Rio Police highlight games 'hell'

Civil police officers threatening to go on strike demonstrate against the government for arrears in their salary payments, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Civil police officers threatening to go on strike demonstrate against the government for arrears in their salary payments, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.PHOTO: AFP

Protest banner highlights unpaid wages, lack of fuel and basic amenities as crime rate rises

RIO DE JANEIRO • From late payment of salaries to a lack of basic necessities like car fuel and even toilet paper, police in Rio are up in arms over their working conditions as the Brazilian city gears up to host the Olympic Games in August.

A group of off-duty police officers took matters into their own hands on Monday, staking a spot in the Galeao International Airport to greet passengers with a banner that read "Welcome to Hell".

"Police and firefighters don't get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe," said the rest of the banner.

A photo of the officers holding up their banner was widely shared on social media and in the Brazilian press after it was posted on photo-sharing site Imgur.

Outside the airport, a message on top of a bridge warned: "Welcome, we don't have hospitals!"

The airport greetings were part of a wider protest that saw about 300 police clad in black T-shirts hold a rally at the city's state assembly to denounce what they said had been their abandonment ahead of the Olympics.

One banner declared: "The police's priority is the people, the government's priority is the Olympics."

 

  • 52
    Police officers killed so far in Rio de Janeiro state this year.

    5
    Months of overtime pay unpaid to some members of the police force.

Speaking to AFP, one protester said he had only been paid half his salary last month and was still waiting for his June salary.

"I haven't been paid my overtime for five months either," the 40-year-old added.

The starting salary for a civil police officer is about US$15,000 (S$20,300) a year, AFP reported.

But pay only represents part of the problem, with dire work conditions - especially in dangerous neighbourhoods where they faced heavily armed drug traffickers - and a lack of funds to purchase supplies also cited.

One officer, who is part of an elite unit providing security during the Olympics, said some police stations lacked paper or ink for printers, while others did not have water and functioning toilets.

"Members of the public bring toilet paper to us," said Andre, 39.

A lack of fuel also restricts the use of police cars, officers at the rally said.

They even claimed that helicopters have been grounded, which hampered efforts in thwarting traffickers who executed a daring rescue of a notorious drug lord at a hospital last week.

Rio de Janeiro state's acting governor warned on Monday in a newspaper interview that budget shortfalls threaten turning the Olympics into a "big failure."

In terms of security, the state only has funding "until the end of this week," he was quoted as saying by O Globo.

Rio is waiting for a US$855 million bailout from the federal budget ahead of the Games, with security a priority recipient.

Earlier this month authorities said the "calamity" in state finances could lead to "a collapse in public safety, health, education, transportation and environmental management."

Brazil's economy shrank 3.8 per cent last year, its worst recession in 25 years. The International Monetary Fund and the market are predicting a similar contraction this year.

Meanwhile, crime is on the rise in what is already one of the world's most violent countries.

Rio's police, heavily criticised for overuse of deadly force, are themselves taking growing casualties.

So far this year, 52 officers in the state have been killed, while 85 were killed last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Rio Police highlight games 'hell''. Print Edition | Subscribe