Last week, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported that the North Carolina-based private security firm Academi was providing World Cup security training for members of Brazil’s military and federal police forces.
Academi was founded in 1997 under the name Blackwater and became notorious during the conflict in Iraq, in part for its personnel shooting to death 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007.
Lt. Ricardo Bussotti Nogueira, commander of the special ops unit in São Paulo and one of those who underwent the training, told Folha,“The focus of the program was to pass on the practical experiences of the American troops in fighting terrorism.”
To that end, in late March 22 Brazilians were brought to Academi’s headquarters in North Carolina and underwent a three-week training course that included former U.S. Navy Seals and Coast Guard service-members as instructors.
The focus, according to a statement issued by the office of the Brazilian Special Secretary of Security for Large Events, was “port security, with a focus on how terrorists operate in a marine environment and how to recognize threats.”
The course was paid for by the U.S. government under the auspices of an exchange program between the armed forces of the two countries.
While it isn’t known how big the Academi contract is – phone calls to the company by Fox News Latino weren’t returned – a U.S. government spokesperson told Folha that the American government has spent “nearly $2.2 million in the last two years in cooperation with Brazilian police forces on security for mega-events.”
“We were sent because we are the specialized troops that would be used during a threat of terrorist attack in São Paulo,” Lt. Nogueira said.
Security during the World Cup this summer and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio remains a major concern, both in Brazil and internationally.
The Large Events Secretary’s statement stated that the program was originally suggested by members of the security office of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, and “there was no indication of who would be providing the instruction.”
According to The Nation, 170,000 Brazilian security personnel from military, police and secret services will be on duty during the Cup – 22 percent more than were used by South Africa at the 2010 event.
At the end of March, military police units – since reinforced by federal army troops – stormed the Maré area of Rio, occupying an area of roughly 4 square miles in which nearly 130,000 people live. And last week, the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela exploded after the murder, blamed by many on the police, of a popular dancer and TV performer. The violence spilled over into the Copacabana beach area.
The Amnesty International office in Brazil recently cautioned about large militarized operations like that in Maré, writing, “The armed forces have inadequate training for this type of operation.”
It seems unlikely that the former Blackwater is exactly who the human rights organization might have had in mind.