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Americas

Strikes mar run-up to Brazil World Cup

Seven weeks ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, no mass protests have broken out but unions are mobilizing the rank and file. But the government can't afford another police strike like the one in Salvador, Bahia.

Brazil's reaction to unrest in Salvador was quick and targeted. On the second day, the government dispatched 2,500 soldiers and 250 elite police officers to take control.

Why the intervention? Security police in Salvador da Bahia, as it is called colloquially, went on strike for two days. Several people were murdered and numerous people were mugged and stores looted as the result of a cynical power struggle for higher wages with the regional government of Governor Jaques Wagner, a member of the ruling Workers Party (PT) led by Brazilian President Dilma Roussef. The strike ended only after government officials responded to police demands and a court order was issued.

Vulnerable government

The police strike in Salvador da Bahia shows how vulnerable the Brazilian government is ahead of the Soccer World Cup, which kicks off in the South American country on June 12. While the swift deployment of government troops can be viewed as support for the party colleague, it is primarily intended as a signal. Two years ago during the 12-day police strike in Salvador da Bahia, 157 people were murdered. Police strikes at major events have a long tradition in Brazil.

Dilma Rousseff

President Dilma Roussef is worried about the rise in strikes ahead of the World Cup

The rise in deaths through violence - on average around five people per day in Salvador da Bahia - has not deterred police from going on strike. Speaking about the deaths that occurred during the strike last week, a police spokesperson said the number was "a good bit higher than normal but not absurdly high."

Brazilian society has grown accustomed to such remarks - there's been no outcry.

For Brazil's international standing, however, the images of Salvador, a World Cup venue, are devastating. President Roussef can't afford another police strike ahead of elections in October. Media coverage is already high in the run-up to the tournament, and the government is on the defense.

As a last resort

Other workers and activists are taking advantage of the opportunity as well. Since April 4, subway transportation employees in Brasilia have been on strike, and more than 9,000 workers have taken to the streets in Sao Paulo in protest over better working conditions.

Demonstration

Police and demonstrators clash in Salvador da Bahia

The federal police have been demonstrating on and off since the beginning of the year. As a last resort, they are threatening to halt service at airports during the tournament if their demands aren't met, according to Andre Vaz de Mello, a spokesman for the union of federal police.

Other sectors such as gastronomy, tourism and transportation plan wage talks in the near future. A strike, however, would be the "last resort," Mauro Ramos from the UGT union told the BBC. He represents 623 unions nationwide and more than five million workers.

Despite all this, no one can imagine mass demonstrations with hundreds of thousands of people protesting against political and social conditions in the country. Only a few hundred people, for instance, have been participating in the regular demonstrations for an improved health care system and against corruption. Many are scared off by the violence between masked demonstrators and security police.

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