Rio de Janeiro Budget Crisis Heightens Security Concerns for Carnival

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Brazil’s deployment of thousands of military police to Rio de Janeiro ahead of Carnival, amid fears of police strikes linked to a budget crisis and a security plan that recycles flawed policies, raises concerns about security for the event.

Brazil sent 9,000 military police to Rio de Janeiro on February 14, reported Folha de São Paulo. The temporary security force, which represents 20 percent of Brazil’s military police, will be operational at least until February 22, but its mandate may be extended to cover the duration of Carnival from February 24 to March 1.

Rio’s celebration of Carnival, the Catholic holiday that precedes the religious season known as Lent, is the largest of its kind in the world.

The military deployment comes as a budget crisis in Rio is fueling fears of a police strike. The city of Rio de Janeiro is facing an estimated $1 billion budget shortfall this year, while the surrounding state is facing an expected shortfall of more than $6 billion, according to the New York Times. The newspaper reported that delays in paying government officials, including police officers, have been ongoing for the past two years.

Fears of a police strike were also sparked by reports that four military police battalions from Rio de Janeiro remained in their barracks while their relatives blocked the exits on February 10, reported Plus55. The state governor announced a salary increase for security forces in order to assuage demands for higher wages.

In early Feburary, the federal government was forced to send 3,000 military troops to the northern state of Espírito Santo, where a police strike led to widespread riots and dozens of deaths. The police strike was caused by unpaid salaries, in a state suffering from a budgetary crisis similar to Rio’s.

Meanwhile, President Michel Temer’s government launched its new security plan the first week of February in three test-pilot states, reported Folha de São Paulo. The plan was reportedly spurred by the severe January penitentiary crisis that saw more than 130 inmates die in prison riots across the country.

According to Folha de São Paulo, the new security strategy aims to achieve a 7.5 percent annual reduction of homicides in particularly violent cities; a 10 percent increase in arms and weapons seizures in 2017, in addition to a 15 percent increase next year; and a decrease of 15 percent in prison overcrowding by 2018. However, the newspaper also points out that three-quarters of the 70 new measures are identical to security policies from previous administrations.

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Rio de Janeiro’s decision to deploy 9,000 military soldiers is a worrying repetition of former flawed policies in a city that appears incapable of adequately financing and ensuring the security of major public events. Faced with ongoing security challenges as Rio’s Carnival nears, authorities appear prepared to adopt the same militarized approach that has previously failed to achieve long-term security gains.

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Ahead of the Olympic Games last year, the government ramped up its “pacification” strategy in the informal Rio neighborhoods known as favelas. Yet protests by police over unpaid salaries and abundant examples of continuing insecurity in the city showed the limits of this heavy-handed approach.

In the current context of Rio’s budgetary crisis, state and city authorities’ apparent inability to secure the upcoming event is worrying. And given the human loss incurred by the six-day police strike in Espírito Santo, one can only imagine the consequences of a massive police paralysis in Rio, a city populated by six million individuals that will likely see some two million people in the streets every day during Carnival.

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