A strike by police in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro that threatens to disrupt upcoming carnival festivities has raised new questions about security before the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil stood ready to deploy troops on the streets of Rio de Janeiro city as the police strike for higher wages began on Friday, following an ongoing walkout by police in the northeastern state of Bahia.
The Rio strike comes just one week before the city’s famous carnival celebrations and coincides with the start of hundreds of informal street parades, known as blocos.
Protest leaders said they hoped to reach an agreement with state officials soon.
“In no way do we want to ruin carnival,” Sergeant Wallace Rodrigues, one of the strike organisers, said at a news conference.
“We still have a week and are convinced that by then we can resolve this issue through dialogue.”
Federal officials said they are also confident the carnival celebrations can go ahead. “I haven’t the slightest doubt that carnival can proceed,” said Jose Eduardo Cardozo, Brazil’s justice minister.
“The government is ready to send whatever troops may be needed.”
Tha plan includes the potential deployment of more than 14,000 federal troops across the city and surrounding state of the same name.
As many as 850,000 tourists are expected to hit the beaches and palm-tree lined promenades of Brazil’s second-biggest city for the festivities, which officially start on February 17 and end five days later.
The walkout renews concerns that Brazil, eager to show off its growing prosperity during the World Cup, is ill-equipped to provide the security needed in the 12 cities selected as venues for the matches, including Rio and Salvador.
Rio will also play host to the 2016 Olympics.
Bahia crime wave
In Bahia, police stopped work on January 31, allowing a crime wave to go unstopped with more than 150 killings, looting, and vandalism mostly concentrated in the capital city of Salvador, before federal troops were sent in.
In Rio, the police labour action is not expected to cause similar chaos because strike leaders agreed to a minimum level of service despite the protests.
So far, the intensity of the strike in Rio pales with the situation in Salvador, where some police officers allegedly committed some of the crimes themselves in order to heighten the stakes.
State officials in Bahia have already agreed to a pay raise for police, but negotiations have stalled over demands that any crimes committed by officers during the walkout be pardoned.
Backing up the refusal by state officials to accept such a demand, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said this week an amnesty would create “a country without rules.”
Rousseff last week sent more than 4,000 troops to Salvador to try to restore order after the local police strike opened doors for widespread violence and other crime.
While roughly 6,000 officers, about a fifth of the state’s overall police force, have taken part in the Bahia strike, only about 3,000 participated in the launch of the protest in Rio.
Low wages have forced many police officers to moonlight in other jobs and have caused frustration for officers in areas such as Brazil’s violent northeast, where rising crime and drug problems have accompanied economic growth.