Brazil police strike leads to mounting violence and 140 murders

Worst recession in decades means state cannot meet demands for pay increases

Brazil's violent start to the year has worsened with a police strike provoking a wave of killings in the southeastern state of Espírito Santo.

Over 140 people have been murdered in the 10 days since uniformed police refused to cross pickets mounted by relatives outside stations. They are demanding a large pay increase following 10 years without one.

The chaos led frightened residents of state capital Vitória to lock themselves in their homes until order was re-established with the gradual return to work of police on Monday.

This latest violence comes after at least 30 people were killed in the Amazonian city of Belém last month following the murder of a police officer. In both Belém and Vitória many of those murdered showed signs of having been summarily executed, raising suspicions they are victims of police death squads.


Also in the first six weeks of the year, over 100 prisoners have been killed in gang related violence within Brazil’s prisons.

With the country still mired in its worst recession in decades, state administrations do not have the money to meet police demands, setting the stage for further protests. Already the industrial action is threatening to spread to Rio de Janeiro where family members have mounted pickets at several police stations.

For months Rio state public employees have protested, often violently, plans by their bankrupt government to implement a severe austerity package.

Deepening the institutional crisis in Rio, the state’s electoral court has stripped governor Luiz Pezão of his mandate over illicit campaign financing during his successful 2014 re-election campaign. He is appealing the decision in federal court.

While the security situation has deteriorated across much of the country, Brazil's political leadership has spent its time since returning from the summer recess trying to insulate itself from fallout of the corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras.

Despite justice minister Alexandre de Moraes being severely criticised over his handling of the crisis in public security in several states, last week President Michel Temer nominated him to the supreme court.

Political allies

The move was widely seen as an effort to placate political allies caught up in the Petrobras affair. Mr Moraes is a member of the Social Democratic Party (PSDB) in Mr Temer's coalition, several of whose leaders have been cited in the scandal.

Last week Mr Moraes was criticised for holding private meetings with members of the senate committee that will vote on whether to recommend his nomination to the full chamber. Ten of the committee’s 13 senators have been named in the Petrobras affair.

As recently as 2013 Mr Moraes was the lawyer of Eduardo Cunha, the former president of the lower house of congress, who after overseeing the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff last year was removed from his job and then arrested for his role in the Petrobras scandal.

Federal police have now accused his successor Rodrigo Maia of accepting a bribe from a company in return for steering a measure to financially benefit it through the house. Last week, Mr Maia called a vote that overwhelming approved the acceleration of a Bill that will free political parties of any punishment imposed by electoral authorities for breaking the law.

Further heightening political tensions yesterday, Mr Temer won an injunction against leading newspaper Folha de S Paulo stopping it from reporting on the jailing of a hacker who attempted to extort his wife Marcela. The court heard that the hacker claimed he had an audio message from the first lady to her brother that would drag her husband's name "through the mud".

Ms Temer faced down her blackmailer who was jailed for almost six years.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America