Warmth and beauty amid the danger

Warmth and beauty amid the danger
(From left) Mexican fans Jose Bineso, Fernando Gomez, Jose Arellano and Juan Arjona donning traditional Lucha Libre wrestling masks in Salvador during the World Cup 2014

IT IS close to midnight in one of Brazil's most dangerous cities. But like masked crusaders, Jose Arellano, Juan Arjona, Jose Bineso and Fernando Gomez patrol Salvador's Porto da Barra beach in the moonlight.

Sporting masks like those worn by Lucha Libre (Mexican free-style) wrestlers, the quartet are an intimidating sight. Their appearance, however, betrays their intentions.

"We're just out here to have fun, to take pictures with other fans, to enjoy the World Cup," said Arellano, still panting after an impromptu session of keep-ball with some English and Italian fans.

It is the first World Cup for Arellano and his friends. And although the 29-year-olds are well aware of Salvador's reputation as a hot-bed of crime, they didn't think twice about making the trip to Brazil's north-east from their homeland of Mexico.

"A World Cup in Brazil - it's too good an opportunity to miss," said Bineso.

He and his pals all hail from Mexico City.

"We just have to be careful and stay in the tourist areas."

The Barra area is one of the safer areas in Salvador, with a healthy police presence, given the high number of tourists.

It is not far from the Bahia area which hosts the annual Salvador Carnival, a street party where two million revellers turn up every February.

But not everywhere in Salvador is like Barra.

With an average of five murders reported every two days, Salvador is a place to be respected and feared.

The country already has one of the highest homicide rates in the world - 25.2 per 100,000 population, according to 2012 figures. In contrast, the United States is at 4.8 and Singapore is at 0.2.

Part of Salvador's population of three million - Brazil's third-largest after Sao Paulo and Rio - are ruled by drug gangs who control the slums with a cocktail of beatings and executions.

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