Chaos Unfolds in Northeast Brazil Just Before Olympics
More than 1,200 troops to deploy in the country’s most violent region
by DAVID GAGNE
Shootings, arson attacks and prison riots have engulfed a northeastern state of Brazil, drawing attention to the major security challenges in an area that has recently been overshadowed by the upcoming Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Vandals have burned at least 26 buses, fired shots at seven public buildings and set off explosives in 23 cities across the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte, Folha reported.
Seventeen prisoners also escaped from a penitentiary facility in Natal, where most of the disturbances are occurring. In total, authorities have registered 80 such incidents since July 29 and arrested at least 70 suspects, according to El País.
The general insecurity paralyzed the public transportation system over the weekend, and only 50 percent of the normal buses are currently in circulation. Universities cancelled classes on July 29 and are not expected to reopen until Aug. 4, Folha reported.
Rio Grande do Norte Gov. Robinson Lima said the outbreak of violence was in response to the installation last week of cellphone blockers in the Parnamirim prison. Many of those who ordered the attacks are serving time in Parnamirim, according to Wallber Virgolino, head of the state’s Justice and Security secretariat.
The group being blamed for what the authorities have called “acts of terrorism” is known as the Crime Syndicate, a dissident faction of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital — PCC), one of Brazil’s biggest gangs.
Interim Pres. Michel Temer authorized the army to deploy 1,200 troops to the state in an attempt to restore order. The extra security forces are expected to remain in the area for two weeks.
InSight Crime analysis
The international spotlight is fixed on Rio de Janeiro, host to the Olympic Games that kick off on Aug. 5. Not without warrant, much attention has been paid to the potential security threats criminal and terrorist groups could pose during the games.
The chaotic scene unfolding in Rio Grande do Norte is a reminder, however, that the country’s northeast has become — and will continue to be long after the closing ceremony — Brazil’s principal hotspot for violence.
While violence has fallen significantly in southern Brazil since the turn of the 21st century, the opposite is true for the northeast. From 2001 to 2011, homicide rates fell by 76 percent and 44 percent in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively, but it increased four-fold in Rio Grande do Norte.
All five of Brazil’s most violent states in 2015 were located in the northeast.
The events in Rio Grande do Norte are also a sign of how prisons generate insecurity in the region. More than 10 percent of all homicides in the state are linked to prisons, officials say. This is due to the strength of the gangs as well as the excessive overcrowding and weak control authorities have over the prisons.
The state’s facilities are reportedly at more than double their maximum capacity, and nearly 300 inmates have escaped since the beginning of 2015.