Pubdate: Tue, 16 May 2006
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2006 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Author: Andrew Downie
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


The PCC Reached Out From Sao Paulo Prisons To Attack Police, Buses, And Banks

RIO DE JANEIRO - The unprecedented series of attacks on law 
enforcement that has left as many as 74 people dead and more than 40 
prisons under the control of rioting inmates marks the dramatic 
resurgence of a criminal gang in Sao Paulo. It also signals a new 
power struggle between police and organized crime in Brazil's biggest 
state, warn analysts and human rights experts.

The weekend attacks were carried out by the First Capital Command 
(PCC), a gang formed in the 1990s in Sao Paulo's notorious prison 
system to demand better conditions. But the PCC's audacious and 
ongoing attacks beyond the prison walls show they have the means to 
confront the state, says Renato Simoes, a human rights expert who has 
followed the rise of the group.

"It's a power struggle," says Mr. Simoes, reached by phone. The Sao 
Paulo congressman serves on the state's Human Rights Commission. "The 
PCC feels emboldened because it senses the government is weak."

The attacks began Thursday and continued into Monday, with bandits 
burning more than 60 buses. On Sunday, the violence spread to inmates 
rebelling at jails in the neighboring states of Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul.

The initial attacks were launched by PCC members angry at last week's 
mass transfer of 756 inmates from the state's jails. Eight of those 
transferred were PCC leaders. Prison officials suspected that the PCC 
was about to start a state-wide rebellion and they sought to 
frustrate their plans by moving the ringleaders.

The so called "megarebellion" was planned for Sunday, Mother's Day, 
when thousands of families would be inside jails visiting their loved 
ones. It was designed to be a repeat of the sweeping 2001 rebellion 
in which inmates seized control of 29 prisons and took some 25,000 
people hostage.

That spectacular uprising grabbed world headlines and led law 
enforcement to crack down on the gang. Officials thought they had 
broken up most of the PCC but experts now say the group was merely 
lying low. The PCC has used the intervening years to regroup, both 
inside the jails and out.

The PCC is involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping, and armed 
robbery, says Bruce Bagley, a professor of international studies at 
the University of Miami. He says that like the organized crime groups 
in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the PCC derives its power and 
proceeds from drug trafficking. "All of these favela groups have 
linkages to higher-level organized crime. For example, Fernandhino is 
one of the principle drug traffickers. He was captured and put in 
jail in Rio after selling drugs for arms with the FARC in Colombia. 
He's been operating out of jail with cell phones. He is attempting to 
consolidate power."

Professor Bagley notes that Brazil is second only to the US in 
cocaine consumption now. "Drug consumption and drug addiction have 
risen exponentially in Brazil. The fight is among these gangs and the 
police over turf and control of local cocaine sales, transit roots, 
and the laboratories they run."

While targets now, the police are often complicit in the trafficking. 
"Clearly, professionalization, professional training, and higher 
salaries are key to solving Brazil's problems," Bagley says.

Simoes has called on authorities to neutralize the PCC by eliminating 
the atrocious prison conditions in which they thrive. Although 
officials do not know exactly how many of the state's 120,000 inmates 
belong to the PCC, Simoes says that the vast majority of jails are 
controlled by the group. Many inmates are terrorized into joining the 
gang, but like many organized crime factions, the PCC also buys 
loyalty by helping prisoners get lawyers, medicine, and by handing 
out the best jobs and cells inside the jail. Prison wardens often 
turn a blind eye because the gang also helps keep order.

Authorities must reform the prison system and halt the collusion 
between prisoners and guards that enables inmates to obtain 
cellphones, drugs, televisions, and other privileges, Simoes says. 
"Those in charge of the prison system have to take immediate action," he says.

The PCC launched the first in a series of bloody attacks on Thursday 
night, when bandits armed with grenades and machine guns attacked 
police stations and left five officers dead. The gang stepped up 
their attacks 24 hours later with 55 bombings, ambushes, and drive-by 
shootings. The violence continued Saturday with more attacks that 
took the death toll to 52. And on Sunday, they reportedly bombed 11 
banks and a shopping center and so terrorized people using the city's 
transport service that several bus companies withdrew their vehicles 
from service. "Getting to work took a lot longer than usual because 
there were fewer buses," says Eulalia Perreira, a clerical worker in 
Sao Paulo, reached by phone. "I passed two or three burnt-out buses 
in my 40-minute journey. Everyone is scared."

The PCC did not say what they hoped to achieve with the violence 
other than to show they are a force to be reckoned with and they do 
not appear to have an explicitly political or ideological goal, 
experts say. "I am pessimistic," says Simoes. "The government thinks 
they can resolve this by making declarations and they can't. They 
tried this before and it didn't work."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman