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Psyops | “The Phantom of the Riocenter”


Source: Observatório da Imprensa

By: Luciano Martins Costa

Topic: Police Provocateurs in Rio Protest?

Translation: C. Brayton

Background: The event of April 30, 1981 referred to in the title was an attempt to bomb a 20,000-seat amphitheater during a Chico Buarque concert.

The two naval intelligence officers in charge of carrying out this atrocity inadvertently set the device off while sitting in their car. Their plan was to blame left-wing groups for the resulting mass terror.

This essay evaluates the evidence dug up by O Globo and the Folha de S. Paulo this week according to which military police secret service members were photographed behaving as provocateurs during the small Rio demonstrations in front of the governor’s palace.

The NY Times ran an excellent blow-by-blow of the incident on July 25.


It is interesting to observe how the newspapers have begun to question the role of police in their analysis of the demonstrations that are taking place in Rio during the visit of Pope Francisco, following in the wake of protests over the high cost of public transport.

The vertical organization of the newsroom make it difficult to establsh a relation of empathy between media and movements for change, because of the simple fact that the press invariably adopts the point of view of order and the maintenance of established order, until it becomes clear that there is something perverse in this order that needs to be changed. Something has changed in the viewpoint of the newspapers on the episodes that took place Monday in Rio.

There is nothing inherently wrong with the conservative orientation of the traditional media: Some institutions are simple unable to abandon this perspective. This may be the principal point of convergence between the press and the Catholic Church, and the reason why the papal visit is given the kind of coverage you would expect of a World Cup.

In the case of the Rio demonstrations, the papers had elected to echo the slogan that everyone has a right to protest, but  that acts of vandalism and violence could not be tolerated. They were not, however, showing much interest in identifying those carrying out the acts of agression and vandalism.

In the Tuesday papers, we see for the first time that the press has abandoned this commonplace, showing that the violence may be originating from one side of the confrontations: from the police.

Editorial cartoon by Latuff

Editorial cartoon by Latuff

O Globo and the Folha de S.Paulo publish photos that show one of the men who started the conflict by throwing a molotov cocktail at the shock troop, then running off toward the police barricade and receiving permission to pass. Headlined “Suspicion of Friendly Fire,” the O Globo story retraces the steps of the man who launched the first bomb against police, who is later identified as a police agent infitrated into the demonstration.

The images were posted to the Internet by activists and members of the group Mídia Ninja — 122,000 Facebook likes –but the Folha de S.Paulo says one of its reporters witnessed one of the agents, identtified as a member of the PM secret service,  changing sides.

The press also reserved space for the announcement of the Governor, that he has published a decree that demands user data from the personal communications of protesters, without a warrant.  Experts summoned by the press are unanimous in their belief that this measure is unconstitutional, which did not prevent the Governor from proposing it.

This is a bizarre proposal that, if carried out, might justify an impeachment of the Governor. Meanwhile, it does not seem to have occurred to experts and special commissions hired to comment on the episode that this initiative implies the violation of one of the basic principles of democratic order.

If put into effect, the decree would authorize police to listen in on journalists and lawyers, since the identity of the parties to the communication cannot be determined without listening to the content of the conversation.

And now I ask you: if those in charge of Cabral’s crisis cabinet are capable of imagining such an aberration, what is to prevent the Polícia Militar from infiltrating provocateurs among the  demonstrators, with the mission of inciting violence in order to identify the more aggressive of the marchers?

This would not be the first time that the obsession with order itself becomes its greatest threat. Furthermore, no government deserves the blind obedience of society, much less a government besieged by constant protests.

The situation in which the Rio government finds itself allows it to imagine the unimaginable: a decree that attempts to do away with the privacy of communications or state “ffriendly fire” incidents as a way of justifying police violence

Though the context was different — the final years of the dictatorship —  we would do well to remember April 30,1981, when agents of the repression planned an attack on a music event in Rio, with the support of senior military officers — an incident that failed to end in an enormous tragedy due to a near miraculous series of coincidence.

The militaristic mind continues to dominate the training of our police, in a democratic regime, and insanity rules the streets. The phantom of Riocentro has never been duly exorcised.