Brazil: After One Week and Over 100 Murders Still no End in Sight for Bahia’s Police Strike

Police strike Side street of a residential area of a city of Bahia.  Mountains of trash grow day by day under the very hot tropical sun. The trash has not been collected since Saturday and rats run freely in the streets.

Walking down the road the atmosphere is tense. Nobody is in the street. Yesterday it was much better. People seemed to have forgotten the tension and were walking freely. But when they woke up the mountains of trash revealed a sad reality: the bad times are not over.

I went to the bakery and asked the owner what he thought about it. He answered: “I do not know. It cannot be the arrastão (flash mob robbery). Are the robbers going to rob the rubbish?” A loud laugh broke the tension and we all felt better.

But the answer was a clear sign: tension runs still very high in Bahia. By the way, at 5 pm the bakery store used to be always very full and you had to wait quite a bit to be served. Not these days. It is always empty now. Nobody wants to stay too long in the streets.

Ivete Sangalo wrote in her twitter account: “What a wonderful day today is.” But the tension is high and people responded harshly to her cheerfulness: “maybe for you, maybe in your mansion not for normal people in the streets of Salvador.”

Meanwhile at the Legislative Assembly some of the human shields, children, as the Brazilian Minister for human rights Maria do Rosário defined them, were let go. But some are still joining the striking policemen.

The situation inside the Assembly building  is quite bad. No water, no electricity, no food. Because of the presence of the kids inside some water and bread was offered to the insurgents. But the tactic of the Army is quite clear: to give  nothing the rioters  until they surrender.

Negotiations between the two sides have been going on with the mediation of the Archbishop of Salvador don Dom Murilo Sebastião Ramos Krieger. Whoever calls what’s happening in Bahia a normal strike for a pay increase would be considered crazy here. There’s an ongoing fight for power, but at least the negotiations started.

However the situation is so bad that even the American State Department advised American citizens not to go to Bahia these days.

Tribunals, schools, and other public activities are paralyzed. More than 100 people have been murdered. Meanwhile the governor of Bahia, Jaques Wagner, said he does not have the money the insurgents want. Which means he might have to ask the Federal government to help pay the bill to end the strike.

There is also a contagion risk. The Rio de Janeiro police have already made it clear that any attack against the Bahia police would cause an anticipation of their own strike.

Meanwhile, Marco Prisco, the head of the police unions, has friends in many police forces in Brazil. Prisco supported similar campaigns for pay rises in Rondônia, Alagoas and other Brazilian states. He is popular and smart.

The contagion risk is serious especially because the military police is seriously underpaid in Brazil and their request for pay rise is legitimate. What’s not legitimate is for them to use children as human shields to reach this objective.

Rio de Janeiro state’s secretary of security, José Mariano Beltrame already made it clear that security will be guaranteed during the strike of Rio police. However if the contagion spreads to the whole of Brazil the situation might run out of control.

This is why governor Wagner is pushing very hard to end this strike as quickly as possible. Brasília is not rushing for a federal solution as  Romero Jucá, government leader in the Brazilian Senate, declared that the constitutional change required for adopting a national salary for the police won’t be voted in 2012.

In the meantime the reintegration to the police force of Prisco and other 4 people is also part of the negotiations. Prisco was exonerated in 2001 during the previous riot of the police in Salvador and never got back his job.

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

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