How Brazil World Cup May Boost Smaller Criminal Groups

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Authorities in Brazil are concentrating public security on high-profile organized crime groups and in World Cup 2014 host states, providing an opportunity for lesser known criminal groups to expand in peripheral regions, according to a new report from Southern Pulse.

Southern Pulse, a boutique risk analysis firm based in the Washington DC area, says limited federal security resources are concentrated on two criminal organizations — São Paulo’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Rio de Janeiro’s Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV). The Special Secretariat for Security of Large Events (SESGE), meanwhile, is focusing its $700 million World Cup budget on São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and dividing the rest among the other ten World Cup host cities, which the report says “ignores problems in the other 16 Brazilian states.”

The report emphasizes the danger of this policy. 

“Ahead of the 2014 World Cup, states across Brazil have been left outside the international spotlight attracted by international sporting events,” Southern Pulse says. “They represent disparate pockets where local and state governments face an uphill battle against criminal systems as complex as those presented by the PCC and CV.”

Southern Pulse says groups like the First Catarinense Group (Primeiro Grupo Catarinense – PGC), which operates in the southern state of Santa Catarina, are being ignored. It outlines how the PGC has emerged from relative obscurity to invoke three waves of violence over the past year. In response, in February the government sent in the National Security Force (FNS) — a federal emergency policing squad.CriminalAttacksInSantaCatalina

According to Southern Pulse, the PGC is inspired by the PCC — Brazil’s largest organized crime group. A report from BBC Brasil earlier this year suggested the PGC was established five years ago, after one of its leaders was imprisoned with PCC members.

Southern Pulse says it is at least a decade old and that it was originally established by eight inmates housed in Florianopolis Penitentiary. It is now controlled by 24 prisoners in São Pedro de Alcantara Penitentiary, with both institutions in the greater metropolitan area of the state capital Florianopolis, the firm says. 

Both Southern Pulse and the BBC agree that the PGC has close to a 2,000-strong membership and a similar ideological and structural basis to the PCC. Like the PCC, the PGC is coordinated from prison and espouses inmates’ rights, while demanding financial support and a share of criminal proceeds from members on the outside. However, Southern Pulse notes that the PGC has a committee-based leadership structure, whereas the PCC relies on the direction of Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho, alias “Marcola.”  


The report emphasizes how cycles of violence — such as the three waves of disorder carried out by the PGC over the past year — are often the sign of a criminal organization’s development, as it seeks to establish its influence in the eyes of authorities and rival groups. The report points out how the focus of federal authorities elsewhere has facilitated such a development.

“Beyond any operations the PGC may arrange in its home state of Santa Catarina, the operational space granted by the federal government’s dogged focus elsewhere (and especially on World Cup preparations) has lowered barriers to entry and granted PGC criminal entrepreneurs a market opportunity to capitalize and grow rapidly,” Southern Pulse writes.

However, the report does not suggest a diversion of funding or any other measure could quickly resolve the threat posed by the PGC. Overcrowded prisons combine with a culture of mistreatment by prison guards feed recruitment, while a group with its leadership structure already behind bars is “nearly impossible” to dismantle, according to Southern Pulse. This is particularly true of the model employed by the PGC, with multiple heads that are each quickly replaced in the event of removal.

With Rio de Janeiro also set to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the report signs off with a strong warning about the future of the PGC and other regional groups. 

“As Brazil moves forward through several more years of international sporting events frenzy, observers remain concerned that the PGC is not just another PCC copycat but the vanguard of an entire new generation of homegrown public security concerns,” Southern Pulse writes.

In other words, the danger posed in Santa Catarina could be brewing nationwide.

InSight Crime Analysis

The PGC first announced its presence to a global audience in November 2012, with a wave of violence sweeping Santa Catarina and leaving several people dead. While initial reports linked the events to the PCC and violence in São Paulo at the time, other sources suggested the Santa Catarina disturbances were separate and fueled purely by mistreatment of prisoners in the state.

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Three months later, a video of abuse against inmates in a prison in Joinville, the state’s biggest city, went viral and sparked a second spate of attacks, in turn forcing the state governor to call for FNS deployment. In May, the PGC launched another phase of disorder and property damage, with Southern Pulse reporting more than 120 separate attacks across the state since the first violence six months earlier. (See map above)

What seems clear from this report and events over the past year is that the portrayal of the PGC as a mini-version or regional branch of the PCC is inaccurate. While the PGC has drawn heavy inspiration from the larger group, and appears to be a close ally, it remains a distinct threat. This separation is important because it means damage inflicted on the organizational structure of the PCC will not directly affect the PGC, so in focusing on the larger groups, Brazilian authorities are neglecting organizations with the potential to present a major security threat in the future.

If, as Southern Pulse suggests, the PGC are part of a rising tide of regional organized crime, Brazil’s upcoming international sporting events could be the backdrop to a set of unprecedented security challenges. 

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