TRNN Original Report: Brazilian Police on Strike Abandon Salvador Streets As the City’s Death Toll Rises
In 48 hours, murder and violent crime near tripled in the city. Suddenly, the land of happiness, as it’s often referred to, morphed into a city in terror. Dozens of families too scared to say their families members were killed during the strike. Bodies pile up at the police morgue as hospital workers stall on autopsies and families wait days for the bodies. Although the national media sensationalized the strike as a typical story of violence in Brazil, another narrative would suggest the police went on strike for political reasons. Right wing politicians and corrupt officials looking to unseat the leftist Workers Party use the strike to illustrate their control of the police.TRNN follows a local journalist covering the police, and corruption in Salvador. Salvador is Brazil’s third largest city. It is due to host the World Cup games in 40 days.
JIHAN HAFIZ, PRODUCER: Salvador, Bahia–Brazil’s third-largest city, the first capital of the country, and the heartland of Afro-Brazilian culture. Capoeira, Samba, possibly even the /ˌkaɪpəˈdimiə/, all originated in Bahia, Brazil’s largest state in the northeast.
Known as the land of happiness, Salvador hails one of the world’s largest parties during Carnival. Tourists flock to the city to enjoy its legendary music, arts, dance, and deep-seated African tradition and spirituality.
I’m doing something that’s incredibly dangerous, which is riding the Ônibus. It’s a regular day activity. Why is it dangerous today? Because they announced a strike, military police, civil police announced a statewide strike in Bahia, and in particular Salvador. There’s been advice to stay home, but I am going to experiment a bit and see what it’s like taking the bus under an undeclared siege of the city.
There’s the Fonte Nova. That’s where the World Cup is going to be played this year, next month.
All divisions of Bahia’s police force went on strike demanding higher pay and the stipends they were promised during the strike two years ago. The crime rate in Salvador has increased 400 percent in the past ten years. It’s ranked one of Brazil’s most dangerous cities.
Everything’s completely shut down. It’s about rush hour right now, around 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon. This place is usually bustling with people, but it’s completely deserted.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Stores are being ransacked. Without security, everyone is terrified.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Closed. Everything is closed down. People are afraid of robbery.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Closed. Everything is closed down. People are afraid of robbery.
HAFIZ: And so, when the police abandoned the already dangerous streets, the population fled the streets too. Terror reigns over the city. A bloodbath would ensue for a week. Bodies would litter the streets. Reported lootings took place in 34 neighborhoods.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Everyone is looting this electronics store in Sao Caetano.
HAFIZ: Robbery, kidnappings, carjackings, rapes, and murder doubled in 12 hours after the strike was announced and continued to escalate four days after the strike ended.
But in the international press, there was a media blackout; in the local and state media, a typically sensationalized story of crime in Brazil. However, another narrative would suggest this strike wasn’t about a pay raise; it was about power and who owns Salvador’s streets and its residents’ security.
Now I’m in the historic district of Salvador. And a lot of my neighbors are discussing just basic movements, like going to the supermarket, going down the block to an area that’s heavily secured secured. As you can see, people are walking around, people are walking around with knives.
My neighbors and I walk through the deserted historic district, a UNESCO heritage site.
HAFIZ: Okay. And what happened to you last night?
HAFIZ: There I bump into these tourists who were mugged an hour after the strike was announced. When I tried to ask her what happens, the waitress tells me to leave. She wants no reason for the wandering danger to enter her workplace.
Consequently, the transportation union announced a mass work stoppage is a result of the security vacuum. Barely a third of the public and private buses functioned during the strike, all shutting down before nightfall.
FREDDY, FREELANCE JOURNALIST (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): At this hour? There is always lots of traffic, people walking around everywhere. Now take a look. There is nothing. There is not a single person.
HAFIZ: Meet Freddy, a local journalist covering the police beat. He has been working in Salvador for the past six years.
FREDDY: The recent deaths were caused as a result of the police strike. But people are afraid to say someone in the family died because of the police strike. They don’t want to say it was because the police were not working, but because a drug dealer did the killing, even though it’s the police’s fault. They think later the police will come after them, harass them, and say, why did you blame me for the death? What do I have to do with it? There is serious fear of the repercussions. What the police do is prejudiced and racist. The structure of the police, what they teach and what they say, is black, poor, and from the favela is the profile of the delinquent.
HAFIZ: When the police are not on strike, this is the image /baɪˈjanoz/ have of them. This is a typical scene during Carnival. The military police assaulting, arresting, and profiling groups of mainly young black men.
LUZ MARQUES (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Black people are not included in society. The negro is just propaganda. They like to publicize the negro and show off black culture. The government supports that idea because they think it’s necessary. But the truth is they do nothing for black people. In this city, they massacre them.
FREDDY: The police have no respect for the people.
HAFIZ: On a regular day, the military police set up random checkpoints. Those they choose to isolate and pat down are almost always black.
JOAO REIS, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER: Those being killed in Brazil fit a profile: address, color, and sex. Those being killed are young, black, and from the favelas.
HAFIZ: Negro blue, a 22-year-old hip-hop artist from one of Salvador’s notorious slums, was shot in the head by the police. They claim he was resisting arrest, although he had no weapon. The officer who killed him is still on the job.
FREDDY: This is all about politics. The police claim they are on strike because the government didn’t comply with the 5 percent from the strike in 2012. But really this is about an election.
HAFIZ: This is where the latest police strike chose its base, the wet and wild park on the outskirts of the city. Their striking members set up camp, churrascoed meat, and waited patiently for their high command to give orders, the all-powerful ASPRA. ASPRA is the police union at the center of the strike, with 17,000 members statewide. When they call their ranks, they gather. And their decisions are final say.
MARCO PRISCO, ASPRA LEADER, PSDB COUNCIL MEMBER: This proposition is to modernize the police.
HAFIZ: The mouthpiece and main representative of the ASPRA is Marco Prisco, is a former military police commander who was kicked out on corruption and criminal charges ten years ago.
ANTÔNIO CARLOS MAGALHÃES NETO, MAYOR OF SALVADOR, BRAZIL: Money? It’s almost $30 million.
HAFIZ: This is Mayor ACM Neto, the moneybags and descendent of political strongman Antônio Carlos Magalhães. He represents the Democratas, a neoliberal right-wing party in opposition to the ruling leftist PT, the Workers’ Party. ACM Neto has been mayor for only one year, but now he is running for governor in four months. He is good friend to the ASPRA, and the leadership of ASPRA are also big fans.
This is Fábio Brito, second in command after Prisco fled to Brasilia and was arrested for instigating the strike. A federal court found the strike unconstitutional, slapped a $22,000 fine against the union, and arrested its leader. So now Fábio is in place, and he scoffs at the notion that the strike was unconstitutional.
FÁBIO BRITO, DIRECTOR, ASPR: It is a very dangerous precedent for a Democratic state. We cannot accept that. We cannot stay quiet. We cannot be silent, stand by, and allow the situation to continue. We’re going to demand the PSDB (Social Democratic Party), the political party that Prisco represents, we’re going to demand he is released. We want to go before cameras and make our case known.
HAFIZ: Police strikes have proven successful during election time. When Prisco ordered the last strike in 2012, he was elected to municipal council with the right-wing Social Democratic Party months later.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Prisco used his party, the PSDB, to create the strike, a political strike to destroy the PT (Workers Party), destroy the election of the PT.
HAFIZ: The stench of death overwhelms the vicinity of this building, the military police morgue. This is where 109 bodies were brought and processed as a result of the police strike.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I don’t understand what they did with my brother.
FREDDY: From one side to the other, the dead are everywhere, lots of bodies everywhere. I talked to my friends who works here and he said there are not just 59 bodies. There are definitely more. It’s over 100 people killed. The authorities of the IML (police morgue) had called back all their employees on vacation right now to return to work to deal with all the bodies coming in, to help with preparing the bodies and autopsies. The morgue keeps filling up. Just since this morning, there are 40 bodies they are working on.
HAFIZ: Families have been waiting here for days, as well as these funeral trucks waiting to take the bodies to the cemetery. On top of that, it’s becoming more and more difficult to speak to the families, even if it’s on GoPro, because people are terrified. This is the police morgue.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Bodies had been here for days, and they are just beginning recognized now. The conditions of my brother’s body are decomposing, so it’s difficult. They don’t know how many bodies they have here. Those who know, know. But the population has no idea.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I have been here for six days waiting. Today is my sixth day. Six days.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): No, lady, I don’t want to speak with you. I don’t want to speak with you.
FREDDY: If someone dies in the street, they are brought to IML. So the doctor has to testify the cause of death–cause of death, shooting; cause of death, accident. The doctors don’t have the courage to say that because maybe that wasn’t the cause of death.
HAFIZ: Angry funeral workers who have been waiting for the bodies for days blame the governments. This caretaker says when election day comes, he knows who he will vote for.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): What we need here is the guy with three letters, ACM, Antonio Carlos Magalhães. The Social Democratic Party [PSDB] called Prisco: “Prisco, gather all your people, gather your people from the union and unleash a strike. And they all went. This is about destroying the PT. They want to break the PT so the PSDB can take over the government.
HAFIZ: When the strike began, Governor Wagner of the PT called President Dilma and begged for troops to be sent immediately. President Dilma responded within hours. Five thousand military soldiers and special police units arrived. As the troops spread out through Salvador, the leaders of the strike struck a new deal with the governments. They received their stipends, a 10 percent raise, and the ability to climb ranks.
Suddenly the police reappeared–not all of them. However, military troops continued to occupy the city a week after the strike was ended.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): People are forgetting the election is October of this year. All they think about is the World Cup’s standards. And the strike is not one of FIFA’s requirements. The strike is just to remove the PT. And none of them truly care about the people. All they want is money and power.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I am the son of a black man and black woman. I want respect. I live the favela and I am not a thief.
TEXT ON SCREEN: Military police back to work after strike.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The relations of public security. There is no public security for the poor. The police complain about the protests, about the people, because they burn garbage bins. They light the buses on fire. But the police break in at three in the morning, in the house of a poor woman, bash down the door, screaming, slap her in the face. “Where is your drug-trafficking son?” That is also vandalism, that is also abuse.
HAFIZ: Back at the morgue, families are still waiting for bodies. It’s been a week since the strike ended, and the dead keep coming in at a steady flow. Robberies are an all-time high. The police haven’t fully returned to the streets, so the people remain terrified. It is the fourth time in ten years a security vacuum took place as the result of a police strike.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The people don’t want this, they don’t want to live like it’s war. No more police, bandits. I want all this to be over, because they take away the peace of the people. This is left three of my brother’s kids without their father.
UNIDENTIFIED (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Some police walking around should be ashamed. They have to look at the city as the World Cup arrives. They only want to show the outside world a good image.
HAFIZ: Most of the families we spoke to, many of whom slept nights at the morgue waiting for their family members’ bodies, do not seek to press charges or open cases looking into their deaths.
In 2012, during the previous police strike, over 150 people were killed in a two-week span. This time around, in the three days during the strike, over 120 people were killed, and bodies are still filling into the mark. It’s been over a week since the police announced the end of their strike and partially returned to the streets. However, military troops sent in by President Dilma continue to occupy the streets.
I’m in one of the main commercial districts here in Salvador, and typically it’d be bustling with traffic. It’s actually the height of rush hour on a weekday. And at the moment it looks like it’s a holiday. This is an indication that the city has yet to return back to normal and the residents back to their lives.
Jihan Hafiz, in collaboration with Federico Nato [spl?] for The Real News, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.