Brazil’s PCC Expanding Influence Throughout the Country

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Brazilian prison gang the PCC have grown into one of the country’s biggest criminal groups and have been pushing their operations beyond their traditional stronghold of São Paulo in recent years, according to a new report, threatening to become a major player in regional organized crime.

The First Capital Command (PCC) was formed in 1993 by eight prisoners serving sentences in São Paulo’s maximum security Taubate prison. Since these relatively small beginnings, the gang has grown to dominate organized crime in São Paulo, assuming control of drugs and arms trafficking routes running through the state.

Not only does it control São Paulo’s illicit trades but has also registered a presence in neighboring Paraguay and Bolivia from where the gang ships back marijuana, coca base and cocaine back to Brazil.

While the PCC have ordinarily kept a focus on their São Paulo operations, evidence has been emerging in recent years that they are expanding their power base and moving to the far corners of Brazil as arms and narcotics suppliers. A new report by Brazilian magazine ISTOE documents recent evidence of this push beyond São Paulo, something which threatens to make the PCC the biggest gang in Brazil.

The following is InSight Crime’s translation of sections from the Revista ISTOE’s report.

Members of the PCC have carried out bank robberies in northeast Brazil where they have also been found to sell arms and drugs to local traffickers while shipments of marijuana marked with the gang’s initials have been seized in the southeast state of Minas Gerais.

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These cases are just a few examples of how far the tentacles of Brazil’s largest criminal group now extend beyond the borders of São Paulo. More recently, a rebellion in a jail in the northeast state of Piaui serves as an indication both of the group’s strength and their reach. The rebellion was led by PCC leader Jose Ivaldo Celestino dos Santos, apparently started after Piaui’s attorney general tried to transfer him to a federal prison. The transfer was unsuccessful.

A survey conducted by São Paulo prosecutor Marcio Sergio Christino shows that there are dozens of cases going through courts in the north and south of the country that involve the PCC. “These documents demonstrate that the PCC are active in other states,” says the prosecutor, a specialist in combating organized crime.

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The first signs of a PCC expansion were detected in 2006 by the Parliamentary Investigative Commission (CPI) into Arms Trafficking when it emerged that PCC leader Marcos Williams Herbas Camacho, alias “Marcola,” had chosen trafficker Sidnei Romulado, a native of Paraiba state in the northeast, to lead the PCC’s actions up there. Though Romulado was arrested in the state of Pernambuco, this did little to halt the PCC’s expansion. The transfer of six PCC members from prisons in the northeast state of Alagoas to federal institutions within the last three years supports this.

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“The 2006 São Paulo attacks [when violence initiated by the PCC erupted throughout the city] bolstered the PCC’s reputation throughout the whole country, though there are still places where they lack influence, namely Rio de Janeiro,” said Guaracy Mingardi, the former National Public Security Secretary. “Their presence is more concentrated in the prisons of Parana, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, states that are essential for the control of arms and drug trafficking routes.”

As a result of controlling the drug trade in São Paulo, one of Brazil’s biggest transit hubs, the PCC is the main provider of illicit goods to gangs in the northeast. “The arrival of coca base in the eastern state of Bahia and its distribution to drug traffickers there is invariably linked to the PCC,” says Bahia organized crime prosecutor Ariovaldo Figueiredo.

PCC operatives are also involved in drug disputes in Bahia. “Local criminal groups, with the support of the PCC, are waging urban warfare,” says Figueiredo. The number of homicides in the state has increased some 450 percent from 1999-2010, according to the Sangari Institute.

There is another way the PCC links with local gangs and that is through training in criminal tactics conducted by specialists from São Paolo. In May, the leader of a gang of ATM robbers in Santa Catarina, Jose Luiz Freitas, received training from PCC operatives from São Paulo. He also received arms, munitions and explosives to blow apart the ATM machines.

“Some 40-50 percent of the earnings from this operation were sent back to the PCC,” says Diego Azevedo, the man who arrested Freitas. Santa Catarina court documents show that the criminal band linked to the PCC, known as the Primeiro Grupo Catarinense, was created seven years ago.

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Police in Minas Gerais, Parana, Santa Catarina and São Paulo frequently share intelligence on the PCC. The Northeast Security Council has also discussed the gang’s presence in the region. “Collaboration has been intense so that we can avoid the PCC becoming as strong as it is in São Paulo,” says Maranhão secretary Aluisio Mendes.

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