BRASILIA – Some 300 federal troops began deploying on Saturday in the Brazilian state of Ceara, which this past week has been ravaged by a wave of vandalism that may be orchestrated by gang leaders operating from within the country’s prisons.
The deployment of troops from the National Public Security Force in the northeastern region was authorized by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro after dozens of firebomb attacks and other incidents of arson that local authorities fear may be coming in response to measures to tighten regulations in the prisons.
The plans include changing the existing policy whereby criminals in regional jails are separated on the basis of the criminal groups to which they belong.
Those measures were announced this past week by Ceara Gov. Camilo Santana and include strengthening internal controls to reduce the power of the criminal gangs whose leaders are evidently directing the activities of hundreds of their gangmembers from inside prisons.
The attacks have been staged in various locations around Ceara, including the tourist city of Fortaleza, the regional capital located 1,450 km (900 mi.) northeast of Brasilia, and have not let up since authorities announced the deployment of federal troops on Friday.
According to local authorities, on Saturday firebombs were hurled into the parking lot of a Fortaleza shopping center and other attacks were staged in the interior of the state.
One of those other attacks occurred in the city of Caucaia, where a truck carrying about 2,000 live chickens was set on fire. The vehicle’s driver was subdued by the attackers, who then firebombed the truck, reducing it and its cargo to ashes.
Fortaleza was one of the cities affected last year by a war between rival imprisoned criminal groups that left more than 100 inmates dead inside Brazil’s prisons.
The situation in Ceara is the first test for the security policies of Bolsonaro, an ultra-rightist who was inaugurated on Jan. 1 and who, in his election campaign, promised to step up the war on crime.
Some 60,000 people die violently in Brazil each year, according to recent figures.