SAO PAULO - Even though it's getting ready to host the World Cup next year and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016, Brazil still has no specific law for fighting terrorism. But specialists, who ask not to be identified, say that the country's neutral position in recent international conflicts does not assure that it is free of risk.
Indeed there is real concern that terrorists could try to hit, for example, one of the national delegations that will arrive for the events.
Security and inteligence agencies from the Brazilian government and the national army are concerned that time is running out to make new laws. Currently, there are six bills dealing with the topic under analysis in the Chamber of Deputies, with the oldest dating back to 1991, and the most recent one presented in 2012.
The only juridic instrument currently available is left over from the military government: the Law for National Security, which some wanted applies against the Landless Rural Workers Movement for their 2006 protest and assault on the Chamber itself.
Though urgent, it is not openly talked about in the federal government, even as specialists point to neighboring Argentina being hit two decades ago by separate terrorist attacks targeting Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires and a local Jewish association, which killed a total of more than 100.
The latest bill in Brazil was proposed by Parliament Member Walter Feldman, from PSDB. the main opposition party. The proposal defines terrorism as crimes that damage or put at risk life, physical integrity, freedom of movement or personal property. Attempts against airplanes, ships and nuclear plants are also considered terrorism, as well as its funding and preparation.
“Unfortunatelly the most advanced tool we have is the Law for National Security. Politics and ideology became obstacles to discussing this issue,” says Feldman.
For Raul Jungmann, a former vice president of the Committee for Security and Actions Against Organized Crime, agrees that Brazil should discuss the issue, but notes the complexity of defining terrorism, which can be connected to the actions of social movements. “We could never mistake protests, even by the wrong means, with terrorism," Jungmann says.
A ripe target
This is the main obstacle for the government to proceed on the issue: the fear of framing social movements like the Landless Rural Workers Movement, historically bonded to the party, to the concept of terrorism.
A specialist from the Brazilian Agency of Inteligence (ABIN), who asked to be identified, said past attempts to apply the standing law to radical social movements were blocked by the ruling party. “This is a spot where neither Lula or Dilma Rousseff dare to touch,” the source says.
Moreover, some accuse the Brazilian government of refusing closer international cooperation to fight terrorism. According to journalist Reinaldo Galhardo, author of a book on the topic, says that in 2008 the US government proposed a new special agency against terror in Brazil.
“There were going to be offices in Brasília, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Brazil would obtain a modern operation and intelligence center capable of monitoring any suspicious movement connected to terrorism happening within the country's boundaries,” said Galhardo.
But the proposal fizzled. Galhardo says he has information on a 2008 anti-terrorism training exercise for São Paulo police. “It was all done in the forests of El Salvador,” he says.
Captain José Alberto Cunha Couto, who led a security organization in Brazil for 13 years, says that the country is vulnerable. “We have hundred of possible targets. The most evident are of three types: attempts against embassies; foreign authorities or institutions; attempts aimed at causing serious economic damage, such as the destruction of energy plants, airports, main highways,” he says.
Foreign specialists agree. Gabriel Weimann, from Univeristy of Haifa, in Israel, believes it is highly possible that Brazil becomes a main target for terrorism due to its booming economy, major sports events and social and wealth divides. "Brazil includes large portions of disenfranchized populations," he says. "This is ripe territory for terrorists looking for new members.”