Surge in Brazil Prison Murders Likely Linked to New Gang War

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Prison murders have surged 60 percent in parts of northern Brazil, a potential sign of the serious repercussions of a new war between the country’s two most powerful gangs.

So far this year, there have been 88 murders in prison facilities located in the states of Acre, Ceará, Mato Grosso do Sul, Piauí and Roraima, compared to 55 in 2015, according to an investigation by O Globo. All of these states are in northern Brazil except for Mato Gosso do Sul, which is in the southwest.

In many states, this rise in violence has been attributed to a battle between two “factions originating in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo,” O Globo reported.

A prison official in Acre told O Globo that “There is a clear struggle for power and turf between the two main factions in the country, creating a frightening situation.”

Although the article does not specify names, the main criminal organizations in Brazil are the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV), both of whom started as prison gangs and continue to exert a strong influence in the country’s penitentiary system.

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Ceará has registered the greatest number of deaths with 41, while Roraima has seen murders rise from four in 2015 to 14 so far this year, according to the news outlet. In Mato Grosso do Sul the number of prison killings has increased from nine to 17.

InSight Crime Analysis

While gang-related prison violence is a common occurrence in Brazil’s penitentiaries, this current bout of violence in northern states could be illustrative of broader underworld dynamics.

Brazil’s prison system was shaken up earlier this year after violence broke out between PCC and CV in the northern states of Roraima and Rondônia, leaving at least 18 people dead. Following the riots, reports emerged that the most powerful criminal organization in the country — the PCC — had declared a nationwide war on their former allies in the CV.

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But the PCC and CV are not the only players behind the rising violence in the north. Lloyd Belton, a political and country risk analyst at the consulting firm S-RM, told InSight Crime that smaller groups have “shaken up the traditional status quo” among PCC and CV inmates. In particular, the rivalry between CV ally Family of the North (Família do Norte – FDN) and the PCC is believed to have created the current fissure between the PCC and CV.  

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