Police Strike Ends in Espirito Santo
Police officers in Espírito Santo returned to work on February 13 after a ten-day strike. Over 144 murders occurred during the strike and federal troops were sent in to maintain order.
Law and order spiraled out of control in this southeastern state. A budget crisis has caused the salaries of the local police to be the lowest in Brazil. During the strike, the murder rate is estimated to have risen by a factor of six, although the government has yet to release official statistics. Vitória, the capital of Espírito Santo, has seen a massive increase in crime, often in broad daylight. Security officials reported that there were over 200 cases of car theft in a single day, ten times the average. A state retail association claims that over $30 million was lost during the period of lawlessness as shops and businesses had to close due to safety concerns.
Authorities have charged over 700 military police with rebellion. If convicted, they face up to twenty years in jail. The wives and family members of the police took to the streets to protest, as the police themselves were barred from protesting. They physically blocked the police stations in retaliation for the low salaries received by police. Federal authorities were forced to send 1,200 federal troops to stop the violence. There was also a legal vacuum concerning the behavior of the federal troops as they were routinely stopping and frisking in downtown Vitória. Fortunately, the state and the police union seem to have reached an accord for them to return to work soon.
There have been concerns that the police strike will spread to other states, especially Rio de Janeiro, because of the brutal budget crises affecting the country. A strike in Rio would be disastrous, especially with Carnival occurring later this month. Carnival is one of the biggest events in all of Brazil, and a loss of security would be devastating for the tourism industry.