As if Brazilians didn’t have enough on their plate: on top of Zika, an interim government, an impeachment process, social uprising and the Olympics Games less than a month away, now Brazilians have to worry about something they’ve never had to deal with before: the threat of terrorism from abroad.
As the world looks on the horrific acts of terror in Europe and the United States, Brazilians prepare to receive thousands of foreign tourists for the Olympics in August. With no previous experience with terrorism, Brazil could be an easy target.
In fact, Brazilian counter-terrorism forces are no match for terrorists. Brazil’s lack of experience in the matter, its exceptionally lenient “open door” policy, ill-equipped armed forces and corruption as well as general discontent with the local government can make it easier for terrorist cells to operate in the country. Does that mean that it will happen? Probably not. But it means that Brazil is not prepared for the eventuality of a terror attack.
Recent attacks show that terrorists do not have to rely on a fancy network of operations to carry out an attack. Lone wolves have caused more damage lately than any other form of terrorism. The Brazilian government has vowed to review its counter-terrorist procedures after Thursday’s Nice attacks.
However, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN) became social media’s laughing stock this week after releasing a banner “teaching” the population how to spot a terrorist. It lists anyone wearing “weather-inappropriate” clothes, “acting strangely” or “nervously” as potential suspects. As far as Brazilian intelligence goes, a terrorist looks a lot like your average rebellious teenager.
And if the Nice attack can teach us anything at all it is that terrorism falls short of stereotypes. The man responsible for killing 84 people in France posed as an ice cream delivery guy and acted calmly after placidly waiting for nine hours to attack.
The ABIN however says it means business. In May it confirmed the authenticity of an ISIS tweet posted shortly after the Paris attacks pointing to Brazil as its next target. Publicly, the Agency is confident that everyone should be fine. However, this week sources from within the agency told a popular Brazilian magazine that on a scale of one to five, the level of terrorist threat was raised to four recently after French newspaper Libération leaked information regarding a possible terrorist attack to its Olympic team in Brazil.
The Olympic Games, nonetheless, are not only a Brazilian issue. We are talking about 11,000 athletes, 70,000 volunteers, 30,000 journalists from 204 countries, plus tourists. It is a field trip for terrorists when it comes to great international crowds and media exposure. On the other hand, it means that most international intelligence agencies such as Mossad and the CIA, for instance, are also surveilling Brazil. And so far no alarms have been raised.
Internally speaking, Brazilians are very unfamiliar with terrorism. They have no history of foreign terrorist attacks like neighboring countries such as Argentina. Brazil has seen its fair share of domestic violence and organized crime, but easygoing Brazilians are not particularly suspicious of foreigners.
Police in Rio have recently alerted travelers they will not be safe in Rio since the government has not given them sufficient funds for their operations. In fact, they have welcomed tourists with signs conveying discouraging messages such as, “Welcome to hell.” The government, in contrast, says people will be just fine like they were at the World Cup. In fact, many say unions have been using the Olympics as a bargaining chip to blackmail the government for raises.
Either way, we are left to hope no harm will come to those who go to Brazil to experience celebrate endurance, perseverance and triumph over limitations, far away from conflict and hate. And we know Brazil can throw one hell of a party with all that entails (such as safety) like they did for the last World Cup.