Tag Archives: Protests

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


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?


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


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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Venezuela: The link between politically motivated protests and regime instability


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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What does the number 12,399 mean for South Africa’s 2014 Election?

South Africa’s protest culture in numbers

Service-delivery protest


Crime statistics released by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in September 2013 showed that between April 2012 and March 2013, police responded to 12,399 incidents of public unrest. ‘Public unrest’ in these instances was described as, but not limited to, marches, demonstrations and rallies not sanctioned by police or municipal authorities. Of the 12,399 incidents recorded, 10,517 were regarded as ‘peaceful’, meaning that 1,882 of the recorded incidents were defined as violent ‘public-order policing incidents’; in 2009, statistics put that figure at 1,014. This represents an increase of 85% when comparing 2008/2009’s figures to those of 2012/2013. When divided by all 365 days of the calendar year, this means that police responded to 5 reports of violent public unrest and disturbances to public order every single day in South Africa. Although the number of reported incidents of this nature has grown in the face of widening inequality, persistently high unemployment figures, tensions between workers and employers, and lackluster economic growth (all factors that should worry any government as valid threats to long-term public order and crime levels), it is the phenomenon of ‘service delivery protests’ that has caught the attention of all sectors of society in the country.

South Africa has a long history of civil disobedience and mass action mobilisation being used by its most disadvantaged citizens to bring attention to their plight or message. Nonetheless, the increase of such action and particularly the ever-increasing threat of such events turning deadly is surely a cause for concern. The independent trend monitoring group, Municipal IQ, released a report compiled using information obtained from official police records; these records show that there were 107 protests specifically categorised as motivated by service delivery grievances between the years of 2004 and 2008. However, between March 2009 and August 2013, there were 584 such protests recorded. This represents a more than 500% increase in these incidents between the two time periods. Furthermore, this sharp increase has also highlighted the SAPS’s seeming inability to manage outbreaks of physical violence and damage to property, as an ever-increasing number of citizens have been killed by direct or indirect police action during said protests. As political tensions increase ahead of scheduled general elections in the first half of 2014, so does a growing sense of dissatisfaction among sectors of the population most reliant on basic government services, such as the provision of electricity, water, housing, sanitation and other public infrastructure. In essence, this represents a growing tension between the people and their government, and local officials in particular, ahead of polls. This could impact on the security situation across parts of the country more heavily than any tensions between political parties and their supporters.


In recent weeks, the nature of police engagement with citizens in a number of service delivery protests has been characterised by a high number of injuries and deaths. Although urbanised areas of Gauteng province have been particularly affected by protest action, it should be noted that service delivery demonstrations can and have taken place in a large number of areas across the country both recently and in the past. After several continuous days of protest action between 12 January and 21 January 2014 four people were confirmed dead;  the protest involved residents of the outlying Mothotlung and Damonsville settlements, outside of the town of Brits in the North West province, blockading roads with stones and burning tyres. All four deaths were either a result of police firing rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse crowds, or police action in attempts to arrest protesters for public violence. The above-mentioned protests were motivated by a chronic lack of water supply in the suburbs, caused by failing or damaged infrastructure. In addition to these deaths, at least one other person was killed and 15 others arrested on 30 January at the Durban Deep informal settlement, west of Johannesburg, during a protest; two people were killed when residents of the Relela informal settlement in Tzaneen, Limpopo province, marched on 28 January to the local satellite police station to protest against high crime levels and police inefficiency in the area.  Including the above-mentioned deaths, it is estimated at least nine people have been killed during clashes with police at various demonstrations around the country. With service delivery protests and concomitant police action during these typically violent and chaotic protests becoming a daily phenomenon, precedence shows that this number is likely to increase in the coming months.


On 13 April, 2011 over 4,000 residents of the town of Ficksburg, in the Free State province, convened to hold a protest over a wide range of issues related to growing dissatisfaction with the provision of public services in the area. Tensions quickly reached boiling point; as police rushed to disperse crowds and arrest protesters they saw as instigators of violence, an unarmed protester named Andries Tatane was shot twice in the chest at close range as he resisted arrest when faced by several police officers. His death sparked outrage and questions over the SAPS’s Standing Order 262 from 2004 – which demands that police use minimum force, and prohibits the use of sharp ammunition for crowd management operations – having been violated numerous times during protests in recent years. The death of Tatane has been the catalyst for the questioning of police training and resultant behavior during service delivery protests which have the propensity to turn violent with very little or no notice. Unfortunately as the most recent incidents indicate, very few or inadequate measures have been taken to realistically affect changes in the methods which police choose to approach ‘public-order policing incidents’.


SA ballot-boxMillions of South African citizens are registered to vote in the country’s upcoming elections in 2014; millions of these individuals also live below the UN poverty index of $1.25 a day, many of whom also reside in the areas hardest hit by poor service delivery and the resultant protests. Not only is an escalation in political campaigning centred around these issues very likely, but an escalation in citizens’ robust disapproval where these services are lacking is also a given. Another factor is the growing hostility towards police action in response to protests; some demonstrations begin as service delivery orientated, and quickly turn into criticisms and anger at deaths caused by police action. Indeed, in a bid to prevent such incidents, police have become more likely to reduce the number of protests applied for in highly populated areas such as Cape Town and Johannesburg’s city centres in a bid to prevent the potential outbreak of violence. Unfortunately, this will not prove as effective in the lower-income areas surrounding these and other cities. In these areas, the vast majority of demonstrations focused solely on service delivery grievances and less on political party campaigning.

A solution to this issue is not simple nor can it be undertaken with significant success in the period remaining before elections. Either the delivery of public goods and services will have to improve rapidly in areas where it barely existed before, or police officers across South Africa’s most economically vulnerable areas will have to undergo intensive training to significantly review current methods of crowd control while at the same time policing those protests that are likely to occur in coming weeks. Essentially, this is what will characterise the 2014 general elections when they are remembered in the years following 2014.

Article by Ziyanda Stuurman, follower her @ZiyandaS_

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Protest Politics and Power

Will the 2 February elections fix Thailand?


Thailand is scheduled to hold a snap election on 2 February; this comes amid a formidable anti-government campaign against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her ruling Pheu Thai Party (PTP), which has been ongoing since 31 October 2013. The elections will take place in spite of the recommendation of the Electoral Commission and the Constitutional Court to postpone the poll on account of political instability.

Bangkok has witnessed recurring episodes of protracted, large-scale political demonstrations and security crackdowns since 2006. In that year, a political crisis resulted in a military coup against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, older brother of Yingluck. Since then, the political environment has remained deeply polarised.

 The impasse

The current episode of political instability has primarily been instigated by newly formed civic organisation, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). The PDRC is strongly pro-Democratic Party (DP) and anti-PTP. In response to the persistent protest action, Yingluck dissolved the country’s Parliament in early December 2013 and called for fresh elections. The PDRC and DP outright rejected this decision. Rather, they have called for Yingluck to step down as head of the caretaker government and for power to be transferred to an unelected people’s council. The opposition groups allege that snap elections will not be effective until electoral reforms are implemented. While Yingluck has thus far refused such demands, the DP’s decision to boycott the elections and the sustained anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok continue to fuel the PDRC-led anti-government campaign.

 The Bangkok Shutdown

On 13 January, the PDRC led a mass occupation of several major city intersections in Bangkok, which have been ongoing since. The ‘Bangkok Shutdown’, as it is commonly referred to, has led to widespread transport and business disruptions in the central, commercial areas of the city. Moreover, the shutdown resulted in a marked increase in tensions and violent incidents. Targeted shootings, altercations between protesters and security forces, clashes between rival protesters and low-level bombings in primary protest areas have frequently been reported in the city since early January. At least ten people have been killed and more than 450 injured in this violence.

In response, government implemented a 60-day state of emergency across Bangkok and neighbouring provinces on 22 January. The emergency decree grants security forces the power to impose curfews, detain suspects without charge, censor media and ban political gatherings. The decree has not eased tensions in the capital. Sporadic protests continue to be reported outside of government buildings and several low-level incidents of targeted violence have since been reported.

 The role of the military

During previous episodes of political turmoil, namely in 2006 and 2010, the Thai security forces acted as primary powerbrokers. However, they have thus far been reluctant to intervene in the political impasse. While the emergency decree grants wide-ranging powers to the police and the army, both agencies have avoided significant confrontation with protesters. The military has on numerous occasions expressed its neutral position in the matter, expressly denying the possibility of a military-led coup. On their part, this more circumspect approach is purposeful. Should the military take the PDRC’s bait and intervene, the possibility that the situation will rapidly degenerate into violence remains significant. Given their already tarnished reputation for bringing about an extrajudicial resolution to prior episodes of political turmoil, it is likely that they will remain unreceptive to provocation.

 Looking beyond the election

Initial forecasts indicate that it is probable that the PTP will win the 2 February elections. However, in consideration of Thailand’s long-standing and deeply polarised political environment, the possibility that they will bring about an immediate and sustained improvement to the situation remains unlikely. Although pre-election violence has thus far been relatively small-scale and targeted in nature, posing only an incidental risk to foreign nationals, further incidents of violence are anticipated, both in the run up to and immediately following the polls. In addition, the result of the election itself could well provoke wider unrest or instability that could pose a more overt threat to tourists, business visitors and expatriates.

Read more: red24 free Thailand Security Briefing

Article by Samantha McTigue – Follow her @SEA_Analyst

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