Brazil will host the CONMEBOL Copa América soccer tournament June 14-July 7. Attendees from over 100 countries are expected at the event. The Copa America tournament is also expected to attract a considerable number of foreign nationals from Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, the US, Germany, Spain, and Bolivia. Games will be played in six stadiums across five major cities. The current security landscape in these major metropolitan areas is cause for concern for foreign nationals, although new technology and the deployment of extra security forces will mitigate potential threats.
Crime Landscape in Host Cities
The tournament’s host cities, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, and Porto Alegre, each have unique crime landscapes and present wide-reaching security threats. While violent crime is prevalent in all host cities, petty crimes such as pickpocketing and bag snatching pose a high threat and are the most likely to affect foreigners at the competition, particularly at locations surrounding stadiums. The security chief of the Local Organizing Committee of Copa América indicated that the games with higher security risks include those involving the Brazilian and Argentinian national teams. Recent episodes of violence during large tournament games have highlighted the potential issues that could emerge during Copa América in Brazil; largescale violent altercations between fans marred the Copa Libertadores in Buenos Aires in 2018.
Security Threats and Risk Mitigation Measures
Organizers have determined that violent soccer fans will pose one of the largest security threats during the tournament. Known as torcidas organizadas in Brazil, or barras bravas in Argentina, these groups are renowned for their violent behavior during major tournament games and are often infiltrated by criminal organizations. Criminal groups that may have links to some torcidas organizadas include the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital, PCC), the Red Command (Comando Vermelho, CV), and smaller regional criminal gangs; these groups systematically engage in enterprises such as drug trafficking and extortion. However, activity related to these criminal organizations is unlikely to directly affect travelers to Brazil, particularly due to the heightened security measures that will be in place during the competition.
Upgraded security measures will considerably mitigate threats during the tournament. One such measure includes the installation of facial recognition technology in and around stadiums in anticipation of the tournament; facial recognition has become a method of deterrence that is already being used at major events in countries around the world. Under a bilateral agreement between Brazil and Argentina signed May 31, Brazil’s Immigration Division of the Federal Police received a list of 5,000 Argentinians linked to violent groups. The transfer of this list will help prevent these individuals from entering Brazil and bolster the screening practices already in place. Authorities have also stated that 10,000 private security personnel will be contracted during the event to support security measures.
While technology and a large security force deployment may reduce the presence of violent soccer fans and organized crime, it will not entirely eradicate the threat from criminal activity. Areas around stadiums, particularly during high-profile events, often become breeding grounds for petty crime and are notoriously difficult to police.
Civil Unrest in Brazil
The threat of civil unrest and sporadic protest actions throughout the country are another major concern for travelers to Brazil. While violence during such actions is unlikely, clashes between police and protesters pose a constant threat, especially if the latter are overly disruptive or resort to violent tactics.
A general strike and related nationwide protests are scheduled for the opening day of the tournament, June 14. The action is being organized by all major Brazilian labor unions and is likely to result in major disruptions throughout the country. Localized transport disruptions are likely to be severe, particularly as transportation unions such as the influential National Confederation of Transportation and Logistics Workers (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Transportes e Logística) have agreed to participate in the walkout. Demand for alternative means of transportation, such as taxi or ride-hailing services, is likely to be extremely high that day. The strike will also disrupt normal business in the government, education, and healthcare sectors. Emergency medical services will likely still be provided, though nonurgent appointments could be canceled or rescheduled.
Unannounced protests are also likely to occur prior to the tournament’s conclusion July 7. Likely protest sites in the host cities include central plazas and government buildings; Avenida Paulista in São Paulo, Cinelandia in Rio de Janeiro, and Praça do Campo Grande in Salvador are typical locations for large demonstrations and rallies.
Travel Tips for the Brazil Copa América
Heightened security measures during Copa América are likely to mitigate the risk of becoming the victim of a crime, particularly by violent gangs and criminal organizations. Tourists visiting for the tournament are most likely to encounter petty crime and sporadic protest actions.
Foreign nationals are advised to take the following precautions if visiting Brazil:
- Avoid low-income favela (shantytown) areas, especially at night.
- Travel via private vehicle; avoid the bus system and bus terminals.
- Stay in well-secured accommodation.
- Avoid unnecessary publicity.
- Practice good situational awareness; be alert to suspicious behavior or signs of surveillance.
- Restrict unnecessary movement.
- Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or expensive clothing.
- Avoid carrying expensive electronic devices such as laptops, expensive cell phones, or cameras; if carrying such items, be sure to store them in a nondescript bag.
- Do not resist during a robbery attempt.
- Avoid all protests.
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