Could police strikes spread in Brazil?

Local police are striking over pay in Salvador, and some fear the unrest could spread to Rio just in time for Carnival, writes guest blogger Julia Michaels.

Felipe Dana/AP
Soldiers maintain their blockade of the state legislative building, where up to 300 striking police officers and their families are holed up, in Salvador, Brazil, Tuesday.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

Carnival starts in less than two weeks, with 250 percent more porta-potties.  And possibly a dearth of police.

Rio de Janeiro’s military (street) and civil (investigative) police forces, and its firemen are threatening to strike starting on Friday.

The moment couldn’t be better – or worse. The military police of the northeastern state of Bahia are currently on strike, with army troops surrounding strikers holed up with their families in the state legislative building. The US consulate has advised putting off travel to Bahia, a prime spot for Afro-Brazilian Carnival celebrations, and Globo TV reported today that tour operators have seen a ten percent cancellation rate.

In Rio, police are posting frenetically on Facebook and in blogs (most links in Portuguese), with not much mainstream coverage on the possibility of a strike (or on demands or the politics involved).

Governor Sérgio Cabral has increased salaries and improved compensation in other ways, but the police are still poorly paid – with many themselves living in favelas – and, perhaps, most important, fully aware of their importance in the new Rio. Crime is down and real estate values and tourism are up, largely due to the police pacification program, which started in 2008. The security program places high concentrations of police in select favelas to root out armed drug traffickers (in English), reports the Monitor.  The program now extends to 19 favelas.

“We work so you can live safely in the South Zone” a shock troop officer in the recently-occupied Vidigal favela boasted to RioRealblog, just a couple of weeks back. But the cops aren’t only protecting the upper classes. In Rio’s pacified favelas  many people have let down their guard and developed new habits and behaviors; without enough police, criminals could easily start to retake territories and start a wave of revenge on those they consider to be traitors.

Rio’s security forces have a meeting scheduled with Cabral tomorrow. A demonstration is planned for Thursday in Cinelândia, with the strike tentatively set for Friday.

--- Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.

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