Brazilian security forces took control in Bahia on February 5, patrolling key intersections in Salvador, the state capital, after a police strike led to a major increase in murders and violent crime.
A force of 2,600 Army, Navy and Federal Police was ordered to Brazil’s fourth most populous state after local police went on strike on February 3, demanding higher pay, weeks before the annual Carnival.
Officials in the northeastern state said 76 murders were reported over the past five days, double the number for the same period last year. Assaults and store lootings also increased.
The strike and the spike in violence came just two weeks before millions of tourists were expected to arrive for Brazil’s premier tourist event, the Carnival. Bahia, with a population of 13.6 million, is a main Carnival center.
“The way in which this strike is being carried out is unacceptable,” Brazilian Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said.
Brazilian soldiers spread out in Salvador to prevent further violence, patrolling highways and the city’s renowned beaches.
“For the last two days I have not left my apartment,” Italian businessman Marco Baghin told reporters. “It made no sense to risk being attacked or robbed.”
Crime fears were having a dire economic effect. Pedro Galvão, president of the Association of Travel Agencies of Bahia, told Brazil’s O Globo newspaper that 10 percent of tourists had already canceled their air and hotel reservations for the Carnival.
Some 10,000 police officers, or one third of Bahia’s police force, were on strike, demanding a 50 percent pay raise, better work conditions, and no retaliation, the state Public Safety Department said. The average wage for a state officer is currently about US$ 867 a month.