In cri­sis-struck Rio, po­lice need do­nated toi­let pa­per

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Maria Thereza Som­bra may rely on Rio de Janeiro’s po­lice to keep her safe - but in the grip of fi­nan­cial cri­sis they rely on the 82-year-old to sup­ply them with toi­let pa­per. Se­vere bud­get short­falls in Brazil’s re­cent Olympic host city have left po­lice scroung­ing for equip­ment, fuel and even the most ba­sic hy­giene items. Hospi­tals are equally hard hit, com­pound­ing a deep­en­ing sense of in­se­cu­rity in a city plagued by vi­o­lent crime.

Som­bra said that or­di­nary ci­ti­zens need to step in where the state is fail­ing. “If the po­lice have their hands tied what will hap­pen to us?” she asked. “We have to help those who are de­fend­ing us. Oth­er­wise no one will be able to go out of their homes.” A re­tired teacher and pres­i­dent of Rio’s Fla­mengo neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion, Som­bra be­gan help­ing po­lice back in April when the city was al­ready de­scend­ing into a pre-Olympic fi­nan­cial abyss. How­ever, what started off as a spon­ta­neous ini­tia­tive among Rio res­i­dents was en­shrined this month in an of­fi­cial pro­gram called “To­gether with the Po­lice.”

Se­cu­rity “is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the state but it is the duty of all,” the po­lice depart­ment says. Som­bra gets a list from Rio’s 9th precinct. Then res­i­dents of the 35 con­do­mini­ums be­long­ing to the Fla­mengo as­so­ci­a­tion chip in. On a ta­ble in a meet­ing room, Som­bra showed off a pile of toi­let pa­per, clean­ing prod­ucts and stacks of of­fice pa­per. But re­quests can get more com­pli­cated: after the po­lice sta­tion it­self was robbed, of­fi­cers re­quested 12 se­cu­rity cam­eras. “For me, the most im­por­tant thing is that we are do­ing some­thing, even if it’s small: to show love, re­spect and sol­i­dar­ity,” she said.

Po­lice, fire­fight­ers, hos­pi­tal staff and other state em­ploy­ees have been in cri­sis since early this year. In June, Rio de Janeiro state, home to Brazil’s sec­ond­biggest city, had to be bailed out by the fed­eral govern­ment after declar­ing a “state of calamity.” And in the runup to the Olympics first re­spon­ders mounted high-pro­file protests to de­mand pay­ment of late salaries and over­time. The Olympics pro­vided a brief respite with emer­gency fund­ing fill­ing the gaps, but since then the sit­u­a­tion has re­gressed.

In a state heav­ily re­liant on oil-in­dus­try rev­enues, the slump in oil prices and a huge cor­rup­tion scan­dal at state oil com­pany Petro­bras have hit hard. A $5.4 bil­lion bud­get short­fall is pre­dicted for 2016. “The Olympics had an ef­fect, but not enough. The cri­sis was here be­fore in Rio due to a break­down in tax rev­enues, the high bur­den of pay­ing salaries, and above all the oil prices,” said Vilma Pinto, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at the Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion. — AFP

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