Friday, February 10, 2012

Traveler's Alert: Police Strike in Rio de Janeiro Could Jeopardize Carnival

With Rio de Janeiro's Carnival approaching on February 18th and concluding on February 21st, and despite a recent pay increase for police and other first responders, Rio state police officers went on strike earlier today (February 10) raising concern for the security of the glittering annual Carnival extravaganza. It should be noted that the pay increase is 39%, spaced over two years!

The strike has sent officials in Rio scrambling to set up a back-up plan to deploy thousands of soldiers into the streets to provide security in the city of six million people, that is also in the midst of preparations to host the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Olympics.

The decision to strike was made by thousands of officers and firefighters who massed in downtown Rio for a six-hour assembly that included fireworks, chants and speeches denouncing Rio's government.

COMMENT: Police already were on strike in Salvador, Brazil's third largest city, and the 10-day-old walkout has brought a spike in violence and homicides. That city's Carnival is Brazil's second largest, and while officials vow it will go on, many tourists have canceled their trips because of the rise in street violence.

Rio Gov. Sergio Cabral had urged officers to stay on the job, appealing to their sense of duty and responsibility, yet in Brazil, where there are almost as many dirty cops as there are good ones, Cabral's appeal may fall upon deaf ears.

Last month, 20,000 officers marched on Copacabana Beach demanding wage increase,s fewer work hours and a bonus for difficult working conditions.

The United Nations has blamed police for a significant proportion of the nation's nearly 50,000 homicides each year. An Associated Press analysis of data released by the police found officers in Rio killed an average of 3.5 people a day over the last five years.

My suggestion to visitors who are planning to attend Rio's Carnival celebrations on the 18th, is that they reconsider their travel plans IF the police do not return to their duties by Monday, February 13. Even under normal circumstances, when all police are on duty, the victimization of tourists is very high.

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