‘The movement continues’: Brazilian police strike drags on despite agreement with government

Police, who are classified as military, are barred by the constitution from going on strike or demonstrating

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2017, 11:22am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2017, 11:01pm

Relatives of police in Brazil blockaded law enforcement stations on Saturday in a protest over pay despite an agreement to end an officers’ strike and limited police presence in some of the southeastern state’s cities.

At least 137 people have been reported killed amid looting and robbery in Espirito Santo state since police went on strike a week ago demanding better pay.

“We spoke with our officers, and urged common sense. And that they get back on their jobs. We are talking about more than 100 people killed,” Espirito Santo state human rights chief Julio Cesar Pompeu told Agencia Brasil.

We spoke with our officers, and urged common sense. And that they get back on their jobs
Julio Cesar Pompeu, Espirito Santo human rights chief

According to an agreement on Friday night between local authorities and police representatives, the police were meant to return to work from 7am on Saturday local time. In exchange, they would not face disciplinary action. But the deadline came and went, and the situation remained unchanged.

The agreement came after authorities ran out of patience and said they were filing rebellion charges against more than 700 officers who had refused to leave their bases.

Police, who are classified as military, are barred by the constitution from going on strike or demonstrating. To get around that law, relatives of officers have blocked the entrances to all police bases in Espirito Santo.

Family members of police said the agreement was not legitimate because their representatives were absent from negotiations.

“They cannot sign an agreement between them. This is a movement led by the wives of officers, and none of us were there. The movement continues,” the wife of a police officer told the G1 news site.

More than 3,000 soldiers were patrolling the streets while police remained on strike, but tension was running high. Businesses and schools have been closed all week.

By late on Saturday about 600 police were patrolling in Vitoria, the state capital, although the strike still was on, officials told Agencia Brasil.

Justice Minister Raul Jungmann acknowledged that “the situation is not back to normal yet. But since the army got there, looting has stopped and fewer people have been killed”.

On Friday, similar strikes erupted at some of Rio de Janeiro’s police stations over unpaid wages, though spokesman Major Ivan Blaz told journalists that “95 per cent” of officers were working as normal and that the state and city were secure. The situation in Rio was calm early on Saturday.

Morale among street police is low as a result of nearly bankrupt Rio state’s inability to pay full wages, as well as brutal crime fighting that has seen more than 3,000 officers killed in Rio since 1994 – a casualty rate exceeding that of US troops in the second world war, according to a recent study.

President Michel Temer, who said nothing in public about the crisis all week, called the situation “unacceptable” on Friday and said that demonstrators “cannot hold the Brazilian people hostage”.