Amigos dos Amigos is a criminal group based in Brazil’s second-largest city, Rio de Janeiro. The organization was formed in the late 1990s by ex-members of the powerful Red Command (Comando Vermelho) who broke off to fight the group’s dominance by pairing up with corrupt current and former members of the security forces. Amigos dos Amigos is one of Rio’s biggest drug trafficking organizations, but recent dissidence by high-ranking members and clashes with rival groups for territorial control are currently weakening its stronghold.
Amigos dos Amigos was founded in 1998 by criminals Celso Luis Rodrigues, alias “Celsinho da Vila Vintem,” and Ernaldo Pinto de Medeiros, alias “Ue,” who left Brazil’s oldest criminal group the Red Command and paired up with drug traffickers and former and current soldiers, marines and police officers. Ue had been expelled from the Red Command in 1994 for ordering the killing of leader Orlando da Conceição, alias “Orlando Jogador.”
The newly formed Amigos dos Amigos, like many other criminal groups emerging in Rio de Janeiro during the mid to late-1990s, sought to cash in on the city’s fast-growing demand for drugs. In order to fight off the dominant Red Command, the new group joined forces with the Third Command (Terceiro Comando), another group founded by dissident ex-Red Command members in the 1980s.
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.” Antônio Francisco Bonfim Lopes, alias “Nem,” took over control as the Amigos dos Amigos’ top boss.
The organization expanded quickly, dominating most of Rio’s north and west zones in the early 2000s. By 2004, Amigos dos Amigos took over the Red Command’s control of Rio’s largest favela, Rocinha, and held it unopposed until 2011, when Nem’s arrest sparked ongoing turf wars.
Amigos dos Amigos is thought to wield significant social power in the communities it controls, working to win residents’ support by providing services, throwing parties and distributing handouts, while the Red Command more often imposes itself through violence.
Amigos dos Amigos broke into international headlines in October 2009 when a police helicopter crashed in the favela Morro dos Macacos, which was controlled by the group. The police pilot lost control after getting caught in the crossfire of a gun battle started by Red Command members launching an unsuccessful bid to take over the neighborhood.
Amigos dos Amigos once again entered the spotlight in 2014 when a faction led by Celso Pinheiro Pimenta, alias “Playboy,” broke into a pool set to be used for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and posed for photos swimming with assault rifles. Ahead of the Olympics, the Amigos dos Amigos and Rio’s two other largest criminal groups, the Red Command and Pure Third Command, engaged in shootouts with each other and security forces during intensifying disputes for territorial control.
By 2016, Amigos dos Amigos was rumored to have formed a partnership with the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), the most powerful and best-organized criminal structure in Brazil. That year, tensions between the São Paulo-based PCC and the Red Command mounted in Rio and across the country following the breakdown of a long-standing alliance between the two groups.
Gun battles in Rocinha escalated in late 2017 when Rogério 157, Nem’s former second-in-command, broke from Amigos dos Amigos and joined forces with the rival Red Command in an attempt to take over the neighborhood’s profitable drug trade. Rogério 157 was arrested in December 2017, but is likely continuing to conduct criminal activities from prison.
Amigos dos Amigos’ top leader Nem was captured by police in 2011 ahead of an occupation of Rocinha carried out as part of a flawed police pacification program. Although Nem is reported to have continued running the group from prison, in his absence, rival groups like the Red Command and dissident former members like Nem’s ex-bodyguard Rogério 157 are fighting for control of the group’s strongholds.
Amigos dos Amigos’ main area of operations is Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, located in the city’s south zone. This area provides the group with lucrative drug trafficking routes and markets, but the territory is currently under violent despite with rivals.
Allies and Enemies
Amigos dos Amigos’ biggest enemies are the Rio-based Red Command and Pure Third Command. A security crackdown launched in 2008 temporarily weakened the Amigos dos Amigos and the Red Command, tempering attacks that resumed in late 2015.
According to security experts consulted by InSight Crime in 2017, Amigos dos Amigos may have partnered with the São Paulo-based PCC gang, which is reportedly trying to weaken the control of its rival, the Red Command, in Rio de Janeiro.
Police operations in the mid-2010s temporarily disrupted the operations of Amigos dos Amigos, but the group managed to regain much of its control over key territory in Rocinha. Nonetheless, current dissidence within the group and increasingly frequent clashes with rivals and security forces may be weakening its control once again.