Fear of unrest looms in southeastern Brazil as police strike continues despite agreement
Military police officers wait as their relatives block the entrance to the military police station during a protest for better salaries and working conditions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on February 10, 2017 Photograph: (AFP)
Relatives of police in southeastern Brazil blockaded law enforcement stations on Saturday as part of a weeklong protest, despite an agreement meant to end an officers' strike that has plunged the region into chaos.
At least 137 people have been reported killed amid looting and robbery in Espirito Santo state since police went on strike a week ago demanding better pay.
"We spoke with our officers, and urged common sense. And that they get back on their jobs. We are talking about more than 100 people killed," Espirito Santo state human rights chief Julio Cesar Pompeu told Agencia Brasil.
According to an agreement on Friday night between local authorities and police representatives, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the police were meant to return to work from 7:00 am Saturday (0900 GMT).
In exchange, they would not face disciplinary action.
But the deadline came and went, and the situation remained unchanged.
The agreement came after authorities ran out of patience and said they were filing rebellion charges against more than 700 officers who had refused to leave their bases.
Police, who are classified as military, are barred by the constitution from going on strike or demonstrating. To get around that law, relatives of officers have blocked the entrances to all police bases in Espirito Santo.
Family members of police said the agreement was not legitimate because their representatives were absent from negotiations.
"They cannot sign an agreement between them. This is a movement led by the wives of officers, and none of us were there. The movement continues," the wife of a police officer told the G1 news site.
More than 3,000 soldiers were patrolling the streets while police remained on strike, but tension was running high. Businesses and schools have been closed all week.
Justice Minister Raul Jungmann acknowledged that "the situation is not back to normal yet. But since the army got there, looting has stopped and fewer people have been killed."
On Friday, similar strikes erupted at some of Rio de Janeiro's police stations over unpaid wages, though spokesman Major Ivan Blaz told journalists that "95 percent" of officers were working as normal and that the state and city were secure.
The situation in Rio was calm early Saturday.
Morale among street police is low as a result of nearly bankrupt Rio state's inability to pay full wages, as well as brutal crime fighting that has seen more than 3,000 officers killed in Rio since 1994 -- a casualty rate exceeding that of US troops in World War II, according to a recent study.
President Michel Temer, who said nothing in public about the crisis all week, called the situation "unacceptable" on Friday and said that demonstrators "cannot hold the Brazilian people hostage."