Ahead of Carnival, Rio Police Begin Strike

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    Following a high-profile police strike in Bahia state, Brazil, Rio De Janeiro police are taking industrial action in pursuit of higher salaries, two weeks before the famed Carnival celebrations begin.

    The strike will also include firefighters, civil and military policemen, and prison guards. These groups, together, number more than 70,000 employees. Union representatives told Reuters that at least 30 percent of the employees will keep working through the strike.

    The strike follows a standoff in Bahia, in which about 300 striking police officers occupied the state’s legislature building, demanding higher salaries. In total, about 10,000 policemen stopped working. According to the BBC there were more than 100 murders in Salvador, Bahia’s capitol, during the strike, and more than 3,000 soldiers and federal policemen had to take over police patrols. On Thursday, the strikers evacuated the legislature building and some of their leaders were arrested.

    A report from Reuters suggests that so far, Rio remains calm. Military Police Colonel Fredericos Caldas told the news service that a contingency plan to deploy 14,000 troops has not yet been necessary.

    Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival celebrations bring in about 800,000 tourists and $500 million a year, according to the Associated Press.

    InSight Crime Analysis

    Rio’s strike has the potential to raise serious questions about Brazil’s policing model. Rio military policemen and firefighters, in terms of raw salary, make $533 a month, compared with $995 for Bahia, according to a report by the Brazilian state of Goias. Brazil’s considerable inflation has not been matched by overall increases in public-sector incomes.

    Rio has a significantly higher cost of living than Salvador, according to staple basket statistics from Brazil’s central bank, and that cost grew three times faster than Salvador’s during 2011. A commitment to matching inflation in the salaries of more than 70,000 employees is going to be costly for Rio. This gives Rio’s strike the potential to overshadow Bahia’s.

    Additionally, while Bahia governor Jaques Wagner suggested police in the state were responsible for the spike in violence that followed the beginning of the strike, according to the Associated Press, Rio’s police have closer ties to organized crime. InSight has reported on Rio’s militias, made up in many cases by serving policemen. Giving better salaries to police, while it may be costly, may reduce the incentives for corruption. Nonetheless, Rio’s 70,000 law enforcement employees can look to the militias as a source of supplementary income if their demands for higher salaries are not met.

    These strikes have been timed shrewdly. The Carnival is important to the Brazilian economy as well as its reputation as a tourist destination, and the perception of safety is a key factor for this income. As a result of the strikes, 10% of tourists have cancelled their flights to Brazil, according to the country’s association of travel agencies.

    As the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics approach, public sector workers will be needed to keep streets safe for tourists. The employees most strained will have a significant amount of leverage; Brazil authorities will likely hesitate before deploying soldiers, risking clashes in front of international spectators. The Carnival can be seen, then, as a kind of litmus test for striking security forces.

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