By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – The Ministry of Defense in Brazil is sending 25,000 soldiers to patrol its borders in an unprecedented military operation to shore up security at next month’s Confederations Cup. The first of a series of high profile mega-events to be held throughout the country, the Cup will be a test of Brazil’s capacity to successfully host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, as well as the visit of the Pope for World Youth Day this July.
Following a number of recent high-profile attacks that have made international headlines, authorities are keen to show the world that the events will run smoothly.
Operation Ágata 7, as the mission is known, was launched over the weekend. In a statement released Saturday the government said it would focus on cross-border crimes that could potentially affect security: drug and weapons trafficking, smuggling, illegal immigration and illegal mining.
Operation Ágata 7 will also work to prevent human trafficking. Last week, the federal police said that they had uncovered a Bangladesh-based human trafficking ring that had smuggled people into Brazil to work illegally in construction under slave-like conditions. Police said that the Bangladeshis generally arrived in neighboring Guyana, Bolivia or Peru, then crossed Brazil’s porous border and applied for refugee status.
Brazil is also a source country for victims of human trafficking who are sent abroad, and some trafficking of victims occurs internally. The public prosecutors office estimates that an average of 1,000 persons a year are recruited in Brazil and sent abroad, where they are subjected mainly to sexual exploitation and slave labor.
Logistically, securing Brazil’s border is difficult: five times as long as the boundary between the United States and Mexico, it adjoins ten countries – including the world’s largest three drug producers – and snakes for more than half of its 16,886 km through dense, largely not patrolled rainforest.
In its attempt to lock down the borders, the Army will be using aircraft and road-blocks. The Navy will be manning river patrol boats and helicopters, while the Air Force will have fighter planes, radar aircraft, Israeli-made UAVs (drones), and helicopters ready to be deployed.
As well as manpower and firepower, Brazil is turning to technological solutions – some of them controversial – to help ensure its events are safe. Following government’s allocation of R$900 million to the 2014 World Cup’s security budget, Brazil splashed out on thirty U.S.-made remotely-controlled military robots.
In a statement last week, artificial intelligence company iRobot said that it had won contracts totaling US$7.2 million (R$14.6 million) from the Brazilian government to provide iRobot 510 PackBot robots, spares and equipment through December 2013.
“iRobot is excited to be providing the company’s state-of-the-art robotic technologies to Brazil as the country prepares for several high profile international events, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup,” said Frank Wilson, senior vice president of iRobot’s Defense & Security unit.
The PackBots, as they are known, are unmanned and operated remotely for dangerous tasks such as bomb disposal. Currently they are used in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they were sent into the Fukushima nuclear plant ahead of humans following the 2011 earthquake.
The government has also invested in Israeli drones, special glasses with internal face recognition cameras, and 34 German anti-aircraft tanks.