Country Security Profile: Brazil

By Francisco Mateo

As the sun once again shines brightly over Brasília and its brand in the concert of nations continues to grow, Security Beyond Borders turns its focus on Brazil, on the eve of a presidential election runoff, which would determine how its course is charted for an undoubted prominent future.  Despite its eminence (economic ascendance) as one of the BRIC (fastest growing emerging markets comprised of Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, Brazil has deeply rooted security issues driven my social-economic disintegration, which it must confront before the spot light of international events is shown upon it.

Brazil’s population hovers at just under 200 million people. Approximately 88% of the population is concentrated in its urban centers, which in itself explains the dynamics that drive inequality and crime problems. Although this phenomenon is a fixture of all overcrowded cities, it appears to have magnified and galvanized over time.

Economic Overview

To better understand Brazil’s meteoric rise onto the world stage we must look at the key elements that characterize its economy. First off, a large and well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, and service sectors set them apart in the region. Brazil’s economy outweighs that of all other South American countries and it’s expanding its presence in world markets. Since 2003, Brazil has steadily improved macroeconomic stability, building up foreign reserves, reducing its debt profile by shifting its debt burden toward real denominated and domestically held instruments. It has adhered to an inflation target, and committing to fiscal responsibility. To illustrate its economic prowess, Brazil was one of the first emerging markets to begin a recovery. By exploiting vast natural resources and a large labor pool, it has become South America’s leading economic power and a regional leader.

Brazil has in part enjoyed stellar economic growth over last ten years due to its adherence to continuity of economic policy despite political transition from right leaning to clearly leftist political leadership. President Lula Da Silva’s enormous popularity derives from his pragmatic approach to economic policy.

But all the notoriety has far reaching consequences. Its newly minted economic reputation and its maturing role as a regional powerhouse have landed Brazil in thorny world issues recently. Most notable of all have been its mediation of the Honduran political crisis in 2009 and its willingness to establish diplomatic ties with unpopular regimes like Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela, as well as to pursue economic exchange with China and Russia. It is clear that Brazil has aimed at charting an independent path and becoming a geopolitical counterforce in the region and beyond.

Geopolitical Overview

A review of Brazil’s security profile would not be complete without drilling down on the country’s most notable transnational crime problem, which is for the most part concentrated in the unruly region at convergence of Argentina-Brazil-Paraguay borders. This area is a locus of money laundering, smuggling, arms and illegal narcotics trafficking, as well as fundraising for extremist organizations. Other border areas including the States of Amazonas, Acre, Rondônia and Mato Grosso, are high risk due to drug trafficking. Its sheer size (bordering 10 countries) and deep forest areas provide natural defense, but also serve as incubator for the worst of the global illicit economic activities. It would explain why despite government drug control efforts, it remains the second-largest consumer of cocaine in the world. It is also an important transshipment country for Bolivian, Colombian, and Peruvian cocaine headed for Europe.

The International Maritime Bureau reports that the territorial and offshore waters in the Atlantic Ocean present a significant risk for piracy and armed robbery against ships; numerous commercial vessels have been attacked and hijacked both at anchor and while underway; crews have been robbed and stores or cargoes stolen.  Similar socioeconomic factors driving piracy in the Gulf of Aden are at play for the most part in Brazil’s Atlantic coastal waters.

Crime Overview

Serious crime, often involving violence, is high in a number of urban centers, including Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, and Salvador. The recent reports of armed drug gang members setting up roadblocks and robbing drivers en masse in the Rio de Janeiro area, prompting the firing of 19 police battalion, is certainly a notable reminder of what lurks just beneath the pristine surface. As the country sets out to host the World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics it should ponder the right strategy to avoid the Mexicanization of its crime problem.

Crimes and violence in São Paulo can be attributed to street gangs and organized crime groups.  São Paulo is notorious for the brazenness of certain high profile crimes and violent crimes such as murder, rape, and kidnappings.  The most concerning crimes in São Paulo are express kidnappings, carjackings, virtual kidnappings and home invasions.

Crime while on the road remains a problem for both visitors and local residents alike, especially during evening travel and traffic jams. Violent crimes committed in heavily congested roadways is the motivating factor for companies like Truffi or Master Blindagens to produce over 25 bulletproof cars a month, and they’re just 2 of 45 companies in São Paulo by far the biggest market, with Rio de Janeiro a close second.  Brazilians would “much rather trim their appetites for appliances and electronics in the recession, but bulletproofing is one expense they are not giving up easily”. This is an outgrowth of the overall sense of insecurity felt by everyday people.  The general consensus is that if the government can’t keep them safe than they will use their recently acquired prosperity to buy their own security.  As a nation it can certainly do much better than that and there are obvious compelling reasons for doing so.

Other Risk Pressure Points

Natural disasters, mainly flashfloods, remain a considerable risk of social disturbance.  That is because the large communities still living in favelas are most susceptible to these unpredictable events.  Last year’s deadly floods are but an example of the infrastructural fragility of overpopulated cities to deal with large magnitude emergency incidents.

Flooding over several recent years has continued to plague São Paulo State and many other parts of the country. Severe rainstorms in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 resulted in some of the worst flooding in years for São Paulo. Bridges and highways were closed due to flooding and some major roads and highways were submerged underwater. In December 2008, floods in São Paulo left 20,000 residents without potable water, numerous motorists were stranded, and 70 flights were canceled at Congonhas Airport (one of three airports in greater São Paulo). In November 2008, flooding in the southern state of Santa Catarina left nearly 100,000 homeless and claimed over 100 lives. The disaster was one of the worst in the country’s history. In December 2009, the eastside of greater São Paulo was under water due to severe rain storms.  Flooding brought traffic in São Paulo to a standstill, resulting in deaths, destruction of infrastructure and millions of dollars in financial losses for businesses. During a one day period the city received more rain than it would normally see during the entire month.

In closing, it is clear that Brazil is poised to confront its internal security risks head-on.  Its success in creating continuity of economic policy to spur growth should be emulated by the new political leadership, during their transition into power, to bring cohesive socioeconomic growth that would undermine its security shortcomings and continue to drive a downward trend to its most vexing crime problems. It must remain steadfast in this direction as focus on everything Brazil will only spike during the World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics. They have a short window of time if it aims to capitalize on its successes in eradicating the security weaknesses highlighted herewith.

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Bulletproof Apparel

In previous posts I’ve layout my travel security recommendations. They have basically been focused on influencing behavior and modifying habits to gain a more secure posture.  I try not to recommend other self defense tactics because other sources offer plenty of marketing for a variety of gear. Quite frankly 90% of them are not worth your money. Looking at the bazaar of violence going on in some areas of Mexico, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere around the globe got me thinking about one set of gear that at face value may offer real benefits to keep you secure while you visit certain hotspots.

I’m talking about bulletproof apparel. These are innovative products first developed in Colombia, which have gained popularity in Latin America as the level of violence has been reaching unprecedented levels.  When violent shootouts can break out anywhere and anytime, defense against collateral damage may be a worthy investment.

Security Risk Management On-Demand

By Francisco Mateo

It appears to be prime time for corporate security units across Europe. During the last few months Greece, Portugal, Spain, France and England have seen a resurgence of labor protest as austerity measures are enacted to contain the onslaught of a worsening global economy.  With that in mind it is important for security managers to prioritize strike and violent protest protocols and have their teams at the different facilities ready for any collateral or spillover risk from violent confrontation between protesters and police.

When strike action involves countrywide protest, road and critical infrastructure blockades, it is necessary that you assist your supply chain team prevent disruptions by protecting in-route cargo and seeking alternatives for continued operations.   It is important that contingency plans be drawn in advance and that duties for carrying out specific actions under the plan are top of mind for each member of the team. Although many of the security decisions that need to be made at this time are situation-driven, your knowledge of internal business operation; clients, routes, labor and police leadership, as well as open-source intel can give you the most leverage.  In short know the terrain and know the stakeholders, so that you can intelligently steer your contingency team and navigate clear of any risks your company may face. 

Do not underestimate how much demand for third party service (cargo security escort) would peak during these times. My experience has been that, in anticipation of such events, the security departments must secured agreements with key vendors way in advance of such events to ensure preferential treatment when it is must critical. You don’t need to be psychic to know these protest have been brewing for a while and as a result of the burden the sustained economic recession has put on government’s purses.  It is also very likely that these protest will continue to spread other European Union member countries.

Another thing I want to share with you is that the protesters have shown signs of sophistication and a high degree of organization. If you take into the account the way protesters in France have aimed to provoke systematic disruption of critical supplies by blocking fuel depots and creating choke points against delivery, where it is most needed.  If you are responsible for risk management in the affected industry don’t forget to bring your A-game when crafting your response. If your organization lacks the leadership to tackle these risk management efforts than now may be a good time to consider hiring a knowledgeable and experienced security practitioner that can set a roadmap to protect your PARB.

Additional Recommendations:

  • Increase your operation’s alertness level; encourage staff to provide status updates of risk conditions, in and around the facilities and main routes, to your command center
  • Update  your key contact list, and test communication systems
  • Keep a detailed activity log
  • Advise staff to be aware of localized bouts of unrest with the potential to result in violent confrontations
  • Also advise staff to avoid all demonstrations and if caught in the middle of a violent confrontation seek immediate safe haven in a predetermined location where assistance can be summoned
  • Have additional security staff on stand-by in case you need to ramp up your protective presence at any facility

Security Jobs Are Evolving

Over the last few years I’ve witnessed a transition of the security role within global organizations. The pace at which asymmetrical risks develop appear to have quickened and so have demands for the security practitioners to step up to the plate and lead preparedness and response efforts, often times on multiple fronts.  When you mix in the cloud of a global recession, you should start to get the picture. No easy pickings these days.

What does this all mean from a strategic stand point? For one think core physical security practices are not enough anymore; if they ever were.  New trends have taken hold over the security suite; the practitioner is expected to navigate geopolitical rip currents, which more than ever, shape an organization’s fortunes. You’re also required to develop meaningful relationships with Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) and intelligence services; which in some locales means jumping right into a cesspool of corruption and double dealing.

If you follow security recruiting, like I’ve done over the years, for obvious reasons, you’d notice a shift in what companies believe to be important trade skills to tackle their most pressing needs.  The security jobs I’m refereeing to focus heavily on key competencies like business acumen; conflict management; customer focus; interpersonal savvy; priority setting; time management; as well as problem solving. Most of all you have to bring an uncanny ability to blend these soft skills with more traditional hard-wired security experience.

Another major development over last few years has to do with the location where talent is being sourced from. Companies are increasingly deploying talent at important business hubs. They’re being pushed to where company operations take place, which for a multinational organization it is most likely in the global south. There is not only a greater concentration of company operations in some of these countries, but that’s also where they face the greatest challenges to protect their people, assets, reputation and Brands (PARB).  As a result of these transitions the composition of the security team is more reflective of the social make up (ethnicity, gender, and age) of the countries where operations are based from. I for one thing this is a positive change since much current innovation in business overall has been emanating from emerging markets; the security suite is bound to get a boost as well.  Unfortunately those of us who live closer to company HQ find ourselves at a disadvantage, which means that like our brethren from emerging markets we need to put on our thinking caps and flesh out a round of innovation to stay competitive. Of course these are mere observations from the periphery as there are experts in the thick of these mammoth changes going in our profession who can provide a much deeper analysis. Part of staying current and having an opportunity to influence these changes by staying involved, networking and sharing your expertise with the general security professional community.