By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The strikes by police and firefighters that have affected Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, have now reached the capital Brasília, and organizers are speaking out around the country. Just days after Rio’s Polícia Militar (Military Police) and firefighters called an end to their strike on February 13th, military security forces in the Federal District met on the evening of February 15th to discuss starting their own action.
Instead of declaring an all-out strike, (which is constitutionally unlawful for military personnel), the decision was made to reduce their functional effectiveness from February 16th onwards as part of a slow-going demonstration they have termed “Operation Tortoise”.
“We cannot speak of going on strike,” said João de Deus, President of the Military Police association, ASPRA, in a statement on the ASSOFBM website (the Association of Military Firefighters for the Federal District). “But the constitution does not shut down our right claim. We are looking for legal ways [to get out message across].”
According to ASSOFBM the basic idea is to slow down their services by using tactics such as reducing the speed at which emergency vehicles will travel to incidents to the official road speed limit regardless of the severity of the occurrence, and charging a fee for the presence of a vehicle at the scene.
As the most highly paid military public security force in the country, a fully qualified soldier in the Federal District receives between R$4,419 and R$5,419 per month, compared to a basic salary of around R$1,031 for police and firefighters in Rio de Janeiro state.
However, the Federal District contingent has taken up the cause for forces across Brazil, in support of a nationwide minimum salary. They are also fighting for wage parity with the civil police, who currently receive considerably higher salaries than military personnel, and an improved rank and career path system. Further talks have been scheduled for March 2nd.
In the civilian sector, COBRAPOL (the Brazilian Confederation of Civil Police Workers) has declared a nationwide Civil Police strike due to begin on April 19th. The plan was given the go-ahead on February 10th by COBRAPOL’s executive director, Jânio Bosco Gandra, and representatives from 25 of its affiliates.
COBRAPOL are asking for the creation of a standardized minimum salary for civil police officers and a unified national ranking system across all the states.
“Even though demonstrations are being organized locally [at the moment], it reflects a dissatisfaction on a national level,” Gandra told the government communications bureau, Agência Brasil.
“It’s a social phenomenon, a kind of revolution that needs to be studied, because to me, it indicates that the time has come to reflect carefully on the state of public security nationwide.”
Localized Civil Police strikes are under discussion in the states of Alagoas and Paraná as well.
Meanwhile in Rio, the last firefighters who had been detained accused of inciting strikes were released under habeas corpus on February 19th, among them Corporal Benevenuto Daciolo, the leader of the movement.
According to sources in the military police force, activists are seeking answers as to why the strikers were detained at the Gericinó Penitentiary (formerly known as Bangu 1) – Rio’s maximum security, civilian prison – for several days before being transferred to a military institution, instead of going directly into a military prison as the law defines.