A wave of violence that has swept across the state of Ceara in the last three days has led Brazil’s newly appointed Minister of Justice Sergio Moro to immediately send 300 National Public Security Force officers to the region.
The federal force, which assists states in public security emergencies, is authorized to stay in the northeastern state for 30 days, where it would work with local police in containing the violence.
Dozens of attacks have taken place since Wednesday night in the state capital of Fortaleza and in towns across Ceara. Shots have been fired at buildings and banks, buses have been lighted on fire, homemade explosives have been thrown at police stations, and a bomb placed inside the column of a viaduct has left it close to collapse.
Motives for the attacks, which began the day after the inauguration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, were not yet clear. But authorities suspect drug gangs are responsible.
According to a statement from Gov. Camilo Santana, 45 people have been arrested in connection with the violence. Santana also announced the immediate appointment of 373 new military police officers and 220 new prison guards, who were previously expected to begin work in March.
The governor said he spoke with Moro and Minister of Defense Gen. Fernando Azevedo, who offered the full support of their ministries in containing the violence.
“This is a moment for the union of all forces to guarantee order and the protection of all the brothers and sisters of Ceara,” Santana said.
Moro — who as a judge oversaw several high-profile cases in Brazil’s wide-reaching Lavo Jato, or Car Wash, corruption scandals, including that of jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — had initially denied Santana’s request for help, saying Thursday night that additional support would be sent only if the public security situation deteriorated.
In a statement Friday, the Ministry of Justice did an about-face and said the security officers were being sent to Ceara due to “the difficulty local forces had in combating organized crime alone.”
“The seriousness of the facts, the need to maintain public safety and the duty of the federal and state police forces to protect the civilian population, as well as public and private patrimony, from new incidents were also considered,” the statement continued.
The federal government’s move to help Ceara came within days after the swearing-in of Bolsonaro, a longtime right-wing congressman who campaigned on a promise to crack down on crime, a key issue for many voters in October’s election. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has said that hewill loosen gun laws so that citizens can protect themselves from criminals and that he would shield public safety officers from prosecution for the use of excessive force.
Brazil has seen its homicide rate skyrocket in recent years as rival drug gangs fight for territory in a country that borders the three biggest cocaine-producing nations in the world and is a main exit point for drugs smuggled to Europe and Asia.
Data from the independent research organization Brazilian Public Security Forum show that Brazil registered 63,880 homicides in 2017, the highest one-year total ever recorded in the nation and an increase of 3% over the previous year. Ceara, located along one of the country’s main drug smuggling routes, has the third highest homicide rate in Brazil, at 59.1 killings for every 100,000 residents.
According to the Igarape Institute, a think tank focusing on security issues, just 10% of homicides in Brazil lead to arrests.