Avoiding a World Cup of Terror

Next summer, Rio De Janiero will host the FIFA World Cup. Significant challenges lie ahead for the country. The government anticipates a 55% jump in tourism next year due to the event. Infrastructure in Brazil leaves a lot to be desired as it is—112 mile-long traffic jams are becoming increasingly common. Brazilians have become accustomed to a new phrase, “Imagina na Copa…” meaning, “imagine during the cup.” Such concern is not uncommon for a host country: the British truly feared the Olympics and the world watched with nervous anticipation as South Africa hosted the last World Cup.

Image courtesy of Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz, © 2006, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Mario Roberto Durán Ortiz, © 2006, some rights reserved.

Brazil faces a series of infrastructure problems and social inequality crises, but probably the most significant problem that needs to be handled before the cup is organized crime. A comprehensive definition of organized crime can be found in a document produced by the Oyster Bay Organized Crime Convention Series, 1965-1966. The definition reads, “crime is the product of a self-perpetuating criminal conspiracy to wring exorbitant profits from our society by any means—fair and foul, legal and illegal. Despite personnel changes, the conspiratorial entity continues. It is a malignant parasite, which fattens on human weakness. It survives on fear and corruption. By one or another means, it obtains a high degree of immunity from law. It is totalitarian in its organization.”[1] This gives us some key characteristics: specialization in market-based crimes, hierarchical and lasting structures, the use of violence and corruption to achieve and maintain a monopoly, high profits, and capital flow into the legal economy.

A notorious organized criminal group called the First Capital Command, known in Brazil as the PCC, has threatened violence during the tournament, promising a “World Cup of terror” if the government does not agree to their demands. Police have issued a crackdown on the suburb of Sao Paolo where the tournament is to be held, which is considered PCC territory. The police have been closely monitoring the Favelas, or unofficial slums, found in Rio and Sao Paolo. Community policing has been increased considerably, in an effort to make everyone feel safer. Kids are going to school instead of joining the informal workforce with the drug cartels. Our very own Dr Willian Vlcek offered two criticisms of this approach, however. Firstly, the police and community policing structures have been heavy handed—maximal force tends to precede even attempted arrest. Secondly, due to the federal organization of Brazil, each state has their own method. In prisons, leaders from major regional organized criminal groups often end up together, creating further business opportunities.[2] The PCC is controlled by Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho (known as Marcola), who has been in prison for murder since 1993. The PCC’s threats have been investigated and the government believes attacks are unlikely. Former drug trafficker turned missionary, Daniel Martins, commented that the PCC would not attack, “They would never do it because it would look bad for them. They are not stupid. They’re not everything they’re made out to be.”[3]

Earlier this year, Brazil hosted the Confederations Cup, which acted as a trial run for the World Cup and the Olympics. In an unprecedented wave, the Minister of Defence sent 33,500 troops to Brazil’s notoriously porous borders for three weeks, to combat transnational crime. This was gargantuan task because of the enormity of Brazil’s border: 10,492 miles spanning ten nations.  The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, known as the Palermo Convention, has advocated this method. It was used successfully by Spain to stop the illicit flow of goods coming into the country from Andorra. The borders were sealed, brigades were sent to patrol the border, and Spain put immense pressure on Andorra to revise its smuggling and trafficking policies domestically. Success in the Spanish case did not happen by controlling distribution, but by a coordinated international effort to increase security, and pressure Andorra to revise its legislation.

Controlling transnational organized crime takes international cooperation and consideration. Kofi Annan has stated that, “If crime crosses borders, so must law enforcement. If the rule of law is undermined not only in one country, but in many, then those who defend it cannot limit themselves to purely national means.”[4] With increased security, border controls, and international effort in South America, I believe Brazil could regain some control from transnational organized gangs and host an exceptional tournament.


[1] Combating Organized Crime: A Report of the 1965 Oyster Bay, New York, Conferences on Combating Organized Crime. Albany, NY: Office of the Counsel to the Governor, 1966.

[2] Conversation with Dr. William Vlcek, Lecturer of International Political Economy, University of St Andrews.

[3] Coelho, Janet. “World Cup Crackdown on “Terror Gang”” Contingent Security Services Ltd. The Christian Science Monitor, 27 June 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://intel.contingentsecurity.com/world-cup-crackdown-on-brazil-terror-gang/>.

[4] Palermo Convention, Forward.

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