National Force sent to the State of Ceará, Brazil in response to wave of attacks
Scores of attacks on transit buses, banks, police stations and government buildings erupted across the State of Ceara in northern Brazil on 2nd January 2019, with the bulk of the attacks beginning the next day. The violence and attacks are believed to have been coordinated by imprisoned members of criminal factions in the area, in response to a recent announcement by the newly appointed State Secretary of Penitentiary Administration, Luis Mauro Albuquerque, regarding new measures in prisons. Hundreds of members of the National Force were deployed to the area and began operating on 5th January to bolster local police forces in their attempts to quell the wide-spread arson and vandalism.
Most attacks have taken place in Ceará’s capital city of Fortaleza and surrounding areas. There have been over 150 recorded incidents throughout at least 37 cities in Ceará since 2nd January. The attacks have largely included homemade incendiary devices such as Molotov cocktails and other flaming objects. Vehicles and public transport buses have been targeted on a mass-scale, mostly in parking lots where several targets were hit at once. Government and police buildings have also been targeted across Ceará. Most buildings have been hit with gunfire, fire or both.
Forces from the Federal Highway Police, National Force and Military Police have been sent to aid local law enforcement. However, several more incidents have been recorded since external forces arrived in Ceará. They include bank shootings and arson attacks on several government buildings, including a police station as well as a telephone base, leaving 12 cities in the surrounding area without cell phone reception. A radio station and the offices of city hall in Ico were also shot on the morning of 7th January. More than 150 suspects have been detained but there has been no slowing of attacks on transportation and government buildings. The attacks have caused adjustments to security measures, such as the deployment of Military Police on buses to prevent further attacks on public transportation. Additionally, garbage collection was suspended in some neighbourhoods after several garbage trucks were set on fire by criminals. Despite the deployment of the National Force and additional law enforcement resources, attacks have continued, albeit at a lower scale.
Authorities believe the attacks stem from a speech made by the newly elected government officials. President Jair Bolsonaro, a former military officer, was sworn in on New Year’s Day along with many newly-appointed officials. A far-right politician, his presidency has come at a tumultuous time for Brazil and global politics. President Bolsonaro’s campaign platform relied heavily upon his promises to crack down on crime and violence within the country. The heightened criminal activity of the past few days since his speech is thought to be a direct response to his words, as well as a statement made by State Secretary of Penitentiary Administration Luis Mauro Albuquerque regarding new actions to be taken in prisons in the State of Ceara.
Secretary Albuquerque was assuming the newly created role of Penitentiary Administration Secretary for the State of Ceara on the occasion, which was created by the Governor of State on his second term. During his speech, the Secretary decreed that prisoners would no longer be separated by factions. Albuquerque stated that he does not recognize factions, and neither should the State nor its prison systems. Additionally, Albuquerque promised to put in place more stringent protocols to prevent the entry of contraband cell phones in prisons. Since the 2nd of January, more than 400 cell phones have been seized in prisons in the State of Ceara. This, along with President Bolsonaro’s bold language regarding security crack-downs in Ceará, are believed to have sparked the large increase in violent incidents and targeted attacks seen following them.
Prison escapes and attacks on guards have increased in recent years within Brazil. Authorities have taken certain measures to try to control these outbreaks, but criminal factions have largely still been able to smuggle cell phones, drugs and weapons into prisons throughout the country. The newly elected President and the Penitentiary Administration have also stated that they will crack down on prison measures and visits to prevent this. President Bolsonaro’s presidency has been tested early, as his inauguration was met with loud disapproval from criminal factions within Brazil.