By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Brazilian Army introduced the troops that will be tasked with ensuring safety and assisting police officers during the 2014 FIFA World Cup last Sunday, May 4th. Close to three thousand soldiers trained to combat terrorism and chemical warfare will service Brazil’s capital city, Brasília, during the international football (soccer) tournament the country is hosting between June 12th and July 13th.
This comes amid persistent and growing security concerns as Brazil rushes to get stadiums and public works ready before the World Cup. The host country’s road to the tournament has been marked by delays and accidents at construction sites, as well as persistent civil unrest.
Three stadiums that were set to be delivered at the end of last year have not been finished, while a nationwide protest movement that began after bus fares increased across the country last June grew to become the largest demonstrations the country has seen in twenty years. Sporadic, albeit smaller, demonstrations have continued to grip Brazilian cities since.
The massive demonstrations over the quality of public services and large expenditures on international tournaments coincided with the Confederations Cup, a trial test for the World Cup, which Brazil also hosted last year.
A violent clash between riot police and protesters erupted outside the Brasília Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha stadium during the opening game between Brazil and Japan last June. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. Police reported that 29 protesters were arrested following the confrontation.
According to the commander of the Army’s Police, lieutenant coronel João Felipe Dias Alves, the troops introduced in Brasília last Sunday have been trained to respond to acts of terrorism and sabotage that may take place during the World Cup events in Brasília.
The troops are expected to play a key role in containing protests during matches. “Protests are a public safety concern. We are prepared to act as a contingency force, if necessary,” Alves told Agência Brasil.
“The Planalto force will act on the axis of defense applying all of the characteristics and operational capacity of the Army to provide safety and defense so that the World Cup may take place in a harmonious and tranquil environment,” affirmed Gilberto Breviliere, military commander for the Planalto, the seat of the Brazilian presidency.
This is the latest in a string of efforts to guarantee safety for visitors and football-loving fans during the World Cup, as Brazil struggles to overcome the challenges it has faced in readying the country for the tournament. Elsewhere in Brazil, cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador have increased their police force, and called in army troops in preparation for possible civil unrest.
Meanwhile, sports stars at the center of the tournament have told the press they hope to see peaceful protests. Brazilian football star Neymar told CNN that he thinks the demonstrations are key to the country’s improvement. “My opinion is that there’s no problem with it, as long as it is peaceful without violence, without vandalism,” said the Barcelona forward. “If it’s for Brazil getting better, they have to protest,” he added.
The national team’s coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, said he also agreed with the protest movement, but is not sure if the timing is right. “I don’t know if it’s the right time,” Scolari said to Globo television last week. “It could [affect my players], big time.”
The Brazilian national team is slated to play its third World Cup match in Brasília on June 23rd and in total the capital city’s newly-renovated arena will see seven World Cup matches. It is one of only two stadiums to host that many games, alongside Rio’s Maracanã, and while Rio get the final, Brasília will host the tournament’s third placed play-off tie.