piper, follow him @AmericasRisk

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The taming of the vigilantes

Will the legalisation of civil defense groups improve security in Mexico?

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On 27 January, Mexican authorities announced that the government would begin drafting policy to legalise civil defense groups and have them integrated into the Rural Defense Corps. These vigilante groups formed in response to the widely perceived failure of the Mexican government to combat drug cartel violence in the country. Such groups have proliferated in recent years; it is estimated that there are over 20,000 people across the country aligned therewith. Civil defense groups have fulfilled a policing function in areas that have been significantly affected by cartel activities, and have a strong operational presence in the western states of Michoacan and Guerrero.

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The government has stated that the military and federal police will now work with these groups to combat drug cartels and curb narcotics trafficking in the country. Vigilante leaders will have to submit a list of their members to the Defense Department for the army’s approval; furthermore, the army will reportedly oversee the groups. In exchange, vigilante groups will be supplied with the communications, equipment and logistics necessary to conduct security operations. Government representatives have stressed that the partnership is an interim measure, suggesting that civil defense groups will be expected to lay down their arms and disband once the security situation has improved.

This development in Mexico’s approach to security raises two primary questions. Firstly, how dramatic is this policy shift? Secondly, will the legalisation and government regulation of civil defense forces lead to an improved security environment in the country?

Dramatic shift in policy?

The government’s proposal of collaboration with civil defense groups does not mark a significantly new approach to civil defense groups.

Civil defense groups and civilian groups have driven out members of the Knights Templar drug cartel in a number of rural towns in Michoacan in recent months. In doing so, vigilantes clashed with police as well. In addition, federal police have been barred from entering a number of towns, due to persistent hostilities in Guerrero. While this demonstrates that the relationship between vigilante groups and police is a far cry from a buddy cop film, it is not completely fraught. There has been tacit support of civil defense groups from security forces, particularly in Michoacan. There are reports of police welcoming assistance from civil defense groups during armed clashes with cartels. The move to temporarily legalise vigilante groups suggests that the government concedes that its security forces do not have the capacity, will or public support to contain drug-related violence in the country.

A safer Mexico?

It is important to note that one of the main reasons vigilante groups have made considerable headway in combating cartels in rural Mexico is that they are not compelled to follow due process, respect human rights, or abide by the same code of conduct as government security forces. Federal police have greater accountability, and as such, have more limited means available to them to fight cartels (who typically use dirty tactics to achieve their desired ends). Civil defense groups appear to have filled that gap, so to speak. If these vigilante groups do adhere to government regulation, the extrajudicial tactics available to them will be restricted, and thus the efficacy of these groups in combating drug cartels may be eroded.

In addition, there have been increasing reports that a number of vigilante groups in western Mexico are proxies for rival cartels and criminal organisations. If these groups are corrupt, their involvement in official police operations could severely undermine the security environment in Mexico.

The government has stated that civil defense groups will be subject to some form of formal training by the Defense Department. However, Mexico’s federal police and military have themselves been subject to accusations of human rights abuse, as well as of disrespecting the rule of law and due process. Moreover, critics have claimed that rudimentary police training will not provide vigilante groups with esprit de corps.

Critics have warned that past experiments of this nature in other Latin American countries have failed dismally. In Colombia, pro-government paramilitary patrols were responsible for a number of serious human rights violations and openly engaged in illicit activities in the 1990s, when armed groups such as the AUC were legally and logistically backed by the government. Indeed, since paramilitary groups were demobilised between 2003 and 2006, a number of former paramilitary forces have become members of transnational criminal organisations in the country, also known as bandas criminals, or BACRIMs.

In light of these concerns, it is possible that the legalisation of civilian defense groups may have long-term effects on the security environment in Mexico. The government and vigilante groups are still in the process of formulating the policy for legalisation and cooperation. Whether the outcome of this venture is positive for Mexico’s security environment will largely depend on the terms and conditions thereof.

To limit potential fallout from unclear mandates and procedures, the following issues should be addressed in the final draft of the policy:

  • A specific timeframe should be provided for the legalisation period; moreover, contingencies for once the groups are expected to disband should be clearly laid out.
  • Strict vetting procedures should be implemented for civil defense group members involved in official operations.
  • Clear delineation of civil defense group roles and procedures.
  • Hierarchies for personnel.
  • Areas of jurisdiction.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of civil defense group performance.

Article by Lara Sierra-Rubia – Follow her @AmericaAnalyst

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Flash Mobs in Americas: More Mob than Flash?

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Most people love the cheerful surprise of being caught unaware in a flash mob, except maybe these guys. Who would not enjoy jovial choreographed people dancing to Journey? Who can hold back the goose bumps when listening to Ode to Joy preformed, seemingly ad lib, in the streets of Sabadell, Catalonia? However, as with most things, there is a dark side to flash mobs. The most notorious case is the 26 December 2013 violent flash mob that took place in the NYC Kings Plaza Shopping Centre (video). Hundreds of teenagers flooded the mall, attacking customers, trashing shops and playing the ‘knockout’ game, according to some reports. These youth riots are not only taking place in the US, but also in other countries in the Americas.

In Brazil, it is called a rolezinho and mostly occurs in malls in Sao Paulo. Most recently, on 11 January, a rolezinho took place at the Shopping Metro Itaquera. Hundreds of teen participants stormed the mall, looted shops and clashed with police forces. The police consequently used teargas, rubber bullets and batons against the teens. Three people were arrested. The Brazilian teen participants claim that these gatherings are to protest against, ‘all forms of oppression and discrimination against the poor blacks, and also the brutal and cowardly daily action of the Military Police in Brazil’. It should be noted that 10 additional rolezinho’s are already scheduled, via social media networks, to take place in Brazil in January and February.

Security forces in both the US and Brazil react harshly to this kind of protest. Mall security in the US is generally not equipped to handle large-scale uprisings; in most cases, violent clashes occur between participants and security forces. In Brazil, the government response is even harsher; the use of rubber bullets and teargas is common practice in dispersing teens participating in a rolezinho. Mall security, as well as government legislation, has been increased in both countries to deal with future uprisings. Certain malls in the US have even implemented access restrictions to unescorted underage persons.

Violent flash mobs are not a new phenomenon, although incidents have been sparser in the past than in recent months. One example is the mass fight which took place in Boston’s Carson Beach in 2011. It should be noted that the recent increasing trend could just be a social media ‘fad’ that will pass relatively quickly; however, there are those who believe that these mobs are part of a deeper underlying problem. There is an ongoing debate about whether these violent flash mobs are legitimate forms of protest or merely violent riots. The events generally involve youths from marginalised sectors of society and participants often have socio-economic motivations for participation. I find it difficult to view these mobs as part of the legitimate political process, but it is still important to note their concerns, if future incidents are to be avoided.

Even if these violent flash mobs are only a fad, the incidents serve to illustrate the necessity for common sense personal security. Personal security should always begin with situational awareness. Being aware of your surroundings could give you the necessary time to remove yourself from an emerging dangerous situation, such as a violent flash mob or a person following you and intending to make you the most recent victim of the knockout game. Remember, always trust your instincts. If someone or something makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave the area. Finally, when you next witness a traditional pleasant flash mob, enjoy the performance, but always remember that not all flash mobs are friendly.

Watch this:
  • For a great 30 minute discussion on How To Stop Teens Engaging In Flash Robs, see this Huffington Post video.

Article by Barend Lutz – Follow him on Twitter @lutzbarend

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