The military police are on strike, and the city is fucked as a result. Aku Tyger wrote a nice synopsis of the situation. It's impossible to know what's really happening, there are tons of rumors and suppositions, but this much is clear: the police are on strike, there are a lot more crimes going down, and the army has been called in to 'restore order.'
I keep thinking about the concept of the 'thin blue line' protecting us from anarchy, although in the case of Bahia, I think it's the thin blue illusion, or rather thin tan illusion, as the MPs wear tan, not blue. Although I'm the first to admit that there are times there's nobody you'd rather see than a police officer, the only crimes I think these guys prevent are the ones that might have been committed right in front of where they happen to be standing. Calling the cops is kind of a joke here, at least for the unconnected. No, that's not fair - they do show up, eventually. Sometimes. So it must be the fear of the police that keeps the crime down to sub-war-zone levels.
It's hard to sort out exactly what has happened and what is just talk, but a woman was definitely gunned down in the Praça da Piedade the other night, which is very close to our house, and generally has at least a couple cops standing around. A friend of ours, who is college educated and not from Bahia, says that it stinks of corrupt cops at work - that they pick out social outcasts to execute knowing that this will sow terror and not cause reprisals. If this is true, then the MPs amount to little more than a protection racket: if you don't pay your protection money, the protectors start to cause problems. But I'm diving into suppositions here.
I have seen some soldiers patrolling the streets, real live olive green clad soldiers with carbines, but not many of them. I've also seen some military police - the same ones that are on strike, also called 'soldiers.' But the people are panicked, and life as usual is largely disrupted. Walking around on Friday, I heard a couple people say 'arrastão,' something I wrote about in another post, where a gang of bad guys do a bunch of car-jackings at once, or rob a whole bunch of stores at once. Coincidentally, the same mall where the other arrastão didn't happen in my other post was also rumored to have been robbed, or attempted to be robbed, last week. Apparently they closed the whole mall down. Lots of businesses have been closed, and the city is under a semi-self-imposed curfew as everyone scurries home to avoid any problems.
So how does all this effect me? Well, I have been cautioned not to go out for my runs, and I've mostly complied. I don't figure I'm in too much danger because if the corrupt cops picked me off they might set off an international incident (yeah right, oh vainglorious, self-important me). The one who has been most effected is Lucas, who had his kung fu class cancelled last week, and was supposed to start school today, but that got postponed as well.
Apparently a bunch of cops have occupied an administrative building here in the city, and they have brought their families in with them. I heard that a thousand troops had been dispatched to bring the occupation to an end, but (now this is rumor here) this has essentially turned into an armed standoff with the cops on one side and the soldiers on the other. And the families, the wives and children? Well, from where I stand I'd call them human shields. Quite willing ones, according to an article I just read online, which claims that some of them are wearing bullet proof vests. Some of them at least - I'm not sure a child can willingly act as a human shield.
The cops have their reasons, I'm sure, for the strike, and they may be very good ones. I'm also sure they did this deliberately at the height of tourist season and just a couple weeks before Carnaval. But I gotta say it makes Salvador look really bad. If I was planning a vacation here for Carnaval, which is insanely expensive, would I do so if what is already known to be a dangerous time in a dangerous town was going to be even more dangerous? I hope I'd change my plans.
But that's not going to happen. They'll end the standoff, and the strike, before Carnaval one way or another. It may not be pretty, and I'm sure we'll never know what really goes down, but they'll end it. And as much as I get frustrated with the incompetent, corrupt, hot-headed fools that make up the authority in this place, I really don't think they'll be stupid enough to hurt any of the human shields. Brazil is on the ascendent after all, bizarre as it seems at times, and we wouldn't want any international incidents to muck it up.