Brazil gang kills 31 as prison violence explodes

At least 33 killed in Brazil prison uprising

RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO — Jailed members of Brazil's most powerful drug gang killed 31 inmates at a penitentiary on Friday, decapitating and cutting out the hearts of most of them, in revenge for a separate prison massacre that left 56 dead this week.

The bloodletting in the Monte Cristo prison in the Amazonian state of Roraima, carried out by members of the First Capital Command (PCC) gang, sparked fears that months of violence between criminal groups controlling Brazil's prisons had spiraled out of control.

The PCC itself was targeted on Sunday in neighboring Amazonas state in Brazil's worst prison slaughter in more than two decades.

In a cellphone video that circulated widely on social media, self-described PCC members are seen hacking away at bodies littering an outdoor patio inside the prison.

"You killed our brothers, didn't you? Look here, look what is going to happen you! This is revenge for what you did to our brothers," a PCC member is heard saying on the video as dozens of bodies lie in thick pools of blood.

One victim, bare-chested and wearing sky-blue surfer shorts, began to move on the ground. The inmate taking the video calls out to fellow gang members "We've got a live one!" before another gang member rushes over and cuts off the victim's head with a white-handled barbecue knife.

State officials said the riot in Roraima's largest prison was brought under control by elite police forces. Earlier, authorities put the death toll at 33 but by Friday evening lowered that figure to 31 dead. Violence between rival drug gangs at the same jail had already led to 10 deaths in October.

Roraima's top security official Uziel de Castro blamed Friday's violence at the state-run prison on the PCC. He later added that it was believed most of the inmates killed Friday were not members of the group responsible for this week's attack on the PCC in Amazonas and indeed had no gang affiliations.

Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes insisted that the government had control over Brazil's prison system – the fourth largest in world and home to more than 620,000 inmates.

Security experts had predicted more violence in Brazil's gang-controlled penitentiaries in the wake of Monday's massacre.

"It's getting really ugly. This situation is clearly snowballing and there is nothing the government can do to stop the violence in the short term," said Rafael Alcadipani, a public security expert at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank in Sao Paulo.

"We are paying the price for 50 years of total neglect of the penitentiary system."

UNEASY ALLIANCE

In Monday's uprising, PCC members were attacked by the North Family drug faction, which controls the Anisio Jobim penitentiary in Amazonas, according to officials. North Family is believed to dominate cocaine traffic in Amazonas from Colombia and Peru, according to authorities.

The group is allied with the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command drug gang, Brazil's second most powerful faction after PCC.

For more than two decades, PCC and Red Command maintained an uneasy alliance, ensuring that a steady flow of drugs and guns flowed across Brazil's long jungle border.

But about six months ago PCC and Red Command split, as PCC moved to take control of lucrative drug routes across the border with Paraguay and become Brazil's dominant gang.

Experts say PCC also has been moving to infiltrate areas in Red Command's home base of Rio de Janeiro, further stoking a turf war that threatens to spill onto the streets of Brazil's biggest cities.

Since the split, Red Command has allied itself with smaller regional gangs to confront PCC, primarily in the north and northeast of Brazil, where prison violence boiled over this week.

Alcadipani, the public security expert, said Brazil's penitentiary system has been "self-regulated" by the gangs and that mass killings were rare until recent months because of a truce between the country's biggest criminal factions.

"But we see that as soon as we have a gang war, these killings are inevitably going to happen because the state has no control over the prisons," said Alcadipani.

© REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino Police in Brazil on Jan. 5, 2017

Dozens of Inmates Killed as Prison Violence Escalates in Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO — Some of the inmates were beheaded. Others had their hearts torn from their bodies. Gang leaders used the blood of their victims to write a nightmarish message of retribution: “Blood is paid for with blood.”

The harrowing scenes on Friday from the latest prison riot in Brazil, in which 31 inmates were killed in the northern state of Roraima in the Amazon River Basin, pushed the death toll to 93 in six days of mayhem in penitentiaries around the country.

The bloodshed has shocked the country and is emerging as the most pressing crisis facing President Michel Temer, whose beleaguered government was already grappling with graft scandals, a weak economy and simmering anger over austerity measures.

“The bloodshed is revealing a war between drug gangs, a failed prison system and a weak government,” said Rafael Alcadipani, a scholar who specializes in public security policies at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a leading Brazilian university. “And now the horror is spreading.”

Prison violence that has spilled out into neighboring communities has been a perennial problem in Brazil. In 2006, street fighting between the police and First Capital Command, a prison-based gang, left almost 200 people dead in São Paulo, causing chaos in the city of 20 million people.

The killings in Roraima came just days after 56 men were killed in a massacre at a prison in the city of Manaus. In two different riots at prisons this week in the states of Amazonas and Paraíba, six men were also killed.

The violence at the Monte Cristo Agricultural Penitentiary in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima, add to fears about an intensifying war between drug gangs for control of the cocaine trade in the Amazon region in Brazil.

The latest episode is thought to involve fighting between First Capital Command, commonly known by its Portuguese initials, P.C.C., which has roots in the prisons of São Paulo in southeast Brazil, and supporters of Red Command, a drug trafficking organization that has long held sway in Rio de Janeiro. The authorities, however, tried to play down the possibility that warring gangs were to blame.

The gangs, which operate inside prisons as well as on the streets of many Brazilian cities, are battling for supremacy over the trade in cocaine smuggled into Brazil across the porous Amazonian frontier from countries like Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

Family of the North, an increasingly influential gang in the Amazon that has allied itself with Red Command, was responsible for the attack at the prison in Manaus, massacring dozens of rivals from the P.C.C. gang. The attack had been planned for months, according to text messages intercepted by intelligence agents.

Mr. Temer, the president, has been chided for what some have called a tone-deaf response to the crisis. He said nothing for two days about the killings in Manaus, before calling them a “dreadful accident” and seeking to deflect blame from public agencies because a private contractor runs the prison there.

Just months after emerging victorious in the battle to impeach his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, Mr. Temer is grappling with calls from some of his own allies to resign. In an effort to defend himself, he sent a message Thursday on Twitter listing synonyms for the word “accident” — tragedy, loss, disaster, disgrace and misfortune.

Although the Manaus riot has fueled a debate over whether management of some prisons should be handed to private companies, the violence in Roraima casts scrutiny directly on state officials. The Boa Vista prison, which is run by the state, has a long history of deadly riots and of inmate escapes.

The prison was built for 700 inmates but currently holds about 1,400. Carlos Paixão de Oliveira, a prosecutor in Roraima, publicly criticized the management of the facility in October, when inmates from the P.C.C. gang killed at least 10 rivals from the Red Command.

Mr. Oliveira suggested at the time that the prison should be demolished and replaced.

“If they want, the inmates will carry out a new slaughter in there, because no one has control of that prison,” he said.

Despite the writing in blood on Friday proclaiming the supremacy of the P.C.C., the authorities contended that the latest killings did not involve score-settling between gangs but a power struggle within the P.C.C. itself, or an effort to project power by the gang.

“We’ve been on guard about something like this for some time, transferring prisoners from Red Command to other units,” said Uziel Castro, the top security official in Roraima. “We think this had to do with an internal battle.”

Either way, the scenes from the Roraima penitentiary offered an unsettling reminder of how the bloodshed in the country’s prisons is a problem that has been building for decades, revealing a system hobbled by corruption, overcrowding and mismanagement.

Human rights groups draw comparisons with the current string of uprisings to the Carandiru prison massacre in 1992 in São Paulo, when police stormed the facility and killed 111 inmates. An appeals court recently voided the convictions of 73 police officers for their participation in the killings.

The problems in Brazil’s prisons that led to earlier episodes of carnage have intensified with the growing drug trade, security experts say. Brazil’s prison population has swelled this century as the authorities lock up more people on minor drug offenses.

Brazil now has a prison population exceeding half a million, with about 40 percent of detainees awaiting trial. Drug gangs that originated in prisons are expanding their sway and battling one another for territorial control of the trade.

“This war between the criminal factions is worsening,” said Antonio Cláudio Mariz de Oliveira, a former security official in São Paulo. “The problem is largely a result of the lack of attention towards the prison system, both by the government and the public.”

“People only react when there’s an episode like this,” said Mr. Mariz de Oliveira. “Then they forget about it until the next one.”

Indeed, some elected officials have expressed the hardened views held by crime-weary voters. José Melo, the governor of Amazonas State, said “there were no saints” among the dozens of inmates killed in the state’s prisons this week, calling the victims murderers, rapists or gang members.

At the same time, officials in Mr. Temer’s administration have tried to play down the prison crisis. “The situation is not out of control,” said Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes.


Brazil gang kills 31, many hacked to death, as prison violence explodes

Jailed members of Brazil's most powerful drug gang killed 31 inmates at a penitentiary on Friday, decapitating and cutting out the hearts of most of them, in revenge for a separate prison massacre that left 56 dead this week.

The bloodletting in the Monte Cristo prison in the Amazonian state of Roraima, carried out by members of the First Capital Command (PCC) gang, sparked fears that months of violence between criminal groups controlling Brazil's prisons had spiraled out of control.

The PCC itself was targeted on Sunday in neighboring Amazonas state in Brazil's worst prison slaughter in more than two decades.

In a cellphone video that circulated widely on social media, self-described PCC members are seen hacking away at bodies littering an outdoor patio inside the prison.

"You killed our brothers, didn't you? Look here, look what is going to happen you! This is revenge for what you did to our brothers," a PCC member is heard saying on the video as dozens of bodies lie in thick pools of blood.

One victim, bare-chested and wearing sky-blue surfer shorts, began to move on the ground. The inmate taking the video calls out to fellow gang members "We've got a live one!" before another gang member rushes over and cuts off the victim's head with a white-handled barbecue knife.

State officials said the riot in Roraima's largest prison was brought under control by elite police forces. Earlier, authorities put the death toll at 33 but by Friday evening lowered that figure to 31 dead. Violence between rival drug gangs at the same jail had already led to 10 deaths in October.

Roraima's top security official Uziel de Castro blamed Friday's violence at the state-run prison on the PCC. He later added that it was believed most of the inmates killed Friday were not members of the group responsible for this week's attack on the PCC in Amazonas and indeed had no gang affiliations.

Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes insisted that the government had control over Brazil's prison system - the fourth largest in world and home to more than 620,000 inmates.

Security experts had predicted more violence in Brazil's gang-controlled penitentiaries in the wake of Monday's massacre.

"It's getting really ugly. This situation is clearly snowballing and there is nothing the government can do to stop the violence in the short term," said Rafael Alcadipani, a public security expert at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank in Sao Paulo.

"We are paying the price for 50 years of total neglect of the penitentiary system."

UNEASY ALLIANCE

In Monday's uprising, PCC members were attacked by the North Family drug faction, which controls the Anisio Jobim penitentiary in Amazonas, according to officials. North Family is believed to dominate cocaine traffic in Amazonas from Colombia and Peru, according to authorities.

The group is allied with the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command drug gang, Brazil's second most powerful faction after PCC.

For more than two decades, PCC and Red Command maintained an uneasy alliance, ensuring that a steady flow of drugs and guns flowed across Brazil's long jungle border.

But about six months ago PCC and Red Command split, as PCC moved to take control of lucrative drug routes across the border with Paraguay and become Brazil's dominant gang.

Experts say PCC also has been moving to infiltrate areas in Red Command's home base of Rio de Janeiro, further stoking a turf war that threatens to spill onto the streets of Brazil's biggest cities.

Since the split, Red Command has allied itself with smaller regional gangs to confront PCC, primarily in the north and northeast of Brazil, where prison violence boiled over this week.

Alcadipani, the public security expert, said Brazil's penitentiary system has been "self-regulated" by the gangs and that mass killings were rare until recent months because of a truce between the country's biggest criminal factions.

"But we see that as soon as we have a gang war, these killings are inevitably going to happen because the state has no control over the prisons," said Alcadipani.

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