Brazilian State Suffers Through Days Of Violence During Police Strike

Feb 10, 2017
Originally published on February 10, 2017 7:23 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's go to a small state in southeast Brazil, a state where NPR's Philip Reeves reports troops and armored vehicles are on the streets.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Talk to people about Espirito Santo and, in another time, they might have told you about its great marlin fishing, its lovely colonial-era buildings and tree-lined avenues. Now they have a different story.

DEIVISON MARTINS: (Through interpreter) Most of the violence takes place overnight. I live in the suburbs, where there's a lot of shooting.

REEVES: Deivison Martins is a driver in the state capital, Vitoria. The violence he's talking about is sufficiently serious for Brazil's federal government to send in hundreds of army troops to try to restore calm. Martins says much of the city is paralyzed.

MARTINS: (Through interpreter) Businesses aren't open, nor are shops or banks.

REEVES: Some stores did open yesterday, but some of the shelves quickly emptied as customers rushed in to buy food. The trouble in Espirito Santo started last weekend after police stopped patrolling. The police have, in effect, gone on strike. Brazilian law says they can't do that. So their union is claiming the officers are unable to leave their bases because the gates are blocked by their wives and supporters protesting outside. They want a pay rise, yet there's a deep recession in Brazil. State governments are struggling to pay their bills.

Since the protests began last weekend, violence in and around Vitoria has surged. The police union says murders are running at more than five times the usual rate, with at least 110 in six days. Much of the killing is believed to be by drug gangs exploiting the absence of the cops to settle scores.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

REEVES: Residents have filmed violence on their mobile phones and posted clips on YouTube showing people looting, robbing and stealing cars at gunpoint. Overnight, there were negotiations between police wives and state officials over ending the strike. These ended without success.

There are fears the protests could spread to other Brazilian states in financial trouble, including Rio de Janeiro.

NOE DA MATTA RIBEIRO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Police union official Noe Ribeiro says if that happens, Brazilians should prepare for chaos.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.