In Brazil, A Prison Riot Written On The Wall In Gang Blood

All signs say the 56 prisoners killed inside the Anisio Jobim Prison Complex are part of an ongoing drug gang feud on the outside.

Woman reacting to the prison killings in Manaus on Jan. 2
Woman reacting to the prison killings in Manaus on Jan. 2
Fabiano Maisonnave


SAO PAULO — Despite the number of casualties, the riot and subsequent massacre in a prison in Manaus, the biggest in the Amazonas state, was no surprise to informed observers. A key exception, however, may have been Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes, who back in October had described the ongoing dispute between criminal gangs as "mere bravado."

Everything indicates that the 56 prisoners killed between Sunday and Monday at the Anisio Jobim Prison Complex are part of the chronology of war initiated in June between two drug gangs, First Capital Command ("Primeiro Comando da Capital", PCC) and Red Command ("Comando Vermelho", CV), over the control of the border between the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraguay — the main entry point for drugs into Brazil.

On June 15, drug trafficker Jorge Rafaat Toumani was killed in the border city of Pedro Juan Caballero in a Hollywood-like shootout that lasted four hours and involved about 70 criminals. The attack was attributed to the PCC.

From mid-October, the war descended into score-settlings in penitentiaries of northern Brazil, a consequence of alliances between the PCC and the CV with regional criminal organizations.

The first massacre took place in Boa Vista, in the state of Roraima, with 10 dead. It was followed by similar events in Porto Velho, in the Rondônia state, with eight killed and in Rio Branco, the capital of the state of Acre, where four assassinations took place inside the prison and five in the city's streets in the span of 24 hours. In all those cases, investigations have pointed to a gang war as the root cause.

The incapacity of these overpopulated prison complexes to manage their inmates is, also, nothing new. Interviewed just after the latest slaughter, Emylson da Silva, public security chief in the neighboring state of Acre, acknowledged that in such conditions there's often no way to avoid the violence. "There are 10 people inside one cell. If anybody in there decides they're going to execute somebody, it's very difficult to avoid it," he admitted.

Hard time

The situation is even worse in Manaus, the most violent capital city of northern Brazil. The Anisio Jobim Prison Complex's official capacity stands at 454 prisoners, yet 1,244 were detained there in December. Like other public security officials in northern states, Sérgio Fontes of the Amazonas state blames the gang war first, but also the lack of space in prisons.

The penitentiaries in Manaus are the cradle of Northern Family ("Família do Norte", FDN), the main criminal organization in northern Brazil and enemy of the PCC. It's also held responsible for this latest slaughter as well as for dozens of other murders in the streets of Manaus over the past few years.

According to the civil police of the Amazonas state, the FDN started to build itself in 2007 in response to the entrance of the São Paulo-based PCC in the state, as the latter sought to control the transport of cocaine from Colombia via the Rio Negro to Manaus where it was sold. The first great wave of killings related to that dispute occurred between 2011 and 2012. FDN leaders have been detained at the Anisio Jobim Prison Complex, from where they organize their traffic. José Roberto Fernande Barbosa, believed to be the FDN's number one leader, is currently held at the federal penitentiary of Campo Grande, in Mato Grosso do Sul.

The city of Manaus is currently undergoing the most violent moment in its history. With a homicide rate of 48 per 100,000 inhabitants (in 2015), it ranks 23rd in the world, according to the Mexican NGO Justicia Y Paz. And the figures have been growing exponentially. Concentrated mostly in the state's capital city of 2 million inhabitants, the number of violent deaths in Amazonas rose 134.4% between 2004 and 2014.

So far, the figures and diagnoses have fallen on the deaf ears of Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes. Commenting on the deaths in northern prisons on Oct. 18, he denied the existence of an ongoing conflict between rival gangs. "Sometimes, there are mere bravados between people who rebel. Beyond that, there's nothing that indicates a coordination over various states," he said at the time.

With state governments unable to respond, the massacre at the Anisio Jobim Prison Complex is unlikely to be the final chapter of this war. That lesson has been learned the hard way.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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