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Dublin: 10°C Thursday 28 January 2021

Rio police rely on toilet paper donations due to cuts in funding

Severe budget shortfalls have left police scrounging for equipment, fuel and even the most basic hygiene items.

Police in Rio are facing serious budget shortfall.
Police in Rio are facing serious budget shortfall.
Image: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

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.

Post-Olympic blues

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 second-biggest city, had to be bailed out by the federal government after declaring a “state of calamity.”

And in the run-up 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.

To try to get the budget back on the rails, conservative state Governor Luis Fernando Pezao recently unveiled a package of austerity reforms which have provoked angry street protests –including by off-duty emergency workers.

Pezao has warned that November salaries for public employees and pensions will be paid in seven installments and that the usual Christmas bonus is uncertain.

Sombra and her neighbours say that they just have to keep trying to help in their modest way.

“In reality, I’m paying my taxes twice,” Sombra said.

I pay my obligatory taxes and now I’m paying again because of our bad leaders. But it’s not the fault of the police.

(C) AFP 2016

Read: Four die after police helicopter ‘shot down’ over Rio’s infamous ‘City of God’ slum

Read: Seven beheaded and six burned to death as 25 prisoners killed in Brazilian prison riot

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