Criminals torched dozens of buses in the state of Ceará. Photo: AFP

Since January 2, the state of Ceará has been under attack. Criminals have targeted police stations, banks, and public buildings in a series of acts in response to threats made by state authorities. Luís Mauro Albuquerque, secretary of penitentiary administration in Ceará and appointed by Workers’ Party governor Camilo Santana, said the state should not recognize criminal factions in the Ceará prison system.

Mr. Albuquerque promised to split up prisoners who are members of the same faction and adopt a harder stance on security measures in prisons in order to prevent cell phones from reaching the hands of inmates.

Ceará is the Brazilian state with the third-highest number of members of the notorious First Command of the Capital (PCC) crime gang. Born on October 31, 1993, the PCC, which would later become Brazil’s largest criminal empire, was created inside a penitentiary in a city close to São Paulo. Eight inmates got together to start a form of union for criminals, pushing back against what they saw as “oppression” by the prison system.

Twenty-five years after its creation, the organization now has over 30,000 members spread across nearly every Brazilian state. According to some estimates, the PCC has an annual turnover of at least BRL 400 million (USD 106 million) and up to BRL 800 million. If the PCC were a corporation, it would be among the wealthiest 500 companies in the country.

As of Saturday morning, over 60 attacks have been recorded and 50 arrests have been made, according to authorities. From the beginning of the wave of violence, 13 buses have been torched, a rudimentary bomb was set off under the column of an overpass of a federal road and another explosive device was found in the state capital of Fortaleza. The Special Tactical Actions Group (Gate) carried out the safe detonation of the bomb.

Shops and markets in Fortaleza remained closed on Saturday morning, while only 100 buses will circulate the city—less than 30 percent of the total fleet. Each one will have its own police escort.

Ceará bus attacks

Police stations and overpasses attacked

On early Friday morning, a police station was set on fire. Two men in a motorcycle also threw a homemade dynamite bomb into the precinct building, but the device did not explode. Police forces retaliated and fired shots at the attackers. The men fled and no one was injured. In the city of Maracanaú, the city hall was attacked and an office was torched.

Governor Camilo Santana requested that newly instated Minister of Justice Sérgio Moro send the army to help contain the situation. Instead, Mr. Moro ordered on Friday that 300 National Security Force troops help Ceará’s Military Police. The army will only be sent, he said, “in case of the deterioration of security”. Three hundred guardsmen will patrol Ceará for one month, initially. If needed, Mr. Moro will extend their stay.

The minister also ordered that the federal police and the National Penitentiary Department help in the fight against violence in Ceará. General Guilherme Theophilo, the National Secretary of Security, had told local newspapers that troops were being mobilized and the federal government would not “bow down to criminals.”

Bolsonaro praises Moro for helping a political adversary

President Jair Bolsonaro complimented his minister, saying that he was “very skillful, very fast,” in the wake of the rising violence in Ceará. Mr. Bolsonaro also said that Mr. Moro was effective to help a state “whose re-elected governor is radically against us.” He was talking about, of course, the fact that Mr. Santana belongs to the Workers’ Party.

The governor said on Facebook that “the moment is a union of all forces to guarantee the order and protection of all brothers and sisters of Ceará,” referring to Sergio Moro’s decision. He also said that “all measures are being taken through our security forces, to protect the population and restrain the action of criminals,” and announced the appointment of 220 prison officers and 373 military police officers to reinforce security on the streets.

SocietyJan 05, 2019

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BY Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.