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Inside Brazil’s Deadliest Drug Gangs | News on Drugs

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Brazil is the second biggest consumer of cocaine in the world, after the US – and the biggest consumer of crack.

Brazil’s drug gangs are on the rise taking control of the international cocaine trade and of brazilian cities themselves in this episode we’re looking at how these gangs operate using extreme violence to seize power and defend their territory i’m just rafaeli i’ve spent years writing about drugs why people use them and why our governments chose to declare war on

Them advice we make a lot of films about drugs but in this show i get to dig a bit deeper i get to talk to fellow expert drug nerds about their research to the crazy world of mind-altering substances varabiov has covered the global drug trade from colombia to japan today he’s talking about his experiences with the dealers and hitmen of brazil’s deadliest drug

Gangs nico welcome to news on drugs glad to be here so how does a guy from bristol uk end up hanging around drugs gangs in rio de janeiro once upon a time i was a bit of a naughty boy i was selling uh drugs on the university campus mostly uh coke weed mdma so everything you need for a night out and also at illegal rape parties until one day i very stupidly got

Caught and wound up in prison and while i was locked up i started writing letters to the outside people said i was good at writing and that kind of turned into a career and eventually i wrote my first book dope world exploring the war on drugs over the world from south america to the far east and what was your first experience of the favela drug scene in brazil so

Favela it’s basically a squat settlement in rio de janeiro and other cities and for a long time you can even find them on the map because officially they didn’t exist and now that’s led to a situation where drug gangs directed control a lot of these areas i mean if you go there it really looks like you’re in a rebel-held area in a civil war because you’ve got lads

Walking around openly with machine guns across their shoulder wearing flip-flops flip-flop insurgency basically i called my friend in rocinha which is the biggest favela in rio de janeiro and he invited me to a funk party so it’s basically just massive street party every week hosted by the drug lords and number one it’s a way of making money for them but number two

It’s a way to show their presence uh good or bad in the community it was a little bit surreal you’ve got basically these drug stalls where you’ve got 14 15 year old kids and baseball caps selling coke weed ecstasy and then of course they’ve got security standing next to them the guys will be assault rifles and any kind of broader picture how did drugs function in

These communities and kind of across brazilian society so the two main commodities sold in rio are coke crack and maconia which is another word for weed most of the weed isn’t that good most of it comes from paraguay but they didn’t just serve like the the local residents because obviously the whole spectrum of society wants to get high and it’s all sold openly in

The favelas you know like they’re like there are hot dogs or soda cans there’s no attempt to hide at all sometimes you know people from the middle and upper classes they’re scared to develop because they think hey they’ll get robbed or b the cops will nab it on the way out so they’re these kind of go-betweens who call themselves airplanes so you play snored with

Them and they pick it up for you crack is also another popular drug in brazil as is a cocoa paste like unprocessed cocoa paste it’s generally considered like more of like lower classes things like we see sort of like this classism between drug users and then there’s also these areas in rio sao paulo and maybe other cities called the crack lands which is exactly

What it sounds like it’s an area where people smoke crack usually in a run down area of the city so when we speak about gangs in brazil who exactly are we talking about there’s a myriad of different underworld factions in brazil but the two biggest and most important are red command or cv which is based out of the favelas of rio de janeiro and then you’ve got

An array of local gangs such as their command and friends of friends which are also in rio guardians of the state which is based in the northeast around the fortaleza and the north family which is based in the amazon it’s kind of like game of thrones trying to keep track of all these alliances and who’s fighting who which is one of the reasons why brazil’s murder

Rate is so high and add to that there’s another player in the mix who play by a different set of rules these drug gangs which is called the militia we’re basically made up of cops or ex-cops and they’re basically mobsters with day jobs and these gangs really control entire areas and districts don’t they the gangs basically exercise authority because the state

Has basically abandoned these areas they act as the de facto authorities in these errors they practice their own brand of law and order as well so if you’re caught stealing you can catch a bullet through the hand or the foot and the police can’t really go there as they would normally because hey the knock goes their arm to the teeth what’s been happening in the

Past several years is the pure third command which is in the splinter faction of their command they’ve actually adopted evangelical christianity as their official religion so they’re swinging coke for christ which sounds funny but they’ve actually become kind of like the brazilian taliban they outlawed afro-brazilian religions they attack their shrines and they’re

Waging what they consider to be a holy war and they can get away with it because again they defect to control these areas some of the kids you see selling coke or selling crack or even holding guns about 13 14 years old and also i mean you know the life expectancy for these guys isn’t very high either so one reason why these gangs have such successful recruitment is

Basically lack of opportunities so i actually met one gang boss from red commander he actually had a university degree but he didn’t really feel respected there’s still quite a lot of racism in brazil being fell respected by the by the customers and due respect by supervisors like even though he was a good salesman he was always getting passed over for promotion so

He was thinking all right this why should i toil away in a nine to five when i could be making all this money back in my own neighborhood which sounds like it makes sense uh until you factor in the life expectancy of these guys you don’t see very many middle-aged narcos rolling around rio and where did these gangs start and how did they attain so much power in the

1970s brazil was under military dictatorship and on the island of ila grande where the political prisoners and members of radical weapon groups were held so what happened was they started mixing with the regular prisoners like the thieves and the stick-up artists and uh they began to teach them how to bear rope banks using military tactics and also their ideology

So when they got out they started calling their bank robberies expropriations so in the beginning the red command was a was a communist group that’s why they called themselves the red command but sometime around the 80s they they more or less abandoned the class struggle once cocaine got involved by that point they had members in almost every favela in rio but

Then as it happens gang leaders within the red command’s umbrella wants the bigger piece of the pie so by the early 2000s you had three splinter factions you had friends of friends or other third command and then most recently pure third commander the first command of the capital or the pcc had a very similar origin story to the red command in that it was born in

Prison as well there was a huge prison riot in sao paulo in 1992 police stormed the place and massacred more than 100 inmates and after that the pcc was formed banding together to protect prisoners rights it reinforced security for the prisoners to for example forbid prison rape which obviously made it very popular among the uh the convict population the big boss

Of the pcc is nicknamed marcola he’s of brazilian and bolivian origin he runs the whole organization from prison and with red command it’s kind of like a franchise kind of like mcdonald’s so again like the different the gang bosses in the different favelas they’ve got quite a lot of autonomy uh aside from kind of like the main kind of governing structure of the

Organization itself and when these gangs clash what kind of violence are we talking about here the gang wars in brazil are fought both in the streets and in prison and for decades the pcc and the red command had an uneasy piece but that all blew up in 2017 when they clashed over drug trafficking roots to the amazon 56 inmates were killed in uh in the first prison

Riot i absolutely butchered like their heads thrown over the walls at the same time you’ve got a street world waging between all these different drug connections as well as the police and the militia the major beef in rio right now is between the militia which is the mafia of crooked cops and red cap man but obviously the mercy have the advice because they’re

They’re caught and actually about that there’s another whole type of violence which is when the police get involved how does law enforcement even fit into this brazil was the first country in the americas to outlaw marijuana back when uh when rio banded in 1830 and it was already racialized back then because it was seen as something associated with the slaves

So the slaves brought it over from africa it was also the last country in the western hemisphere to outlaw slavery in 1888 the legacy of which we’re still dealing with today so people who are lighter skinned tend to be better off where it’s often black and brown people who suffer the most in the war on drugs when the police launch an anti-drug operation they’ve

Got to go all out it’s almost like a military operation with armored personnel carriers and helicopters they’ve literally got to invade and occupy the favela and when that happens they just shoot anything that moves so by 2019 police in rio were killing five people a day most of whom were young black and poor and you know i’ve interviewed police i’ve interviewed

Members of op which is the elite team unit of the rio police and i know that they’re coming under fire as well you know but there’s also plenty of very credible reports and even videos of the police executing suspects or just little girls getting caught in a shootout and this year in just one operation 26 people were killed in one day and that was the bloodiest

Operation in the history of rio since last year when 28 people were killed in one day and did you ever feel in personal danger there when i went to interview the boss of red command and rossignol i cleared it with everyone beforehand so everyone knew i was coming and actually turned out that me and him had the same birthday and he invited me to his barbecue the

Next day but the thing is uh to make the interview worth as well i also bought a couple of ecstasy pills off him which me and my girlfriend ended up taking that night so the next day you know i was in no condition to go to any drug wards barbecue but there was one time i was taking a taxi back to my girlfriend’s house it was around 2am and the cars windows were

Up so you couldn’t see who’s inside so we parked up outside her house and just then a man steps out of the shadows dressed all in blacks he’s got black jeans like t-shirt like baseball cap he’s pointing piss on my side of the car and staying something in portuguese uh the driver presses the button to slowly roll down the window i’m just there with my hands up

Sheepishly like esto gringo no fight which means i’m a foreigner i don’t speak portuguese the guy obviously knew who i was by then because like i’m the only gringo in the neighborhood so he’s just like puts his gun away he’s like all right go on then but it’s not just the domestic market how does brazil fit into the picture of global drug trafficking what we’re

Seeing in the especially in the past several years is that brazilian ports on the atlantic coast like santos and fortaleza they’re becoming springboards for cocaine passing on to europe and a lot of that has to do with the pcc or the first command of the capital which started out as a prison gang in sao paulo in the 90s but it’s now the probably the biggest crime

Syndicate in the whole of south america and they’re actually trying to control the whole supply chain starting from bolivia then through paraguay and onto the coast of brazil working together with the andrangeta which is the italian mafia who are waiting to receive it on the other end in europe and pcc’s expansion over latin america’s cocaine trees kicked off

Another cycle of violence as they muscle in on other interests of parties along that route the cocaine trafficking routes uh going through brazil they’re mainly for the european and occasionally the african market not so much the united states because that’s the the northward routes that’s supplied by mexico honduras the african connection is interesting because

As well as uh brazil being a foreign portuguese colony portugal also colonies in africa as well such as angola and mozambique and what we’re seeing now is the portuguese language is kind of acting as a bridge for traffickers across the atlantic and quite recently a trafficker from the pcc the first command of the capital was caught in mozambique mozambique’s uh

Increasingly becoming kind of like a waypoint for coke going to south africa which is the biggest drug market in the region but also from south africa it also travels across the african continent and some of it makes its way to europe as well so these gangs can also operate in highly organized ways almost like paramilitary organizations there’s been quite a few

Instances where the gangs have actually put on a very impressive show of force against the state to undermine the state authority the one people probably the most remember is in 2006 when prison authorities they tried to move some of the shot cars from the pcc to another prison and the pcc responded by basically shutting down and laying siege to the city of sao

Paulo which is the biggest financial center of latin america for several days and they were torching buses they’re blowing up banks uh they’re going around shooting cops and we saw that also again at the beginning of 2019 after bolsonaro got elected because of his tough and crime message the gangs in the northeast which includes the red command and pcc and the

Guardians of the state they uh put aside their differences and they launched coordinated attacks they cut power lines and they torched buses again basically to send the message to bolsonaro that the right to fight back what happens a lot is they also invite quite a heavy response onto themselves so after the 2006 siege of sao paulo the police death squads went

Around executing suspects in retaliation and i think dozens more people died and had actually died in the initial attack itself and how has the current president jair bolsonaro tried to deal with all this trouble gerar bolsonaro uh was elected on a very kind of arch conservative platform among that being tough on crime he was very aggressive in his rhetoric he

Was saying things like crush them like cockroaches but one thing that we should remember is he isn’t calling all the shots in this situation so in 2019 when the police really stepped up the drug war in rio the city’s governor was wilson witzel who was one of bolsonaro’s allies who filmed himself riding police helicopters and saying things like aim at their little

Heads and fire and i’d say that he and uh the current governor of rio claudio castro they’re more directly responsible than bolsonaro the police are still being given the go-ahead by the mayors and the governors to do their thing while bolsonaro is in charge and what about corruption are the politicians and cops getting in on the drugs racket so the way bolsonaro

Got votes into power was there was all these corruption scandals with the past ruling parties and both both sonar and a lot of his voters were nostalgic for the era of military dictatorship which was seen as maybe it was morally corrupt in the sense that they tortured political opponents but it wasn’t corrupt in the sense of dodgy briefcase to the cash but it

Turns out that his government’s been just as corrupt as any of them so there’s that one funny story where an air force officer in bolsonaro’s entourage on the way to the g20 summit was caught with 39 kilos of cocaine and you could say okay that was a one-off you know people fall prey to temptation everywhere then you have to start looking into the militia at

The beginning when they go into an era they pose as vigilantes so they say we’re going to defend you ordinary citizens from the robbers and the drug dealers a little time goes by and they go around people’s doors saying you know it’d be nice if you guys chipped in for some security every now and then and then like when they’ve got a firm foothold then it’s more

Like you know nice ice cream style you got there be ashamed it all melted so basically they’re like a mafia and actually my ex-girlfriend she lived in an area controlled by militia and she paid her electricity bills through them so the militia got a cut of everyone’s electric bill in the whole neighborhood and there was one malicious group in particular called

The crime bureau which assassinated mariel franco it was a popular young black politician in rio who campaigned against police brutality and the head of that death squad was actually awarded the medal by bolsonaro’s son while he was facing another murder charge while the shooter himself was literally one of bolsonaro’s neighbors there’s photos of them together

And apparently his daughter had been dating bolsonaro’s son i’m not saying that both scenario had anything to do with the hit but you know looking at the kind of people he hangs out with you start asking questions and 2022 is an election year in brazil how do you see the future of the narco trade playing out there in october this year bolsonaro is going to be

Running against lula who was one of brazil’s most popular presidents it’s unlikely that lou is going to be as aggressive as bolsonaro and it’s uh probably fairly accurate to say that uh the war on drugs in brazil gone beyond a left or right issue on the one side you’ve got groups like left command who had kind of almost communist roots you could say and they’re

A drug gang on the other hand you’ve got the militia who are like very obviously far right you know like affiliated with with the bolsonaro family so it’s hard to imagine drug policy there becoming progressive anytime soon

Transcribed from video
Inside Brazil's Deadliest Drug Gangs | News on Drugs By VICE News