17 May 2006

Brazilian Mayhem

São Paulo, Brazil's streets are running with blood.

Map courtesy of Wikipedia (Geography of Brazil entry).

A wave of violence directed mostly at police, by the kingpin of the dominant organized crime organization in Sao Paulo, and an intense police counter-attack have played out the last week. The violence has subsided for now, but police are patroling the streets with submachine guns and a major show of force to make it so. Some say the police have entered into a truce with the gang, while officials publicly deny it.

[A] five-day wave of violence . . . left at least 133 dead by Tuesday . . . police struck back late Monday and early Tuesday, killing 33 suspected gang members in less than 24 hours . . . 40 police and prison guards[have been] killed since Friday after the jailed leaders of a notorious gang ordered attacks on city streets. . . . authorities later announced killing 71 suspected criminals, four bystanders and 18 prison inmates whose bodies were found after officials quelled rebellions in dozens of prisons.

According to another source things are starting to return to normal now:

The state government told local media that it had recorded a total of 251 attacks principally targeting police since Friday. The First Capital Command (PCC), Sao Paulo's main organized crime group, was believed to be behind the violence.

The PCC orchestrated the violence after its leaders -- including Williams Herbas Camaacho, the gang boss -- were moved to a maximum security prison on Thursday night, according to authorities.

Among the slain were 29 police, three metropolitan Guard officers, eight prison officers, four ordinary citizens and 71 suspected gangsters.

Police have arrested 115 people in connection with the riots.

The gangsters launched attacks by shooting up police stations and patrol cars. They soon extended their attacks to other targets, setting 80 city buses on fire and robbing 15 banks. The rampage caused panic, forcing the closedown of shops, malls, schools and colleges.

The violence began to calm down on Monday night amid rumors that Sao Paulo authorities, who had rejected federal government help to fight the violence, had negotiated a truce with the PCC.

Williams Herbas Camaacho appears to be Brazil's answer to Al Capone:

The gang . . . has used discipline, technology and business alliances to gain a near monopoly on organized crime.

The First Command of the Capital gang, or PCC, has orchestrated 45 prison uprisings and 150 attacks on police and civilian targets since Friday, using clandestine phone banks that allow imprisoned leaders to communicate using smuggled cellular telephones. . . . Willians Herbas Camacho, or Marcola, the PCC's leader, ordered the uprisings to protest his transfer and those of five lieutenants to a super-maximum security prison, partly because the shift would sever or impair their ability to communicate, and run the syndicate.

Many crime experts declared the PCC dead in 2002 after heavy police repression and an internecine war that killed 15 of its directors. But since his ascension in 2003, Marcola has reorganized the PCC and won a reputation as a savvy innovator. . . . Born in the crowded state prison system in 1993, the PCC in the last three years has heavily invested outside of the jailhouse walls.

Marcola has formed partnerships with dozens of independent criminal groups, offering protection and bigger operating budgets in return for a cut of their profits. The PCC is involved with drug trafficking, mass robberies of fortified residential condominiums, kidnappings and armored car heists. . . Marcola uses alliances to thwart the creation of major rivals. . . the PCC [is] a crime monopoly . . . with an estimated 100,000 affiliates.

The city "is the industrial and financial center of Brasil generating over 30% of the GNP. . . . It is a city of immigrants and ethnic neighbourhoods where almost 18 million people live, many of them descendants of Italian, Japanese, and Lebanese migrants."

The Denver Post gave the story second page coverage in a collection of news briefs today, which is the first time I've seen any mention of it, or of the fact that Sao Paulo is under the thumb of one of the most powerful gangs the world has seen in the past century.

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