This is day six without police patrolling the streets in Espirito Santo, a state in southern Brazil. And hundreds of army troops have not been able to quell a spasm of deadly violence there that has reportedly killed more than 100 people.
“This is happening because the state’s police are — in effect — on strike because their family and friends are blocking access to their stations, in a protest over low pay and poor conditions,” NPR’s Philip Reeves reports from Rio de Janeiro. Police are prevented by law from striking themselves, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Espirito Santo is generally seen as a safe, and fairly quiet, place – compared to Brazil’s big violent cities,” Philip says. But now, “schools and shops are shut, and some residents are saying they’re too frightened to leave their homes.”
The governor has requested hundreds of additional federal army troops to try to regain control. A spokeswoman for the police union told Reuters that the homicide rate now stands at six times the state’s daily average.
In addition to the murders, “merchants say some 250 stores have been sacked” and “video has captured shootings and robberies in broad daylight on city streets,” the Journal reports.
The state retailer association estimates the chaos has cost local businesses about $28.87 million since the start of the crisis, according to Reuters.
Brazil is in the middle of a major economic recession – as we’ve reported, it’s the worst in generations. That’s likely a root cause of this current lawlessness, according to the Journal. The state government “has aggressively cut spending to offset lower commodity prices” and the shutdown of four iron-ore processing plants “has exacerbated the budget woes.”
Meanwhile, there are rising concerns that the breakdown of law enforcement could spread to other cities. “If we don’t tackle this head-on, it will be here today and across Brazil tomorrow,” Espírito Santo Gov. Paulo Hartung told reporters, according to the Journal. “We need a lot of cohesion and firmness.”
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