Explaining Brazil #187: What happens when the police go on strike

Officers in the state of Minas Gerais have called a strike. How this crisis unfolds will send a message to other law enforcement agencies around the country

Law enforcement agencies have begun a strike in Minas Gerais to put pressure on Governor Romeu Zema to offer them better wages. The move sent shivers down the spines of citizens, as when police departments go on strike, a massive crime spree usually follows. That happened in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo, back in 2017, and in Ceará, two years ago. 

The average cop’s salary in Brazil is around just USD 1,000 — which is arguably low considering the constant danger they face. Meanwhile, state governments are so desperately cash-strapped that it would be financial suicide to give in to police demands. In Minas Gerais, for instance, the government already spends two-thirds of its net revenue on salaries and pensions as it is.

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  • Rafael Alcadipani is a professor at think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas and a member of the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, a think tank that conducts research into violence and law enforcement in Brazil.
  • Euan Marshall is an editor at The Brazilian Report and also hosts the Explaining Brazil podcast in the absence of Gustavo Ribeiro.

This episode used music from Uppbeat. License codes: GB9VAWEVA3UJX4FQ, FVBYMGPWDQRCITZJ

Background reading:

  • On Monday evening, the police in Minas Gerais followed up protests with a full-blown strike, which states around the country will be watching closely. The push comes at the same time federal civil servants demand raises of their own. The proximity to the election gives leverage to both movements — as potential disruptions could hurt incumbent politicians.
  • The current crisis underlies a deeper problem in Brazil’s security apparatus: the increasing politicization of police forces has essentially turned administrations into hostages of their cops. 
  • Many fear that President Jair Bolsonaro is trying to instrumentalize police forces in order to use them for a possible power grab, should he lose the 2018 election.

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