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After senator is shot, police strike could spread across Brazil

. Feb 20, 2020
cid gomes police strike Cid Gomes just before charging at a picket line. Photo: Geraldo Magela/A. Senado

On Wednesday afternoon, Senator Cid Gomes was shot twice by masked police protesters in the northeastern city of Sobral, after he attempted to breach a blockade outside a military battalion, from atop a digger. Beyond the shocking and bizarre circumstances of the incident and the potential for tragedy, the event casts light on the broader issue of military police protests in Ceará, which may spread across Brazil to devastating effect.

Moments before being shot, Mr. Gomes led a group of counter-protesters outside the police battalion in Sobral, giving the striking law enforcement agents “five minutes to collect [their] relatives, spouses, and children and leave in peace,” affirming that the police walkout was illegal. At this moment, Mr. Gomes was punched in the face by a masked protester.

</p> <p>The senator for the state of Ceará—who was born in Sobral—then got atop a mechanized digger and advanced on the main gate to the battalion, which was being barricaded by dozens of military police forces. It was then that Mr. Gomes was shot twice, in the clavicle and lung, by .40 caliber ammunition fired from the crowd of protesters (it was initially thought he was hit by rubber bullets).</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">BREAKING NEWS: Senator Cid Gomes was shot by a rubber bullet while trying to break into police barracks, driving a DIGGER. Mr. Gomes tried to break a picket line made by a group of police officers who are demanding increased salaries <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BrazilianReport?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BrazilianReport</a> <a href="https://t.co/NSJY58LZ0o">pic.twitter.com/NSJY58LZ0o</a></p>&mdash; The Brazilian Report (@BrazilianReport) <a href="https://twitter.com/BrazilianReport/status/1230237979190480897?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 19, 2020</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <p>Mr. Gomes—who is the brother of 2018 center-left presidential candidate Ciro Gomes—was rushed to hospital but released from intensive care later on Wednesday night.&nbsp;</p> <p>Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of President Jair Bolsonaro, took to Twitter to blame Mr. Gomes for the incident, saying that it is &#8220;unbelievable that a senator would take a senseless attitude such as this, putting military [police] and their families at unnecessary risk.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>Ciro Gomes, however, replied to this criticism, telling Mr. Bolsonaro that &#8220;they will have to kill us before we allow militias to control the state of Ceará, as your scoundrel family did with Rio de Janeiro.&#8221;</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">tenta invadir o batalhão com uma retroescavadeira e é alvejado com um projétil de borracha. É inacreditável que um Senador da República lance mão de uma atitude insensata como essa, expondo militares e familiares a um risco desnecessário em um momento já delicado.</p>&mdash; Eduardo Bolsonaro🇧🇷 (@BolsonaroSP) <a href="https://twitter.com/BolsonaroSP/status/1230252807422464001?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 19, 2020</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <figure class="wp-block-embed-twitter wp-block-embed is-type-rich is-provider-twitter"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"><p lang="pt" dir="ltr">Deputado <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/eduardoBolsonaro?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#eduardoBolsonaro</a> ,será necessário que nos matem mesmo antes de permitirmos que milícias controlem o Estado do Ceará como os canalhas de sua familia fizeram com o Rio de Janeiro. <a href="https://t.co/Sce2iFOGbC">https://t.co/Sce2iFOGbC</a></p>&mdash; Ciro Gomes (@cirogomes) <a href="https://twitter.com/cirogomes/status/1230273109875400706?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 19, 2020</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> </div></figure> <h2>Police strike could spread</h2> <p>The walkouts of military police officers across the state of Ceará stems from the salary increase proposal put forward by state governor Camilo Santana on Tuesday. The measure foresees a 23 percent pay rise for police officers and firefighters, increasing their salary floor to BRL 4,500 per month.</p> <p>Police officers were upset with this proposal, outraged that the salary increase would be made gradually over the next three years, and that it did not include a comprehensive career chart of promotions and bonuses for military law enforcement agents. The state government claims it is the best it can do under its <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2019/09/05/state-finances-biggest-risk-brazilian-economy/">tight financial circumstances</a>.</p> <p>The very next day, gangs of police officers wearing balaclavas—which is illegal outside special operations—rode around the streets of several municipalities in Ceará, forcing store owners to close up and stealing police cars from stations. Three military officers have been arrested and 261 are under investigation.</p> <p>The law states that firefighters and officers of the Civil, Military, Federal, and Highway Police are forbidden from going on strike. This is due to the public safety risk that such a walkout could cause. In 2017, officers from the state of Espírito Santo staged their own illegal strike, and a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/10/brazil-espirito-santo-striking-police-charged-revolt">wave of looting, robbery, and murder</a> swept the region over the space of a single week.</p> <h2>A violent election campaign</h2> <p>The military police strike and shooting of Cid Gomes can also be addressed with the wider lens of <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2018/03/29/political-violence-lula-marielle/">this year&#8217;s municipal elections</a>. Mr. Gomes is currently on leave from the Senate to begin his campaign to run for mayor of Ceará&#8217;s state capital Fortaleza, while the police mutiny is allegedly being orchestrated by his biggest election rival: congressman and former military police captain Wagner Sousa Gomes, more commonly known as Captain Wagner.</p> <p>Hours after Cid Gomes was shot, Captain Wagner called the attack &#8220;legitimate self-defense&#8221; on behalf of the masked armed protesters, and then proceeded to file a police report against Mr. Gomes for attempted murder.</p> <h2>The vicious cycle</h2> <p>Ceará is not the only state in Brazil where military police officers are demanding increased salaries. At least seven others are also protesting against their state governors and four—Pernambuco, Alagoas, Espírito Santo, Paraíba—have mentioned the possibility of going on strike. This would create untold chaos in the region, as the National Security Force—used as contingency personnel in such situations—would be unable to meet all of these law enforcement demands at once.</p> <p>The central issue is that, while police officers are disgruntled and feel entitled to increased remuneration for their dangerous work, state governments are so desperately cash-strapped that it would be <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2018/12/11/brazil-state-finances-desperate/">financial suicide</a> to give in to the police&#8217;s demands—which explains the moderate 23 percent offered by Ceará, spread over three years.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-map" data-src="visualisation/649254"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>In the state of Minas Gerais, however, all divisions of the police and public security personnel are about to be handed huge pay increases from businessman and first-term governor Romeu Zema. Law enforcement, prison guards, firefighters, and public servants in the Minas Gerais security and justice departments are all set to receive pay rises of 41.7 percent over the next three years—despite Minas Gerais being one of the most cash-strapped states in the country.</p> <p>Mr. Zema&#8217;s ultraliberal Novo party has urged him to reconsider the measure, which could spark similar demands from other angry police forces around Brazil.

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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