Will Brazil's Carnival be canceled?

Police in Rio de Janeiro agreed to a strike last night, just days ahead of the world's most famous carnival celebration.

Silvia Izquierdo/AP
Brazilian police, firefighters and prison guards protest during a rally in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Feb. 9. Police agreed to strike last night, just days ahead of the world's most famous carnival celebration.

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

A crowd of boisterous men gathered in Rio’s Cinelândia square last night, setting off firecrackers, chanting and punching the air with their fists. And then they, the police, voted to strike.

What this translates to, in terms of safety for greater Rio de Janeiro’s population of twelve million, especially as Carnival approaches, is the question of the hour.

How many really won’t work? Reports early Friday say the city isn’t lacking for police (in Portuguese).

The civil police homicide division seems to be working. More than a month after a young passinho dancer from a North Zone favela was found beaten to death, civil police reportedly arrested two suspects today.

In the 1960s, Brazil’s military put a lid on demands from the poor, with a coup that kept an authoritarian government in power until 1985. The return to democracy was gradual, with elites carefully managing the process. Though former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva carried on with old political and economic practices, his 2002-2010 government marked the return to center stage of those long-repressed demands.

Managing them is no easy task, as Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral and TV Globo are finding out. Large pay raises were given, but aren’t considered to be enough by angry security forces who are now feeling their muscle. A fireman was arrested for inciting the practice of crimes against military law, on the basis of a wiretapped phone conversation aired strategically on Globo, and his colleagues want him freed. A gubernatorial election is coming up in a couple of years, and at least some of the action stems from preparation by ex-governor Anthony Garotinho, who has sided with the strikers.

No one in the mainstream media has brought up the question of safety in the 19 favelas where pacification police work. “May God protect the residents of Rio,” Rene Silva Santos, the young journalist who lives in Complexo do Alemão, tweeted last night. “Especially those who live in communities pacified by military police.” Complexo do Alemão is still occupied by the Brazilian army, not police.

See original blog to read an English translation of a very complete description of the situation, from O Dia newspaper.

– 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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