By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Following a week of police strikes and soaring crime rates in the northeastern state Bahia, Rio de Janeiro’s State Governor, Sergio Cabral, has been seeking to reassure citizens that the same thing will not occur in Rio. He announced on Monday, “Carnival will be in peace. I trust our security professionals … I have no doubt that we will safeguard not only Carnival, but our day-to-day tranquility.”
But his show of trust may not be enough to head off the strike proposed by police and firefighters, due to begin on Friday.
“We know that it’s better not to go on strike,” said Corporal Gurgel, one of the leaders of the strike movement, speaking to Jornal do Brasil – “provided that they meet our demands.”
According to the manifesto by the Civil Police union SINDPOL, their strikers are demanding a basic salary of R$5,000 per month – an increase of more than 100 percent on their current basic rate of R$2,409.
By comparison, a newly qualified lawyer, after completing five years of university training, currently receives an estimated average salary of around R$3,000 per month, and a teacher in a state school is entitled to less than R$1,000 per month.
The manifesto also pushes for a “policy of valorization” for the security professions, wanting to clean up their image in the eyes of the public. “Because we are seen badly by society, unlike in developed countries… this is a medium term goal which begins with a salary which reflects the value of our work.”
At a recent press conference, Rio’s Secretary for Public Security José Mariano Beltrame said, “I have the utmost respect for police because I am also a police officer. But everything in life is achieved through order and dialogue. If we look from 2007 to 2013, the police will have more than 100 percent increase during this period.”
He blamed previous governments’ wage policies for causing the current crisis but hinted that radical action would not be tolerated.
When questioned about contingency policies in the event of the strike going ahead on Friday, he said that the public need not fear a situation like that which is occurring in Bahia: “The Civil and Military Police have a protocol for such eventualities [which we developed] during the Pan American Games in 2007. The Security Bureau’s commitment is to peace and order. The population should not be concerned, because, if necessary we have several contingency plans that can be immediately put into place.”
When asked about the possibility of arresting potential strikers he warned, “Every officer, whether civil or military, has been taught during training about the penalties they can incur if they take certain actions.”
But with just two days to go until the proposed strike in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the start of Carnival on February 17th, the feeling on the streets is one of delicate anticipation.
“There hasn’t been so much about the strike in Rio on the news, so I wasn’t too concerned, but when you hear about what’s been happening in Bahia, it makes you worry what might happen here,” said British tourist, Louise Reed, “Fingers crossed they’ll have got it sorted by Friday.”