Examining US Aid to Brazil for Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Efforts in 2014 and 2016

July 25, 2018


            Brazil is one of the most influential economies and democracies in the world. Its population is mostly urban, which makes the citizens more accustomed to modern life. This makes Brazil an easy recipient for the United States to send aid to for the betterment of democracy and society overall. However, there is still need in Brazil for US foreign aid. In the following article, I will be looking at the US aid to improve law enforcement and counterterrorism efforts.

Law Enforcement in 2014 and 2016

Law enforcement has been a hot topic for Brazil in recent years due to the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016. In the 2013, leading up to the start of these events, many protested police brutality and other grievances. The violent gang activity and multiple wild protests lead police to use excessive force. However, there are many documented incidents of unlawful police violence. In 2013, 2,200 people died during police interventions according to Human Rights Watch. This comes out to 6 people per day dying at the hands of law enforcement ("World Report 2015: Rights Trends In World Report 2015: Brazil"). To intensify police-community relations further, the state of Rio de Janeiro has a financial compensation program where law enforcement officials are compensated for meeting crime reduction targets. This gives a reason for officers to target those who seem suspicious, which can be a lethal interaction.  

            To respond to this, the US spent $113.34 thousand of a $12.65 million total to what is classified as “Rule of Law and Human Rights” in 2014 ("Foreign Assistance in Brazil"). Given solely by the Inter-American Foundation, this effort was to help facilitate equally forced policing of both citizens and law enforcement in Brazil.

            However, tensions between police and citizens heightened in 2016 with the start of the Summer Olympics in Rio. This allowed Brazilian grievances to take an international stage. In 2016 alone, Rio saw a 23% increase in killings by police officers ("World Report 2017: Rights Trends In Brazil"). The Brazilian Congress tried to combat it through ensuring that those who were detained saw judges immediately after arrest, giving less time for police-citizen interactions. In terms of law enforcement aid, the US did not give to help the reforms Brazil was implementing. Rather, the US turned its attention to funding counterterrorism efforts in Brazil.

Counterterrorism Aid in Brazil

In 2016, Brazil approved a counterterrorism bill that was criticized for having broad language in terms of defining who a terrorist is. This meant that law enforcement could label advocacy groups as terroristic and treat them as such ("World Report 2017: Rights Trends In Brazil"). The bill outlined that anyone who was found to be a terrorist would face up to 30 years in prison ("Brazil: New Anti-Terrorism Law Enacted"). The judges are left to give their opinions on who they feel is a legitimate advocacy group and who is promoting terrorism through social protest and movements. This could potentially infringe on freedom of speech through comments made on social media or other written outlets. In sum, if a judge feels that an action is terroristic, he or she can jail protestors on terrorism charges even if they were peaceful.

However, the US saw the move towards outlining what a terrorist is in Brazil as a worthy cause for aid. In 2016, out of a total $10.28 million spent, $265,000 was spent on “Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction.” According to the description provided by the Department of State, this funding is meant to deter, prevent, and respond to a terroristic event that involves weapons of mass destruction. The money would also go towards prosecuting and punishing those found to be terrorists.


            To conclude, the US and Brazil have interesting ties when it comes to aid in law enforcement and counterterrorism. Brazil’s time in the spotlight recently through the World Cup and the Olympics allowed Brazilian’s voices to be heard on an international scale. However, it is left to be decided if the US’ aid to Brazil in the categories listed above actually assisted in alleviating these grievances. One aspect that is most alarming is US aid that is given towards Brazil’s law enforcement reform. The difference in the amount that the US planned to give versus what the US actually gave is night and day.  In 2014, the US planned $618,000 to go to “Stabilization Operations and Security Sector Reform.”  In reality, only about $133,000 was spent. Along with this, the US originally planned to spend another $618,000 in 2016 to aid in law enforcement reform, but none was given. If this money were given to the Brazilian people, would the amount of police killings and brutality be nonexistent today? I hypothesize that the planned budget for law enforcement spending in 2016 went solely to aid counterterrorism efforts, as the US spent more than planned in counterterrorism that year. This could have helped in protecting the country from terrorism during the Olympics, but it is hard to decide if the money actually helped.

Written by Julie Mandat. Julia Mandat is a junior sociology major with minors in Spanish and legal studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Julia plans on going to law school after graduation. 

About Author(s)

US Latin American Relations
This course focuses on the history, politics, and legitimacy of US policy towards Latin America. The course is taught by Professor Scott Morgenstern. The contributing articles are written by students who took the course in Spring '18.