Bahia in Brazil Is a War Zone. And the Police, Who Should Protect, Spread Fear

Pelourinho area in Salvador, Bahia Ilhéus, in the South of Bahia state, Brazil is a ghost city. It never was that busy at night, but now nobody is in the streets. The hot weather and the dust are the only things around. Itabuna is the same. Bars, restaurants, everything is empty. Feira de Santana, same thing.

And then Salvador, the capital, it seems like a city at war. The military who came from everywhere in Brazil, walk around with their fingers on their machine gun triggers. The atmosphere is very tense.

It seems more like Beirut during the old war days. At any moment panic can erupt and violence can spread all over. But at night you can really feel it. You risk your life going around. Anyone can rob you and even kill you knowing nothing will happen to him or her.

Many people believe it is a problem of money for the policemen on strike. But it is not. It is a problem of democracy. Even the governor of Bahia stated that many of those who are vandalizing the cities of Bahia belong to the police forces on strike.

They want more money, more benefits and even the amnesty for the crimes committed during the strike. They are putting under siege the Legislative Assembly. They are closing the main roads of the cities. They have taken control of Bahia. Like in a military coup. They are making the law, their law.

And how does the Governor answer to that? Calling the Army from Brazilian capital Brasília. The Armed Forces are taking over the streets and sooner or later they will confront the insurgents. Yes, because this is exactly what the policemen on strike are. Insurgents. And hard confrontation is coming up.

People in Bahia are scared, very scared. And this fear transforms the cities of Bahia in ghost cities. Poor people and criminals are taking advantage of the situation.

Over 50 killings took place since the beginning of the strike January 31st. The situation is out of control. And funny things happen. The mayor of Salvador, João Henrique Carneiro, while his city had become a slaughterhouse, was seen in Rio’s Copacabana beach, tanned and relaxed.

People in Salvador were already very angry at him after he signed a decree legalizing the construction of  tall buildings near the beaches of Salvador, effectively obscuring the sunset. But the outrage became much more acute after people were killed and the city was in panic while he was relaxing in Rio.

Even the governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, snubbed him after the Rio trip not allowing the mayor to participate in high profile meetings dealing with the security of Salvador.

A tough game is being played between the strikers and the government of Bahia. But who pays for that are the people of Bahia. Not just from Salvador but also from the cities of the interior of the state, where the situation is even worse than in the capital. People have locked themselves in their homes afraid of getting out especially at night.

The irony of it all is that everybody says Brazil is world’s 6th economy, nearly a developed country, with a booming economy, a world of opportunities.

But then facts like these remind us of a hard reality: until its social problems are finally addressed, until the dictatorship mentality is finally abandoned by the police of this country, Brazil continues to be a country of contradictions, where you find the wealth of Switzerland and the misery of Africa.

A place where a simple strike can put your life in jeopardy. A country where you discover all of a sudden that you are not safe at all wherever you might be are.

A hard lesson for Bahia, which Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo already knew too well, but had spared Salvador until recently. This is not a surprise, however. The latest census figures show that among the most violent cities in Brazil the Bahian cities of Simões Filho, Porto Seguro, Itabuna and Salvador are on the top.

Max Bono is an investigative journalist traveling in Brazil. You can contact him at researchinrio@yahoo.com.

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