While the MPL/V por Vinagre protests that embroiled Brazil for the last month have subsided for the most part, things ramped up with the arrival of the newly-ordained Pope Francis. The Pope is in the country to celebrate World Youth Day, with the day's festivities happening in Rio de Janeiro, and to oversee his first public mass in Latin America. Protesters have responded, still dealing with grievances dating back to the initial MPL protests over bus fares. In one such protest in Rio, near the Guanabara Palace after an appearance there by the Pope, resulted in a crackdown. Now, Brazilians are pointing fingers at who started the protest, with evidence suggesting police-based subversion.
Late Tuesday evening, after the crackdown, the PMERJ, Rio de Janeiro's military police, gave Brazilian media outlet O Globo a video to be posted on YouTube, showing a man throwing a Molotov cocktail at riot police, which they say instigated the crackdown to prevent a riot. Shortly afterward, the video disappeared, replaced with another video of supposedly the same incident, but farther away and without a glimpse of the flamethrower. Initially, police denied a switcheroo, claiming hackers took down the video.
However, bloggers around Brazil have examined the footage, and raised a bunch of red flags using additional footage shot during the protest. It would be later discovered that the man they believed to be the bombthrower, along with another man supposedly involved in the protest, would cross the police line after taking off their shirts and showing identification, leading some to believe that the riot was instigated by police to justify the ensuing crackdown. The police would issue a denial, calling it a "sordid conspiracy."
The evidence remains inconclusive, though. While the person who was arrested for throwing the bomb, one Bruno Ferreira was arrested for the act, was shown not to be the bomb thrower by virtue of the clothes he was wearing, the same could be said of the person later identified as an undercover cop. Still, the possibility exists that the latter is the case, on account of the undercover cop changing his shirts from time to time during the protests.
Such actions are, unfortunately, not unusual. Police around the world, including New York City, have long used infiltration and subversion tactics against movements and protest organizations to observe and possibly undermine them, as a means of maintaining order. Furthermore, as evidenced by recent protests in Oakland, California in response to the George Zimmerman verdict, the tendency of so-called "black bloc" anarchists to attack targets solo and then escape detection by re-entering the crowd is a tactic that can be easily exploited by police to undermine protests. This is also representative of police brutality on Rio de Janeiro's part, who has relied heavily on the PMERJ and special ops unit BOPE to crack down the MPL/V por Vinagre protests.
(Spotlight photo source: Semilia Luz, under a CC BY 2.0 license)