RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio de Janeiro awoke on Wednesday with 9,000 army troops deployed throughout the city to strengthen security amid a labor conflict with police on the eve of Carnival, which will surely bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city.
“Operation Carioca,” as the military deployment has been dubbed, is focusing on key points around the city, including Brazil Avenue, the Transolimpica expressway, Niteroi and the southern tourist zone in the neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.
The army presence, which began on Tuesday, comes in response to a request by Rio Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao given the threat of a strike by the Military Police demanding back pay and better working conditions, similar to the one in the neighboring state of Espirito Santo, which led to some 150 deaths.
Although the state on Wednesday paid the heretofore delayed salaries and in Rio 95 percent of the Military Police personnel are on the streets, according to official sources, the army will remain in the city until at least Feb. 22.
That period may be extended “in accord with how the situation is” and the evaluation by authorities, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry told EFE.
Local media take it for granted that the army will remain in Rio until Carnival is over. The celebration begins on Feb. 25 but already thousands of people are getting ready for it each weekend.
Both the national government of Michel Temer and that of the Rio de Janeiro governor want to avoid projecting the image that security is out of control during Carnival in one of Brazil’s most violent cities.
An average of 14 murders per day occur in Rio.
Despite the official insistence that the army presence is merely a preventive measure, Marine riflemen on Wednesday in the central port zone killed an alleged assailant during a shootout.
The soldiers’ presence has also altered the character of the popular beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, which are normally the site of multiple assaults perpetrated by groups of young people who almost literally “clean out” their victims of all their belongings.
Armed with machineguns, and outfitted with bulletproof vests and radio equipment, dozens of soldiers on Wednesday patrolled along the Copacabana beach, surprising the passers-by.
Although some people told EFE that they feel safer with the army on hand, several local residents said that it’s a shame to see the military out in force in a country that’s at peace, adding that such a deployment “is not necessary.”
This is not the first time that the army has been deployed in Rio, having been called on between 2010 and 2012 to help pacify the crime-ridden shantytowns, or “favelas,” and provide security during the pope’s 2013 visit and last year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.