Brazil deploys national guard after senator shot in strike

February 20, 2020 GMT

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian senator was shot Wednesday as he tried to intervene in a strike by military police demanding higher salaries in the northeastern state of Ceara, prompting authorities to deploy federal forces.

Sen. Cid Gomes, a former governor of the state, received a shot in the chest and was taken to a nearby hospital. A statement from the hospital released in the evening said the senator was in stable condition and breathing without medical help.

A video circulating on television showed Gomes trying to drive a backhoe through the gate of a police barrack, behind which balaclava-clad police officers were protesting. It also shows the moment when the vehicle’s windows were being shot out. It wasn’t immediately clear where the gunfire came from.

Shortly before heading to the protest, Gomes had posted a video on Twitter sharing his anger and calling for people to help him end the strike.

At the protest, Gomes was seen with a bullhorn. “You have five minutes to leave. Not one more,” he warned from behind the metal gate that separated his group from the masked officers.

One man standing amid the protesters could be heard yelling at him: “You don’t have the authority to do this!” before a brief physical altercation.

Minutes later, Gomes attempted to ram the backhoe through the barricade and was hit at least one bullet.

An unknown number of officers began a strike Tuesday, dissatisfied with the negotiations with the state to raise their pay. In Brazil, the military police are in charge of patrolling the streets, among other duties, and it is illegal for them to strike.

Throughout the day, small acts of vandalism have occurred across the state. Masked men invaded several police barracks, smashing police window-shields and puncturing tires. In one instance, men drove off with patrol cars and parked them in line blocking nearby streets.

In the city of Sobral, where the 56-year-old former governor was injured, men wearing balaclavas on-board police vehicles forced businesses to shut their doors for the day, online news portal G1 reported.

The Public Security Secretary said in a press conference around mid-day, hours before Sen. Gomes was shot, that authorities would not tolerate the illegal strike. The state secretary said some 260 officers were already under investigation, and that any striking policeman would be banned from receiving its salary and possibly fired.

Justice and Public Minister Sergio Moro said in a statement Wednesday night it would deploy federal forces to help maintain order. The federal police and federal highway police have also been sent to Sobral to ensure the security of Gomes.

The Brazil Forum of Public Security, an independent organization that tracks national crime statistics, condemned the violence. “However legitimate the public security officers’ salary demands are, it is unacceptable that bad policemen spread fear and panic among the population,” a statement read.

In 2017, hundreds of police went on strike in Brazil’s Espirito Santo state and were indicted. The standoff produced a wave of violence, looting and burning of buses. Schools were closed, and medical services and public transportation interrupted. To stem the tumult, the federal government deployed more than 3,000 troops from the military and the national guard.

In 2011, during the last Ceara police protests, many were also arrested. “If they show their faces, they’re fired or arrested,” said Manuela Barroso, a spokesperson for a military police association.

“Today the situation is different,” Barroso said, voicing fears that the strike could lead to looting and clashes in an already violent state. “Back then, the city was not as dangerous as it is today.”