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Brazilian Policeman Strikes Again | The Return of Cabo Anselmo

It seems I was partially wrong about local coverage of a police strike in Bahia that threatens the traditional Carnaval celebration in the capital, Salvador, as well as the televised Globeleza at the.Sambodrome in Rio de Janeiro.

The case is an interesting profile in media mythmaking, as national television zooms in on a modern-day Cabo Anselmo — a professional grassroots labor organizer assuming the posture of latter-day mutineer of the battleship Potemkin — Броненосец «Потёмкин.

In any case, I also ventured to suspect that press coverage had exaggerated and sensationalized the extent of the disruption, as well as resorting to statistical casuistry regarding a supposed spike in violent crime, a point fiercely and uselessly disputed by so many different  observers.

A travel advisory issued by the U.S. consulate also seemed a little over the top in comparison with past disruptions in other Brazilian capitals.

Yes, but I have personally witnessed worse police and criminal violence on the Avenida Paulista — São Paulo PMs have a habit of headhunting with rubber bullets, a highly unprofessional and potentially deadly practice — and in the Vila Madalena.

Erick da Silva Cerqueira saw it this way, as well, or at least partially, in an essay titled “Permanent Ash Wednesday.”

Trouble started when a police union, led by the former military police private Prisco, called a strike. Possibly in order to force hand of the state government, the union did not wait to seek and obtain the approval of non-union police. As a result, there was panic in the social networks, with rumors constantly emerging on Twitter and Facebook of armed robbery, murders, gunfire, and vandalism of public transportation.

Rumor and fact arrived all mixed together, and were difficult to separate, given the failure of the mainstream media to pursue all the facts. In the search for reliable information, we sought out dependable Web sites and did not find it. Result: the social media produced an enormous panic, with hooded police brrandishing their weapons, firing into the air outside a crowded shopping mall. With that, Salvador’s carnival celebration, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, will likely experience the weakest tourist season in recent years. Economically speaking, it promises to be a disaster, with Fortaleza, in Ceará, winning over travelers.

The Colonel at the Kernel

Now, however, the miltary police (PM) of Rio de Janeiro have decreed a strike of their own.

An interesting alternative primary source of information on this movement is the Blog of a certain Colonel Paul, part of a very spirited, elaborate and numerous self-styled counterpropaganda organ of the police community.

The Colonel also has a ghost-written memoir out –above — lionizing his role in the political opposition to incumbent governor Cabral and his public safety secretary.

This is a neat twist on a familiar genre, the autohagiography by proxy.

 The latest on this blog: an abrupt announcement of the arrest of Col. Paulo today.

The Leaky Police, Redux

Meanwhile, the blog complains bitterly about  phone taps leaked to the Globo network’s primetime newscast and aired repeatedly around the clock in recent days — their source never disclosed or explained, as is typical of the Globo Standard of Excellence. Union organizers in both states were caught apparently coordinating extra-legal provocations designed to maximize media exposure.

This attitude — prolonged microfocus on ambiguous evidence, presented with almost no context– is perhaps most readily explained by the Globo network’s interest — a monopoly, in fact, together with Liesa, the League of Rio Carnival Societies — in the worldwide broadcast rights of the world-famous celebration.

Also circulating widely and repeatedly is an impromptu remark by the federal president decrying violence and looting associated with the movement, and in support of the position taken by state governor Jaques Wagner, of the Labor Party (PT). Observatório da Imprensa:

Armed police wearing hoods have ordered local businesses to close shop, used knifes to deflate tires on official vehicles, invaded the state legislature, blocked major throughways with buses, and fired into the air in certain parts of the state.

We have also seen buses burned, a gesture that recalls the 2006 PM-PCC gang wars in São Paulo. Not a pleasant memory, as not even the mid to high-endWestern Zone here was spared.

The movement of enlisted PMs in Bahia has failed in its bid to convince officialdom to endorse its actions, according to press reports.

An analysis by Carta Capital — a content partner with The Economist here — sees a rolling thunder of job actions this year by state police across Brazil and emphasizes a call for the constitutional reform of police powers.

With a strong majority in Congress, you would expect the government to  act on this call, in connection with human rights commitments to critics, but then you can never underestimate the power of opposition lawmakers to a broad range of ingenious moral equivalents of filibuster.

The issue is that “military police” under the current constitution are not military per se, but even so are subject only to military, not civilian, justice, a fact that has for decades equated to near-perfect impunity. This demilitarization is black-letter law in the 1988 constitution but still lacks enabling legislation.

As in Bahia, PMs across Brazil — in Rio de Janeiro, Alagoas, Pará, Espírito Santo, Paraná e Rio Grande do Sul — the demand is the same: higher salaries. Labor actions like those in Bahia are underway and could soon result in crises of the same proportions.

Another factor, one raised by the tapped telephone communications, is the pending vote on a Constitutional amendment, PEC 300, which would set a uniform standard salary for civil servants across Brazil.

I would guess — post hoc and so on and caveat — there would be some urgency in establishing as favorable a rate as possible in order to bid this salary ceiling up instead of down. The Bahian police, for example, are seeking a 39% increase paid over two years, bring their base salary to something like five times the statutory minimum.

As a makeshift basis for comparison, control-Ved off Wikipedia, a U.S. police corporal makes some $25 per hour, or 4 to 5 times the minimum salary. The floor for rank and file patrol officers:  $38,000.

Buying power is hard to estimate, just as I still struggle with damned Celsius in the weather reports. Let us see, a pack of Marlboros here is some BRL 4.20, the exchange rate is 0.579374 U.S. dollars, multiply, and …  USD 2.43 per pack. But then, are smokes a reliable benchmark commodity?

There is a pretty good Yahoo! answer on this trivial topic. Souza Cruz is the primary manufacturer of death sticks, and a thriving black market exists along the Sino-Paraguayn Silk Road and over the hills to Mato Grosso do Sul.