Brazil doubles down on security for papal visit
Brazil is not taking any chances in the upcoming visit of Pope Francis, which local observers see as a touchstone for security measures to be taken for the 2016 Olympics in the South American nation. The pontiff will visit Rio de Janeiro, known for its world-class beaches and beach volleyball, July 23-28 for the annual World Youth Day. Organizers are expecting between 1.5 million to 2 million participants in the festival of Catholic faith.
Brazil’s military plans to deploy at least 13,000 troops during the papal visit, while the Coordination Center of Area Defense (CCDA/RJ) will be in charge of security throughout Rio and the venue for the closing vigil and Papal Mass that will take place about 50 miles west of the city in the Guaratiba region.
This will be the first international visit to be made by Francis since his election to the papacy in March. However, he will not visit his native Argentina this year.
Veteran Brazilian journalist Eduardo Szklarz interviewed Gen. José Alberto Costa Abreu of CCDA/RJ and the Army’s First Division, who gave assurances that the recent protests and riots throughout Brazil in repudiation of the Olympics and President Dilma Roussef will not influence his planning for WYD. According to the article in Diálogo, Costa Abreu said security forces are prepared with “riot police and serious intelligence work.” Rather than relying on a private security force for the Campus Fidei, where the Pope will appear, a motorized infantry battalion is expected. Campus Fidei will be surrounded by three concentric circles of military security in order to prevent protests from getting out of hand. All branches of Brazil’s military are involved in the biggest security operation in the country’s history.
According to Szklarz, joint military teams will provide expertise in cyberdefense; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense; prevention, suppression and combating terrorism; border cooperation, and explosive monitoring. Security forces will be watching over water distribution, the electrical grid, transportation, and telecommunications. They are responding to the largest event of its kind in Brazil. According to Gen. Costa Abreu, “We are providing security for a global personality. The world’s eyes will be on Rio.”
The Brazilian government is seeking to paint a picture of calm and security for the whole world to see. Violence is to be avoided, according to Szklarz’s military sources. On June 20, over a million protesters hit the street in 100 cities throughout the country to denounce corruption and the coming Olympics. Authorities are hoping to avoid similar protests at the papal visit, according to Szklarz. Last month, five people died and hundreds were injured in melees that pitched police against protesters armed with Molotov cocktails and rocks. The protests were peaceful, in large part, even while there was looting of banks and public buildings.
Officials say they want to avoid a repeat of the massive protests that spread to 100 cities across Brazil last month, leaving five people dead and hundreds injured. While those protests were largely peaceful, vandals looted businesses and targeted cars, banks, road signs, traffic lights, and public buildings.
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