Police strike temporarily ends in Rio de Janeiro ahead of Carnival bash

By Juliana Barbassa ,AP

RIO DE JANEIRO — A police strike in Rio de Janeiro ended Monday just days before the city explodes in chaos for the world’s biggest Carnival bash. The decision came just two days after a similar strike ended in the northeastern state of Bahia, which saw the homicide rate double in its capital, Salvador, during the stoppage. The strikes, and the threat of similar action in other Brazilian states, had stoked concerns about Brazil’s security forces ahead of its hosting of the 2014 soccer World Cup and Rio’s hosting the 2016 Olympics. Fernando Bandeira, president of Sinpol, of one of the unions representing police, said officers and firefighters together decided to end the strike because “we don’t want to harm our Rio, especially during Carnival.” He warned, however, that officers would take up their grievances once the party is over. “What we were given were crumbs, and not even close to what we asked for,” he said. “After Carnival we’re going to talk again to renew our demands. The movement is alive.” The strike, however, was mostly dead in the days after it was called last week. The work stoppage began with much fanfare in a large rally in Rio’s center late last Thursday — the same day the state legislature voted to give officers a 39-percent raise staggered over this year and the next. But that was just half of what officers were seeking. The strike, however, never affected security in the city, the number of officers who adhered to it appeared relatively small and authorities never had to call on army soldiers to patrol streets, as was feared. The government made no new concessions to officers to end the strike. While the current base pay for police starts at US$964 per month in Rio state, it can go to US$1,169 for a starting officer willing to participate in available training courses, the department said. The 39-percent raise will be atop that, but won’t go fully into effect until next year. Dozens of striking police and union leaders in Rio were arrested and remain jailed — and Bandeira said getting them freed was now the union’s main concern.

Carnival starts officially this Friday, but massive street parties that can draw up to 2 million people to the streets have already kicked off and were carried out with no special security problems.

During the strike in Salvador, order was only restored after 3,600 soldiers and federal police were forced to patrol the metropolitan area and some regions around the state. Through labor negotiations, officers in Bahia received a 6.5-percent pay raise, rights to some bonus payments and also amnesty against punishment against any striking officers as long as they did not commit any crimes during the stoppage.