Explained: Why Brazil cities are facing wave of gang violence


Imprisoned gang leaders direct followers to unleash a wave of terror across cities after their requests for better facilities in jail were rejected.

Members of rival gangs have joined hands to unleash a reign of terror across northern Brazil – torching vehicles and buildings, breaking window panes and firing at public buildings in a fresh round of violence in the Latin American nation. 

The wave of predawn attacks over the past three days have been reported from at least 28 towns and cities in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, including its capital Natal.   

At least two suspects have been killed in clashes with police, two other people were wounded, and 30 have been arrested so far, officials said.

Officials said the attacks were planned and ordered from inside prison by gang leaders as a protest against jail conditions after their requests for televisions, electricity, and conjugal visits were turned down. The attacks were also said to be in retaliation for new regulations cracking down on criminal factions’ operations within the penal system.

Two rival gang factions are said to have aligned under a temporary truce to attack security forces.

Several cities in the state of Rio Grande do Norte suspended public transport and closed schools.

Authorities sent additional federal police to the state but reinforcements may climb in coming days, Justice and Security Minister Flavio Dino was quoted as saying.

Violent past

Organised gangs appeared around the 1970s when Brazil saw inequality and unemployment rise along with rapid urbanisation, according to data collected by the US-based non-profit Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). 

Dealing with guns and drugs, these gangs quickly drew hundreds of youngsters to their rank and file. Some of these became a state within a state, welding enormous power and wealth.  

Brazil’s capital Rio de Janeiro recorded 27 violent fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2021, much higher than the national average of 22. With at least 1,356 confirmed fatalities, Rio de Janeiro also exceeded all other Brazilian states in the number of deaths related to police operations.

One of the most notorious gangs in Brazil is the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), which was founded in the 1990s and is responsible for much of the violence in the country. The PCC has been involved in a number of high-profile incidents, including a prison riot in 2019 that left at least 55 people dead.

Other gangs operating in Brazil include the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), the Third Pure Command (Terceiro Comando Puro), and the Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends), all of which are based in Rio de Janeiro.

The government has taken various measures to address the problem, including increasing law enforcement presence in gang-controlled areas and implementing social programs aimed at preventing young people from joining gangs. 

However, these efforts have been largely unsuccessful in curbing the violence, and the situation remains a major challenge for Brazilian society.

Major incidents

Carandiru massacre: On October 2, 1992, a riot broke out in the Carandiru prison in Sao Paulo, then the largest prison in Latin America. The riot ended with police officers entering the prison and killing 111 inmates. The incident is considered one of the deadliest prison riots in history and was widely condemned for its brutality.

Rio de Janeiro gang wars: In 2018, a series of violent clashes broke out between rival criminal organisations in Rio de Janeiro, including the Red Command and the PCC. The violence led to a sharp increase in murders and other crimes, and the Brazilian military was eventually deployed to assist with law enforcement efforts in the city.

Most notorious gang leaders

Marco Willians Herbas Camacho: Marco Willians Herbas Camacho, also known as Marcola, is a notorious Brazilian gang leader and the current leader of the PCC. He was born on July 31, 1968, in Sao Paulo.

Marcola began his criminal career in the 1980s and soon became involved in serious offences, such as drug trafficking and bank robberies. In 1999, he was arrested and sentenced to 44 years in prison for robbery and homicide.

Under his command, the PCC grew into a powerful and well-organised criminal enterprise involved in drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and other illegal activities.

He was sentenced to 232 years and 11 months in a maximum-security prison for robbery, drug trafficking, homicide and forming a criminal group. He began serving his prison sentence in the early 2000s.

Valdeci Alves do Santos: Valdeci Alves do Santos, known as “Colorido”, was arrested on April 17 last year. He is the number 2 of the PCC on the streets and was on the run. 

Born in Espinosa on February 4, 1972, Colorido, was considered a renowned drug dealer within the criminal faction. In August 2014, he was granted a temporary release and has since been on the run.

Eduardo Rosa de Jesus: Eduardo Rosa de Jesus, also known as 2D, was a notorious Brazilian gang leader and the former leader of Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends), a criminal organisation operating mainly in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. He was born in  1981 in Rio de Janeiro.

2D began his criminal career in his teenage years when he joined a gang involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities in Rio de Janeiro. He joined Amigos dos Amigos in the early 2000s.

In 2020, 2D was arrested by the Brazilian authorities, along with dozens of other members of Amigos dos Amigos.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies



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