- Crime poses the most significant threat to visitors and residents in Rio de Janeiro during the Games; violence and insecurity continue to rise in the city.
- Rio de Janeiro State declared a fiscal state of emergency due to its inability to finance its social programs, pay its civil servants, and fulfill its Olympic responsibilities. The federal government's financial intervention to ensure the Games occur could spur protests and strikes.
- Though health-related concerns have been pervasive in the media, appropriate mitigation strategies prior to departure and while in Rio de Janeiro can significantly reduce risk of exposure.
- Other general mitigation strategies will help reduce the threat of crime and enable individuals to respond effectively to security incidents.
With less than 40 days remaining until the opening ceremonies for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, civil unrest, security, and health remain key concerns for visitors and residents in Rio de Janeiro. The fallout from corruption scandals and the impending impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff will likely weigh heavily on the opening ceremonies. Moreover, Rio de Janeiro State declared a fiscal state of emergency on June 17, citing its inability to pay civil servants and fulfill its financial obligations for the upcoming Games.
Following the suspension of President Dilma Rousseff on May 12, interim President Michel Temer assumed the presidency and appointed a new Cabinet. New Minister of Defense Raul Jungmann has indicated that security services for the Olympics remain on track. In Rio de Janeiro State, an interim governor has stepped in due to the former governor's ongoing health concerns. Despite changes in leadership, both federal- and state-level authorities have reassured the international community that a security plan with at least 85,000 security personnel will support the event. Though Rio plans a higher security profile than the London 2012 Olympic Games, the challenges facing the 2016 Games are quite robust.
Zika virus and water contamination have led some health experts to question whether the Games should be postponed, moved, or canceled; though the WHO has maintained that canceling, postponing, or moving the event would not significantly reduce the spread of Zika virus, visitors and residents can take precautions to mitigate the risk of contracting water- and mosquito-borne diseases.
In addition to providing a general update for the geopolitical, security, and health situation in the host country, this report will also provide key strategies for mitigating risk before and during the event
On June 17, Rio de Janeiro State declared a fiscal state of emergency. In the decree, interim Gov. Francisco Dornelles requested aid from the federal government due to fear of a "total collapse" of the state's health, education, transportation, and public security infrastructure. The state's economic situation has deteriorated over the past year due to globally low oil prices, difficulty in implementing fiscal policy changes, and challenges in fulfilling its obligations for the Olympics. The state has been forced to delay salary payments to its civil servants on several occasions; strikes and protests have typically followed. Dornelles' critics suggest that the interim governor declared the state of emergency solely to obtain federal funding. Interim President Michel Temer responded with BRL 2.9 billion (USD 855 million) from the federal government for use solely on public security matters. Dornelles indicated that the money would first be used to pay police officers. Strikes and protests throughout the country in response to the economic emergency in Rio de Janeiro are possible; Temer's administration is facing an increasingly large deficit, despite working toward the implementation of stricter fiscal policies to reduce government spending.
Amid the financial crisis in Rio de Janeiro is the ongoing impeachment trial of suspended President Dilma Rousseff. Since her suspension, Temer has moved quickly to tackle the economic crisis but has faced growing anti-Temer protests from Rousseff's supporters. Several unions have launched strikes since May 12, though they have been small in scale. Operation Car Wash corruption investigations continue; new ministers appointed by Temer have stepped down due to emerging allegations of their involvement in illicit schemes and attempts to obstruct justice. Popular support for Temer is low, and protests and strikes are likely throughout the impeachment trial.
The final Senate vote is slated for Aug. 1-2, just days before the Aug. 5 opening ceremonies for the Games. However, many senators believe the vote could be delayed until after the Olympics. Major pro-impeachment groups, including Free Brazil Movement (Movimento Brasil Livre, MBL) and Come to the Streets (Vem Pra Rua) have planned nationwide protests July 31 in anticipation of the Senate's vote. It is highly likely that there will be large-scale protests following the final vote, as well, regardless of whether Rousseff is impeached. If Rousseff is impeached, major workers' unions and pro-government groups, such as Central Workers' Union (Central União dos Trabalhadores, CUT), Landless Workers' Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto, MST) and Popular Brazil Front (Frente Brasil Popular), are likely to stage disruptive events, including nationwide strikes and demonstrations. If Rousseff is reinstated, pro-impeachment groups will likely hold mass protests, as they did leading up to Rousseff's suspension.
Due to the vote's proximity to the start of the Olympics, the possibility of large-scale civil unrest has become a concern for visitors' and residents' safety in Rio de Janeiro. As the Games provide a free international platform, protesters could use the event as an opportunity to convey their grievances. Moreover, large-scale demonstrations could significantly disrupt or overwhelm the transportation infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro. While there are Olympics-specific bus lanes, protesters could still block access on these thoroughfares. The arrival of ride-sharing apps to the city has further complicated transportation, as taxi drivers have been known to hold widespread "drive-slow" campaigns and block major thoroughfares. If workers' groups and unions decide to strike, civil servants in Rio de Janeiro will likely participate; severe disruptions to public services, such as transportation and police investigations, may occur in the event of a strike. The Civil Police have threatened to strike during the Olympics; however, it is unlikely that such an event would severely impact general security. The Military Police forces that patrol the streets cannot legally strike, although the lack of other public services could still pose challenges for those attending the Olympics or operating in the city.
Though strikes and protests remain a concern for those traveling to Rio de Janeiro, crime poses a greater threat to personal safety. Statistics released by the Secretary for Public Security indicate that crime has been on the rise throughout Rio de Janeiro city. Over the first four months of 2016, Rio de Janeiro State averaged 21 robberies and 14 homicides a day. The murder rate has increased by 15 percent compared to the same period in 2015; robberies have increased by 21 percent compared to the same period in 2015. Though these statistics are statewide, the city of Rio de Janeiro has not escaped the increase in violence (map).
The city's favela (shantytown) communities have been largely pacified since 2008; that is, Police Pacification Units (UPPs) were installed in many of the favelas to re-establish rule of law. However, in the past year, criminal organizations that engage in drug trafficking, kidnappings, assaults, and robberies began to appear with increasing frequency in favelas that for the past several years have been considered relatively peaceful. Increased attacks on UPPs and Military Police (PM) officers on patrol demonstrate the growing strength of these criminal groups. As a result of the violence in favelas, stray bullets have killed innocent bystanders. In some cases, PM operations in a community can cause reprisal attacks against PMs in neighboring areas. Along main thoroughfares, including Linha Amarela, Linha Vermelha, and Avenida Brasil, there have been several registered incidents of shootouts between rival gangs or with police that have paralyzed traffic and caused injuries and fatalities. In addition to gunfire, arrastões, or large swarms of thieves, have stopped traffic along main highways to rob drivers of their possessions and/or vehicles.
View of Pão de Açúcar from Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, with the colorful, brick Fallet favela community adjacent to the higher-income Glória and Flamengo neighborhoods (photo: A. Matthews)
While risk mitigation strategies are discussed in further detail below, several areas should be avoided due to an increased threat of crime. Complexo Alemão, located in the North Zone, is a sprawling area composed of numerous favelas. Though there is a UPP presence, the area remains dangerous, and criminals still control large parts of it. In Centro, the historic Santa Teresa neighborhood is a popular destination for visitors; however, this area should only be visited during daylight hours due to higher rates of crime. Neighboring favelas and poorly lit streets make the area more dangerous to foreigners or wealthier residents. Many taxi drivers refuse to take visitors to Santa Teresa, and it could be difficult to locate a taxi to leave the neighborhood after dark. In fact, in Santa Teresa, Spanish Olympic athletes were robbed by a group of armed men. It is important to note that crime is pervasive in Rio de Janeiro; in Copacabana and Ipanema - well-known tourist destinations - thieves may target distracted foreigners. In Aterro do Flamengo, near the marina that will host several events, a Paralympian and her coach were robbed at gunpoint near a bus stop close to their accommodations.
The National Guard, Armed Forces, and police forces will all participate in the Olympics' security operations. In addition to the planned 85,000 individuals participating in security efforts during the Games, the Rio de Janeiro State government in early June requested reinforcements by the armed forces for three months (July to September). These extra forces will provide security along the Linha Vermelha and Amarela, Avenida Brasil, and near the Galeão International Airport (GIG). The forces will not, however, enter and occupy favelas prior to the Games; in the past, military occupations of favelas have resulted in significant violence. With the increased support from the armed forces, the PMs will be able to patrol the streets in other areas of the city, possibly helping reduce the threat of assaults, robberies, and express kidnappings.
Though the threat of terrorism in Brazil is not high, not being a country generally targeted by terrorist organizations, the Olympic Games must always be considered an attractive target. Brazilian security forces have instituted an Integrated Anti-Terrorism Center; in addition to the center, the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin) has coordinated with foreign intelligence organizations to augment its knowledge of potential terrorist threats; the collaboration with foreign countries, such as the US, does suggest that the anti-terrorism security is robust. Lone-wolf attacks pose the greatest threat due to the difficulty in detecting them beforehand; Abin has been investigating approximately 30 Brazilians that it believes may be sympathizers of terrorist organizations, though no substantial evidence has emerged indicating that these individuals are planning attacks.
Though crime is the main security concern for those traveling to the Olympics, infrastructure security is an important aspect of personal safety. Due to rampant corruption and overly bureaucratic processes in Brazil, construction projects generally take significant time to complete. Moreover, the corruption and poor management leads to low quality infrastructure and construction that is sporadically delayed due to budget constraints, improper permitting, and judicial reviews. The government began construction for the Olympics venues shortly after receiving the bid in 2009; nevertheless, many venues and legacy projects - including transportation efforts - remain under construction. While the government rushes to complete these projects, infrastructure safety and quality become increasingly concerning. In April 2016, a bike path collapsed, killing two people. The path was built specifically as an Olympics legacy project to connect Rio's popular Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblón with the main Olympics area in Barra da Tijuca and had only been inaugurated in January 2016. On June 24, Rio's Anti-Doping Lab was closed after the World Anti-Doping Agency revoked its accreditation. The lab will not likely be reopened before the Games, meaning that samples will have to be sent out to an accredited lab for testing; when this situation occurred prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, samples were sent to Switzerland. Below is an overview of how construction is progressing in each of the four venue areas of the city.
- Barra da Tijuca - Six of 15 venues are delayed.
- Copacabana - One of four venues are delayed.
- Deodoro - Four of nine venues are delayed.
- Maracanã - All venues are on schedule.
In addition to the three citywide holidays (Aug. 5, 18, and 22) to reduce traffic congestion, city authorities will implement transit changes during the Games (map). To use the Olympics-only express lanes on the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) to travel between venue locations, visitors must purchase the RioCard. There are 1-, 3-, or 7-day passes that allow Olympic spectators to use the BRT exclusive system in addition to all other public transportation in the city. Though the metro extension, Line 4, is expected to be open before the Games, Rio de Janeiro's mayor will announce by July 8 whether he plans to install another BRT lane from Leblón to Barra da Tijuca, if he believes the line may not be ready in time.
The city will enact significant transit changes to accommodate the large number of visitors and athletes. Apart from the nine days during which events will be held along city roads, thus closing significant parts of the city, transit will see alterations beginning mid-July. Large trucks are prohibited from circulating during the day in most regions of the city Monday through Saturday beginning July 18. Several highways are dedicated to Olympics traffic only, and no cars, city buses, or taxis will be allowed on these roads. Other highways and roads will be priority areas, meaning that only Olympics-related traffic, city buses, and taxis may transit on them. The remaining lanes are shared; however, there may be specific lanes dedicated to certain vehicles in these shared areas. More specific details and a calendar of road closures and transportation alterations can be found on the Cidade Olimpica website, www.cidadeolimpica.com (in Portuguese).
Travelers participating in or attending the pre-game events and/or the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games should be aware of the myriad health concerns the venue areas are facing. Education regarding pre-travel immunizations, precautions for food, water, and insect bites, and ensuring an understanding of the local health resources are vital to ensure a healthy experience. Read more about specific health considerations from iJET's Health Team to help minimize risk while traveling to Brazil.
Risk Mitigation Strategies
Travelers today require a risk mitigation strategy that aligns with their risk profile. For Brazil, and specifically Rio de Janeiro, pickpocketing, robbery, credit card compromise, and express kidnapping are primary concerns. iJET's Global Operations presents the countermeasures listed below to serve as a means of preparedness to offset these concerns, making travelers a harder target against these criminal activities, as well as terror-related events.
Mitigate Risk Prior to Departure
Understanding the vulnerability of the traveler and his or her organization to a given threat, collectively known as the risk profile, is key in developing a mitigation plan for event risks. In addition to exercising the corporate Crisis Management Team and any in-country incident response assets for security and health-related issues, awareness training (safety, security, health, and cultural norms) should be mandated for those planning to travel. Leaders should establish boundaries with "no-go" zones based on current threat assessments of areas posing levels of unacceptable risk. If not already implemented, establish a 24/7 international hotline for personnel to be able to seek advice and assistance (e.g. recommended medical facilities). Travelers should register with their local embassy or consulate to ensure their mission's Regional Security Officer has greater visibility to its citizens abroad. Predeparture recommendations include the following:
- Identify a friend or family member as a support person for your trip. Provide that individual with your itinerary and copies of your passport/visas. Save electronic copies of these documents on your phone, not in the cloud. Keep paper copies in the hotel safe.
- Photocopy the contents of your wallet - including credit cards, insurance information, travel documents, etc. Email this information to yourself for reference if needed, and keep paper copies.
- Program contact information for your host, members of your party, nearest diplomatic mission, and other trusted local contacts into your phone. Print copies, and carry a paper copy.
- Carry a copy of your passport with you, and keep it separate from your passport in case of loss.
- Select lodging that has been vetted by a reputable travel security company. Select a room between the second and seventh floor to ensure fire ladder rescue. The room should not be over the hotel lobby or facing the main entrance.
Recommendations to Reduce Criminal Risk
Upon arrival, certain measures can be taken to reduce risk. In Rio de Janeiro, armed robbery and petty theft pose the greatest threats to people in the city. Listed below are key risk-reduction strategies that can be implemented:
- Walk hotel fire exits for familiarity. Count the doors from your room to the fire exit (in case of heavy smoke).
- Use prearranged transportation - enlist your hotel or host to make arrangements.
- Keep your hotel address written in Portuguese and phone number with you at all times.
- Learn key phrases in Portuguese, bearing in mind that many locals do not speak English.
- When inside restaurants, hotel lobbies, or cafes, be wary of displaying wealth or valuables, as you could be targeted and approached upon leaving the building.
- Avoid walking if you can take a taxi. If walking, use busy, well-lit streets, and stay in the middle of the walkway.
- Consider using a money belt for larger bills and storage of personal belongings.
- Avoid wearing jewelry or displaying expensive items in public (high-end sports watches are considered valuable).
- When paying cash, do not show all of your money. Keep small bills separate for transactions.
- Ensure credit card charges are completed in your presence; never let your card leave your sight.
- When traveling in a vehicle, keep windows rolled up and doors locked. Never have personal items openly visible; conceal larger items in the trunk. Maintain awareness when stopped, as criminals are known to drive by on motorcycles and snatch or rob personal belongings.
- Avoid walking with laptop bags or suitcases; these are prime targets for criminals.
- Do not use ATMs on the street; only use ATMs in upscale hotels or inside banks.
- In a robbery, surrender belongings quickly. Criminals will not hesitate to use violence. Notify your company hotline immediately, and report the crime to police, as well as your embassy or consulate.
- If you have a sense that a situation is unsafe, do not hesitate to obey that instinct. Leave the area immediately.
- Establish a prearranged meeting location in case someone is separated during a crisis situation.
Responding to Terror Events
Due to the Olympics' status as an international event, it is important to understand how to respond effectively to a potentially terror-related event.
- Pay attention to announcements from authorities, and follow their instructions. Leave the area.
- If unable to leave, find a secure location, and remain sheltered until certain danger has passed or authorities deem it safe. Silence your phone.
- If you hear an explosion, do not investigate. Secondary explosions are possible.
- If gunfire erupts and you can escape, do so; if not, get as low as possible and move to shield yourself behind or under a solid object.
- Obey the instructions of security and emergency personnel.
- Once out of harm's way, follow your organization's procedures to report your safety.
Despite fears that the Games could be canceled due to health, security, and economic concerns, the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games appear to be on track for the Aug. 5 start date. However, visitors and residents will still face significant security and health challenges. Though terrorism remains a concern due to the international nature of the Olympics, it is difficult to gauge the possibility of such an attack. By taking the necessary precautions and implementing a Crisis Management Team, those traveling to the Olympics will likely have a more secure experience. Nevertheless, the increase in armed robberies and their visibility in even the most touristic parts of the city is notable; maintaining awareness is key while in Rio de Janeiro. As the geopolitical situation unfolds, an uptick in protests and strikes is likely. Moreover, as the Olympics draw near, groups opposing the nation's investment in such a large, expensive international event could ramp up their anti-Olympics rhetoric and activities.
The next Olympics-focused intelligence product will be the webinar on July 28 from Rio de Janeiro. Join iJET International & AXA Assistance for a comprehensive preparedness webinar for travelers attending the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Our experts will answer your questions live. Register for the live webinar here.