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Column 072516 Brewer

Monday, July 25, 2016

Rio's Olympic Games and Concerns due to Hemispheric Perils

By Jerry Brewer

Holding a world international sports event today in the Western Hemisphere is an ironic test of intestinal fortitude.  Latin America leads the world with 31 percent of the world’s murders, despite having approximately 9 percent of the world’s population.

The fact is that Latin America is the most insecure region in the world with one in every three people being a victim of a violent crime.

The 2016 Summer Games, officially known as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, and commonly known as Rio 2016, are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 5-21.

A record number of countries are scheduled to participate “in a record number of sports.” More than 10,500 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees are scheduled to compete.

Withal, the criminality and violence destabilizing many of the countries in the Western Hemisphere are so much more than an estimated annual US$80 billion drug demand. Extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking are just a few of the violent myriad menu of transnational organized crime. 

Bordering Brazil’s 848 miles of border with Paraguay, a criminal insurgency within Paraguay has had much more than a guerrilla and revolutionary-style agenda.  Paraguay is a major producer of illicit cannabis, most or all of which is consumed in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. It is a key transshipment country for Andean cocaine headed for Brazil and other Southern Cone markets, and Europe.

Weak border controls and extensive corruption are also exacerbated by money-laundering activities, especially in the Tri-Border area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, due to weak anti-money-laundering laws and poor enforcement, all of which creates a high threat environment.

Rio will become the first South American city to host the Summer Olympics, the first since 1968 to be held in Latin America and the first since 2000 to be held in the Southern Hemisphere.

Leading up to the games, controversies — including the corruption and instability of the Brazil's federal government, as well as prominent health and safety concerns surrounding the Zika virus and significant pollution in the Guanabara Bay, telegraphed elements of insecurity and significant concern to world participants and visitors.

Also complicating competent security protocols, the border area city of Pedro Juan Caballero, 600 kilometers north of Asuncion, Paraguay near Ponta Pora — one of the major urban centers in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul that stretches some 600 kilometers, is without any significant policing, customs or military controls, and home to more than 100 drug gangs that are made up of Paraguayans and Brazilians.

In June, Brazil moved more than 25,000 army, navy and air force troops along its borders with 10 South American nations to reinforce security ahead of the Confederations Cup soccer tournament.

In previous hostilities, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP) mobilized Paraguayan authorities at the end of September 2011, when six guerrilla insurgents bombed a police station and killed two police officers on the Brazilian border. Later in October, Paraguay militarized its border with Brazil by sending 1,000 troops (military and police officers) to fight the EPP that had been in a state of emergency for 17 days.

Security concerns perhaps making matters even worse, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have known links to the EPP, a communist guerrilla movement. In February 2014, Paraguay asked Interpol for the capture of two FARC members and four of the EPP for a kidnapping and murder. At least one key leader, Orley Jurado Palomino, is known to have gone to Paraguay to “provide training, advice and operational leadership to the EPP.” 

Extreme vigilance of the Brazilian homeland is critically necessary with sporting events taking place at 33 venues in Rio, as well as at five venues in other cities that include Brazil's largest city of São Paulo. Inner-city slums, known as favelas, have been suffering due to violence and resistance to eviction by police. Six people were reportedly wounded at Vila Autódromo, a favela community on the edge of the Olympic Park.

Last week Brazilian police arrested ten people suspected of planning acts of terrorism during the Olympics. The group was apparently “inspired by ISIS and mostly organized online,” Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said.

Brazil intelligence said it was “reviewing all threats after the jihadi messaging channel called for its followers to target the Olympics.”

There are some that feel Brazil isn't taking the risk of terrorism seriously enough. Last March Brazil's government cut its security budget by more than 30 percent, reduced by some US$550 million.

Not a comforting thought to an Athletes' Village that is expected to become the largest in Olympic history. A world’s eye is keenly focused on Rio and this Hemisphere’s current reputation for death and violence. Transnational crime and terror elements are prevalent throughout.

Accurate assessments of threat and the monitoring of developing global situations to identify fluid trends with subsequent aggressive and proactive follow-up, must be critical elements of Brazil’s security and protective services.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.us.

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