By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – More than 47,000 security agents are at hand in Rio de Janeiro, occupying strategic points in the city to make sure that athletes and visitors alike coming to the 2016 Olympics are safe, guarantee city officials. “It is time to put into practice all the training of the last few years,” Rio de Janeiro Security Secretary, José Mariano Beltrame told reporters this week.
“We have a long experience, accumulated in both cyclical events such as Carnival and New Year’s Eve, as major events: Confederations Cup, Rio +20, World Youth Day and the World Cup. In each we gained not only an understanding of the importance of integration, but also the approval of the population and tourists, in regards to safety.” Beltrame added.
According to officials the city will be monitored by 21,000 officers from the military police, 22,000 military officers, 60 ships, 70 armored vehicles, and 34 helicopters. The armed forces will protect those passing through important highways, metro and rail stations as well as Copacabana beach. The armed forces are also in charge of safekeeping water and power stations and telecommunications structures.
“I’ve been seeing a lot of soldiers around Copacabana beach,” said retired teacher Thereza Ribeiro, who lives in Leme just a few blocks from where the beach volleyball tournaments are scheduled to be held. “You ask me if I feel safer? Not really, these are 19, 20 year old kids with machine guns. They are inexperienced if you ask me, but I guess to tourists they bring some kind of security image.”
Ribeiro, whose apartment is steps away from two large international chain hotels says the policing is more to deter tourists getting mugged or robbed than to stop terrorist action. “I haven’t seen anyone’s backpack being checked or being asked to show identification when nearing the hotels’ front entrance.”
Rio’s international airport, where most foreign athletes and delegations are expected to pass through, has already had its security upgraded, with 1,200 agents patrolling not only the arrival and departure areas but also the surrounding areas where buses line up to take both athletes and tourists into the city.
Security has not been tight only in Rio de Janeiro, in Salvador, Bahia, where the German and French soccer teams are scheduled to compete, security has been boosted after the recent terrorist attacks in Europe. According to Bahia state’s security secretary, Mauricio Barbosa more than 1,400 armed forces personnel will be at hand in Salvador during the soccer competitions.
Barbosa told reporters on Tuesday that although Salvador was one of the host cities in the 2014 World Cup tournament, today security issues are different. “Concerns are now different, especially due to the international situation we are seeing, (with) these terrorist attacks. Therefore, we have modified the protocols in regards to these new actions this year,” he added.
Special security arrangements have been set up for the transportation of the athletes, and more security agents have been allocated to their training arenas and hotels. According to local media security agents will also be safeguarding tourists from these two countries during the matches.