Thursday, May 18, 2006


Brazil is a beautiful land with beautiful women, but in Sao Paulo, things got ugly on Monday:
Rio de Janeiro - The largest gang offensive in Sao Paulo's history brought the city to a standstill Monday as shops, companies, schools and train stations closed amid an organized assault by drug gangs against Brazilian police and security forces.

At least 81 people have been killed since an offensive was launched Friday night by organized crime groups in Brazil's commercial capital, Sao Paulo, and outlying regions of Sao Paulo state.

An estimated 150 attacks took place within a 40-hour period over the weekend against police stations and patrol vehicles, military facilities and prison outposts.
But the drug gangs shifted tactics Sunday night and into Monday, extending their offensive beyond Sao Paulo state, setting about 90 buses on fire and attacking 11 banks and two subway stations with molotov cocktails and sporadic gunfire.

Sao Paulo's second largest airport, Congonhas, had to be closed Monday after a bomb threat.

'This is like war, a nightmare,' said a resident living next to a bank attacked in the Vila-Olimpia quarter of Sao Paulo.

The drug gangs were also blamed for uprisings by prisoners in at least 60 correctional facilities. Around 120 hostages were still being held Monday night at 25 prisons in Sao Paulo state.

Among the dead during the violence since Friday at police stations, jails and other sites were 39 police officers and prison guards, four civilian bystanders and 38 suspected gang members. Another 60 people have been wounded, and 20 men have been arrested.
It certainly sounds like a war. According to the BBC, about half of Brazil's jails are involved in riots. One of the problems Brazil faces is that not only were some parts of their cities essentially police-free crime zones, the police and military worked with criminal gangs to try to enforce order and now it's out of their control. Large sections of cities like Sao Paulo are shanty towns, little more than shacks built on the side of hills from cardboard, tin, and corrugated metal. These areas fester with crime and virtually no law. The Washington Post reports:
Leaders of First Capital Command gang, or PCC, reportedly used cellphones to order the attacks. Gang members then riddled police cars with bullets, hurled grenades at police stations and attacked officers at their homes and after-work hangouts. On Sunday night, the gang employed a new tactic: sending gunmen onto buses, ordering passengers and drivers off, and torching the vehicles.
And BBC online has background:
The violence is an escalation of what many in Sao Paulo are calling a war between the state authorities and the First Command of the Capital (PCC) criminal faction, the BBC's Brazil correspondent Steve Kingstone says.

The attacks and riots began on Friday after 700 jailed PCC members were transferred to higher-security facilities.
The Gulf Times reported that
"We are in a true war against the mafia," said chief of Sao Paulo’s military police Elizeu Borges. State Governor Claudio Lembo refused an offer from the federal government to deploy 4,000 national guardsmen to Sao Paulo, though President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the forces stood ready to intervene and help contain the violence.

‘What happened in Sao Paulo was a provocation, a demonstration of organised crime’s strength,’ President Lula said late Monday.
The crime war finally began to subside when the government had talks and showed the crime bosses were safe, according to Channel News Asia:
Order was restored in 73 prisons hit by gang-launched uprisings Monday, after prison officials negotiated the release of 195 hostages.

Local media reported that the jailed PCC leader had met government officials in prison to reach a negotiated settlement, but state governor Claudio Lembo has denied any talks had taken place.

The head of the prison system, Nagashi Furukawa, told reporters Tuesday that he had allowed a lawyer to visit Marcola on Sunday and report that the gang leader had not been harmed.
Lalia Christina from the Brazilian blog The Pawnshop had this update:

The PCC [one of the crime gangs] power lies on its complex web of inmates' connections. Members of this group pay monthly fees to keep heavy weapons, munitions, lawyers, and also to infiltrate cellphones and drugs in jails. The PCC was founded in 1993 in São Paulo's Taubate Penitentiary supported by international terrorist organizations and became involved in drug and arms trafficking, kidnappings, bank robberies and extortion.

To me, this is a clear image of a failed law enforcement. There is no safety in this country. These folks from PCC can do whatever they want to. They can start a war if it is needed one. I could just state: "I'm glad I don't live in São Paulo anymore", but I acutally can't. My entire family still lives there. My best friends work in São Paulo city. I've got relatives in the city too. I don't want any harm happening to any of them. Besides, this criminal group leads outlaws around Brazil. Oh gosh! I wish It didn't end up being this CHAOTIC!

At the Belmont Club, Wretchard draws some parallels between these highly organized, violent criminals and terrorists. The only major difference, he notes, is a spokesman to make their grievances political:

All the Brazilian gangsters really lacked to reach the first rank of villains was a good pitchman to cast their depredations in terms of some politically respectable cause; a task theoretically made easier because the gang leaders had roots in Third World slums instead of being billionaires like Osama Bin Laden. But the pitchmen may come later. Money can buy respectable apologists and not simply for cults.

In his commentary, Wretchard goes on to point out the similarities, noting sarcastically about al`Qaeda that...

All they want after all is simply to conquer the world and subjugate it using weapons of mass destruction and unrestrained savagery. That is so much more reasonable than the irrational desire to sell drugs for profit and prevent the transfer of gang leaders to a different jail cell.
Thomas Barnett believed the world was better described not in terms of its Muslim and non-Muslim parts but as being divided between a Functioning Core and a Non-Integrating Gap: between localities that "worked" and those which were falling apart. But if Barnett is conceptually right the problems of peace in the 21st century are rooted in the difference between the Core and Gap; between the world's gleaming cities and its seething hinterlands. The War on Terror is really the Struggle Against Chaos, a chaos that is riding the wings of Globalization. If so what institutions does the Core have to deal with problems like ultra-powerful Third World gangs, militias and terrorist organizations? The UN, aid agencies and NGOs have proved no match for them in the past and nothing has come forward to take their place.

Commenters considered this:
too soon to tell yet. but there may arise citizen groups -- i.e., coordinated vigilante organizations that use the same tactics. If failed and failing governments cannot keep or restore order then individuals will...

...our southwestern states are beginning to resemble failed states. No one can rein in the chaos or curb the expense and damage to the infrastructure, so voila, The Minuteman Project.

This is not a phenomenon we can escape, only postpone.
-by Dymphna

wretchard said:
"If so what institutions does the Core have to deal with problems like ultra-powerful Third World gangs, militias and terrorist organizations?"

Newspapers? (no, they think every gangster is the second coming of Che)
Broadcast TV? (no, they love the guys that make snuff shows)
Universities? (no, gangsters get immediate tenure)

The organization that can deal with networked gangsters will have to be equally fast and violent.

It may sound silly, but the 'beat cop' must get with the times. Newspapers, broadcast TV and universities vilify the 'beat cop', but that is where the rubber meets the road.

Watch the movie 'Untouchables' for details on the basic archetype.
-by nonomous

I'm glad someone finally grouped these similar organizations together.

It is simple , really. Al Queda is and always was a criminal gang. Forget that we should treat them as common criminals due to their international nature and their avowed goals of bringing down governments.

dymphna & nonomous are both on the right track. The antidote to such an organization would look something like the UN peacekeepers but with accountability throughout the ranks and with effective leadership.
-by enscout

I suspect that the modern era is unusually hard on community institutions that tie people together, as government and employer both are very impersonal and bureaucratized. With the rise of modern communications technologies, which make organizing groups much easier, I think "unofficial" replacements for those institutions are arising.

In America, we have online communities we can access from our own bedrooms instead. However, our government is not (for the most part) dysfunctional, so we don't create a substitute for it. Other countries may not be as lucky.
-by Mycroft

So what parts of the world can be considered functioning right now? North America, much of South America, the European Union, Putin?s Russia, Japan and Asia?s emerging economies (most notably China and India), Australia and New Zealand, and South Africa, which accounts for roughly four billion out of a global population of six billion.

Even within nation-states there is this divide, between those who have merged into the globalization freeway and those who have been flattened on the on-ramp. And the fact that the more people who have merged, the farther ahead they move beyond those who have not is a sign of trouble to come. When the average Singaporean has twice the income of the average Indonesian there is irritation; when the gap is five- or tenfold there is violent outrage. Given that being on the outside looking in doesn't prevent you from using the modern world's technology against it (viz., ramming aircraft into office towers with only a handful of box cutters as weapons), such technology will offer the functioning parts of the world little haven.

One could also imagine sections of much of the modern world lapsing into dysfunction - the slums in LA or Paris, large chunks of Rio and Sao Paolo (indeed much of South America once the world moves away from its overpriced oil), etc. So it will not be nearly as much an interstate problem as one demanding interstate cooperation against distinct but similar interior foes.
-by Evan

Uhm, while the press are using the term "gangs", they are actually leftist political organizations. If you dig into it you discover these are agitation groups with connections to the communist party. I also suspect that if someone digs even deeper, they will find a link to Venezuela somewhere in the money trail.

The difference between past communist movements in that area of the world and this one is that this one is backed by Venezuelan oil revenue.
-by crosspatch

You need to be really, really careful about analyses, like Barnett's, that the world has changed and the old rules don't apply. Too often, we get sucked into the newest management consulting fad with "net centric warfare" or "4th generational conflict." Maybe we would be better off reading Thucydides and assuming the nature of Man has not changed.
-by Joshua Chamberlain

Wretchard said ... "But the pitchmen may come later. Money can buy respectable apologists and not simply for cults."

Yes, money can buy such people. Yet money is not always required. MEMRI reports today that Noam Chomsky was recently in Beirut meeting with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. Here are some choice quotes:

"According to Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV network, Professor Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) visited Hizbullah headquarters this week, meeting with the organization's secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in a Beirut suburb as well as with other Hizbullah leaders. The U.S. State Department lists Hizbullah as a "terrorist organization." (1) It should be noted that Sheikh Nasrallah frequently calls for the destruction of the U.S.(2)"

Al-Manar goes on to state, "When asked about the U.S. list of terrorist states, he [Chomsky] said [that] if the U.S. was to stick to the clear and precise definition of terrorism in its code of laws, it would be the leading terrorist state."(3)

Link to MEMRI dispatch

Beyond shameful.
-by Starling David Hunter
Personally, I see this as a conflict that's been active since the world began, good versus evil. It takes different guises and different masks, but it's the same old story. For a time, we were able to isolate ourselves from the raw nature of this conflict by time and technology, but the technology is getting so widespread and cheaply available that the barriers will not protect us and isolation is no use. We'll have to face this evil once again, and face it with courage, honor, and strength that the west has largely lost due to sloth and ease.

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Anna Venger said...

Sometimes as we look at the problems we face in our own nation, we become myopic and hyperfocused on all the ills. This post reminds me of how good we have it here. I thank God that my family and I live in relative safety here in the U.S.

I could say some things about Brazil, but that would hardly be appropriate. I grieve for the innocents suffering there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for citing my words. They were typed with trembled hands. I do think that we must reform our laws which are intended to fight crimes. ZERO TOLERANCE could be a good way. In fact, our authorities could at least intimidate criminals which is something that clearly does not happen.

Christopher R Taylor said...

Thank you, Lalia, for your information. I agree that we need to fight crime, all of us, wherever we live, with vigor and a true sense of justice and right. In Los Angeles, for example, there are areas that police don't tend to go because they are so controlled by latino gangs. That's something that must stop. This may seem to trivialize the problem and I do not mean to, but in the movie Batman Begins, one of the characters has a great line: "criminals thrive upon the indulgence of society."

Teacher Laila Chris said...

11 years later, and the organized crime in Brazil is killing hundred in penitentiaries all over the country (mainly in the North). There are riots going on in every prison where we find the top drug dealers, worst rapists, and fearless kidnappers. They are being killed by hundreds and cruelty is a soft word to describe the tortures these criminals are going through. The organized gangs are killing one another by the name of a so-called ethic code they have and they claim it has been broken. It is a war situation. I've never seen such horror scenes in real life before.