Amigos dos Amigos is a criminal group based in Rio de Janeiro, set up by former members of the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) to fight that group’s dominance, together with current and former members of the security forces. It is currently one of the city’s biggest drug trafficking organizations, although its territory is threatened by the favela police pacification program (UPP).
In the mid-1990s, the demand for drugs in Rio de Janeiro was growing so fast that new criminal groups began to emerge. Amigos dos Amigos was founded in 1998 by criminals who had left the Red Command — Celso Luis Rodrigues, alias “Celsinho da Vila Vintem” and Ernaldo Pinto de Medeiros, alias “Ue” — along with ex-soldiers and marines, police, ex-police and drug traffickers. Ue had been expelled from the Red Command in 1994 for ordering the killing of leader Orlando da Conceição, alias “Orlando Jogador.”
The new group joined forces with the Third Command (Terceiro Comando), which had also been founded by dissident ex-members of the Red Command in the 1980s, in order to combat the dominant drug trafficking group.
Amigos dos Amigos Factbox
Drug transit, cocaine production, human trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling, kidnapping, prostitution rings
Principal criminal groups
Red Command (Comando Vermelho), First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), Third Command (Terceiro Comando), Amigos dos Amigos, militia groups
The emergence of Amigos dos Amigos caused the outbreak of new battles for territory in Rio. In turn, dissident members of the Third Command who opposed the new alliance broke away to form the Pure Capital Command (Terceiro Comando Puro – TCP), another competing Rio gang, and now one of Amigos dos Amigos’ biggest rivals.
Founding member Eu was killed in a prison riot in 2002, orchestrated by Red Command leader Luiz Fernando da Costa, alias “Fernandinho Beira-Mar.”
The organization has expanded quickly, and now dominates most of Rio’s North and West Zones. It took the crucial Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro’s largest, from the Red Command in 2004, and held it unopposed until 2011. Amigos dos Amigos are thought to wield significant social power in the communities they control, working to win people’s support through handouts, throwing parties, and providing some services, while the Red Command imposes itself more through violence.
Amigos dos Amigos made world headlines in October 2009 when a police helicopter crashed over Morro dos Macacos favela, which is controlled by the group. A gunbattle had broken out after Red Command members launched a bid to take over the neighborhood, and a helicopter pilot was shot and lost control of his aircraft, killing two.
In recent years, Amigos dos Amigos has been based in Rocinha, though its power there has been contested since the capture of boss Antonio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, alias “Nem,” in 2011.
Amigos dos Amigos saw its leader, Nem, captured by police before Rocinha favela was invaded as part of the police pacification program. Since then, rival groups like the Red Command have been able to move into their heartland.
Amigos dos Amigos’ powerbase is in Rocinha favela, in Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone.
Allies and enemies
Amigos dos Amigos’ biggest enemies are the Red Command and the Pure Third Command, both based in Rio. Nevertheless, Amigos dos Amigos has reportedly held off attacks against the Red Command at times due to the security crackdown in Rio’s favelas that has weakened both gangs.
The group is threatened by the favela police pacification program (UPP), which first sends the security forces to “invade” favelas controlled by drug gangs, then installs long-term police forces in these areas. However, Amigos dos Amigos has reportedly begun to take back some territory in Rocinha.