Brazil's Bolsonaro Sends In Troops To Eradicate Criminal Gangs Amid Spike In Violence

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has sent 300 soldiers to the northern city of Fortaleza with orders to stop a surge in criminal attacks targeting banks, buses and shops, according to France24

By the end of the weekend, 300 soldiers will be patrolling that city and other towns in Ceara state in a bid to halt the rampage, national public security secretary Guilherme Teophilo said, according to government news agency Agencia Brasil.

The intervention is the first test of new President Jair Bolsonaro's strict law-and-order platform since he took office last Tuesday.

His justice minister ordered the deployment after concluding that Ceara police were overwhelmed. Some 50 suspects have been arrested. -France24

The gangs attacking Fortaleza have been seen on security footage torching gas stations, while dozens of attacks were registered this week as frightened residents stay indoors - leaving the main roads deserted. 

In one of the attacks, explosives left a road supporting pillar badly damaged in the town of Caucaia, just west of Fortaleza. 

While the exact cause of the surge in violence is unknown, intelligence reports published by Brazilian media have pointed to gangs revolting against tough new rules recently instituted throughout the state's prisons, which include blocking cell phone signals and ending the separation of inmates based on gang affiliation. 

To protest the measures, two gangs have set aside their rivalry to join forces against the government according to G1 News, citing security officials. 

Earlier this month, Bolsonaro vowed to crack down on his country's out-of-control crime by offering immunity to soldiers and police using lethal force, while also easing gun laws with a decree which would make it much easier for adults over 25 to obtain firearms, as long as they have no criminal record. Bolsonaro says that allowing "good" people to own guns will discourage criminals, as well as reduce Brazil's homicide rate after nearly 64,000 murders last year

In Rio de Janeiro, police have been sent into the city's slums to kill violent gun-toting criminals, according to Flavio Pacca - a longtime associate and security adviser to Governor-elect Wilson Witzel. 

"The protocol will be to immediately neutralize, slaughter anyone who has a rifle," said Witzel - a former Brazilian marine and federal judge, on December 12. "Whoever has a rifle isn't worried about other people's lives, they're ready to eliminate anyone who crosses their path. This is a grave problem, not just in Rio de Janeiro, but in other states." 

The 63-year-old Bolsonaro - a former paratrooper, has made "restoring order" central to his four-year mandate. 

Much of that task falls to his justice minister, Sergio Moro, a former star judge who headed up Operation Car Wash, an investigation into Brazil's biggest-ever corruption scandal.

Bolsonaro on Friday praised Moro's decision to send in troops as "apt, rapid and effective."

Ceara's governor belongs to the leftwing Workers Party which was driven into opposition by the election of Bolsonaro and his ultraconservative allies.

Brazil has the third biggest prison population in the world, behind the United States and China, with nearly 73,000 inmates as of 2016. Penitentiaries are overcrowded and prey to gangs that often viciously turn on each other.

The three gangs active in Ceara are the Red Command (CV by its initials in Portuguese) that grew out of organized criminal activity in Rio de Janeiro, the First Command of the Capital (PCC) based in Sao Paulo, and a group called the Guardians of the State (GDE). -France24

Of those groups, the CV and PCC have teamed up in a "non-aggression" pact in order to fight against the government. 

The 300 troops sent to northern Brazil will have a large job ahead of them - as nearly 80 attacks were reported in towns across Ceara state last week - an area which is larger than Costa Rica or Croatia in terms of ground to cover.