A year after the lavish Summer Olympics, Brazil is undergoing the deepest recession in decades, which has resulted in strict austerity measures and important budget shortfalls that are affecting the majority of the country’s public services.
Most recently, the scarcity of the state’s budget in public security has sparked a wave of dissent among the police. Indeed, in early February, the deficit prompted the police forces to go on strike in the state of Espírito Santo, just north of Rio, to protest against hardship and rock bottom salaries.
Prohibited to go on strike themselves, due to the vital aspect of the service they deliver, the police has found a way to circumvent the proscription by asking their families and spouses to protest on their behalf by blocking the entry to police stations.
The strike has had dire consequences as it opened up a security gap, which in turn provoked a wave of criminality. Thieves and criminals used the avenue left open by police inactivity to their advantage to pillage and kill. For days Vitoria, Espírito Santo’s capital city, had the look of a ghost town as its inhabitants withdrew from its usually busy streets and stopped all activity as they were fearing for their lives.
Although mostly gang-related, the wave of criminality that was unleashed left 143 dead between Feb. 4th and Feb. 13th, which as pointed out by the Guardian, is alarming given that “the death toll is roughly six times the state’s comparable homicide rate from last year.”
In the face of the events, the government of the state of Espírito Santo qualified the strike of “shameful blackmail” and charged officers with crime of revolt.
Thousands of military men were sent to patrol the streets to alleviate the security gap and bring life back to normal in Vitoria. Carnival festivities were cancelled in the state of Espírito Santo for fear of other outbursts of violence and lack of adequate security measures.
In spite of the tumultuous climate, the legendary carnival of Rio de Janeiro took place. Yet, anticipating a spread of the strike movement in the state of Rio, the federal government deployed 9,000 military men in the streets ahead of the festivities.
Despite heightened security measures deployed by having recourse to the military, events similar to those that occurred in Vitoria are likely to occur again elsewhere in the country if no solution is found to appease the discontent of the police forces and their families.