The Pure Third Command (Terceiro Comando Puro) is one of the most powerful criminal groups in Brazil’s second largest city, Rio de Janeiro. Its origins can be traced back to a split within the Rio-based Red Command prison gang in the mid-1980s. While the Pure Third Command is not as dominant as its rivals like the Red Command or the Rio-based Amigos dos Amigos, the group has maintained strongholds in north and west Rio and may be forging new alliances to expand their territorial control.
The Pure Third Command, founded in 2002, has its roots in the now-defunct Third Command (Terceiro Comando). In the mid-1980s, enterprising members of the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) split off to form the breakaway group to take advantage of Brazil’s rapidly expanding drug market.
Some analysts have suggested the impetus for the split was a leadership vacuum in the Red Command, which at the time was headed by a younger generation of less-stable gangsters. The dissident Red Command members who formed the Third Command were seeking to establish a more efficient, business-like approach to the drug trade.
Throughout most of the 1990s, the Red Command and its offshoot, the Third Command, were the dominant criminal actors in Rio de Janeiro, with their affiliates battling over control of drug trafficking and extortion rackets across the city.
The Third Command formed a loose alliance in the late 1990s with another newly emerging breakaway group formed by ex-Red Command members known as Amigos dos Amigos. Both gangs concentrated their efforts on territory held by the Red Command.
The Third Command-Amigos dos Amigos pact sparked tensions that eventually led to the collapse of the Third Command in the early 2000s. Third Command kingpin Nei da Conceição Cruz, alias “Facão,” who oversaw the group’s drug trafficking activities in the northern area of Rio known as Complexo da Mare, became frustrated over a perceived encroachment on his territory by Amigos dos Amigos boss Paulo Cesar Silva dos Santos, alias “Linho.” As a result, Facão split from the Third Command in 2002, creating his own organization and declaring war on both former allies.
Facão’s group remained a relatively minor player until September 2002, when the Third Command’s imprisoned leadership was wiped out in a series of hits orchestrated by the Red Command with the help of Amigos dos Amigos co-founder Celso Luis Rodrigues, alias “Celsinho da Vila Vintem.”
The Third Command’s remaining members defected to more powerful organizations. Most local drug bosses swore their allegiance to either the Amigos dos Amigos or Facão, who took advantage of the incident to name his gang the “Pure” Third Command.
The Pure Third Command has since dominated control over drug sales in northern and western Rio, with a particularly strong presence in the Senador Camará neighborhood in the city’s West Zone and Ilha do Governador, the largest island in Rio’s Guanabara Bay. In recent years, the criminal group has expanded its activities from drug trafficking to extortion of basic services in the neighborhoods under its control.
In 2018, authorities in Rio de Janeiro began investigating rumors that the Pure Third Command had formed an alliance with the Amigos dos Amigos, creating a new faction called the Amigos’ Third Command (Terceiro Comando dos Amigos). According to Rio de Janeiro police intelligence, imprisoned Amigos dos Amigos drug boss Antônio Bonfim Lopes, alias “Nem,” has supplied the new group with weapons. This offshoot of the Pure Third Command is also thought to have formed an alliance with Brazil’s largest and best-organized criminal organization, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), following the 2016 dissolution of the group’s long-standing truce with the Red Command.
The Pure Third Command, like Rio’s other top criminal groups, lacks a strong hierarchy. Rather than a vertical, mafia-type organization, the group functions as a loose horizontal coalition of local crime bosses who forge alliances based on mutually beneficial interests. Many of the Pure Third Command’s top leaders have avoided arrest by employing an effective system of lookouts and paying bribes to both civil and military police officers.
The group’s founding leader Facão was arrested and imprisoned in 2009, and was succeeded by Marcio José Sabino Pereira, alias “Matemático,” until his death during a 2012 gunfight with police.
Fernando Gomes de Freitas, alias “Fernandinho Guarabu,” remains the Pure Third Command’s oldest leader still presiding over criminal activities. For more than a decade, Fernandinho Guarabu has overseen the group’s territorial hold over neighborhoods on Ilha do Governador. Despite repeated police operations in the area over the years, Fernandinho Guarabu has consistently evaded arrest.
In 2017, Fernandinho Guarabu’s right-hand man Felipe Freire Melo was arrested on accusations he led a string of armed robberies of cargo trucks and was involved in drug trafficking activities.
While groups affiliated with the Pure Third Command operate across Rio de Janeiro, their territorial control is strongest in the North and West zones of the city. Their traditional strongholds include the neighborhoods of Ilha do Governador, Senador Camará and Complexo da Maré. The group may be attempting to expand its presence, having been accused in 2018 of attempting to invade the Red Command-controlled neighborhood of Morro da Babilônia in southern Rio de Janeiro.
Allies and Enemies
The Pure Third Command has traditionally been pitted against Rio de Janeiro’s other two largest gangs, the Amigos dos Amigos and the Red Command. However, in recent years, the group may have forged an alliance with the Amigos dos Amigos, and may be partnering up with the São Paulo-based PCC to challenge the Red Command’s dominance in Rio de Janeiro.
The Pure Third Command’s main allies are corrupt security force officers, who largely turn a blind eye to their activities in exchange for kickbacks, and may occasionally supply the group with weapons.
The Pure Third Command has maintained control over key drug trafficking areas in north and west Rio de Janeiro despite temporary disruptions to their activities caused by police operations in the mid-2010s. Currently, the group may be attempting to monopolize on rising tensions following the 2016 breakdown of a truce between the Red Command and the PCC. Following the 2018 deployment of the national military to preside over Rio de Janeiro’s security operations, a Pure Third Command leader told an international news outlet that “nothing will change,” claiming the group will continue to sell drugs and retake control over important territory after the military presence is scaled back.