How Brazil's Drug Bosses Dial In For Secret Conference Calls -- From Jail

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Everything you need
Marco Antonio Martins, Afonso Benites, Rogerio Pagnan and Josmar Jozino

SÃO PAULO - It was February 10th, 2011, Penitentiary No. 2 in Presidente Venceslau, a rural town in Brazil’s São Paulo state. At 4:51 P.M., a secret conference call began by mobile phone with two prisoners and three criminals on the outside – the conversation would go on without interruption for nine hours and 38 minutes. The call would resume again later, totaling 12 hours and one minute of discussion by the time all was said and done.

The subjects on the agenda: various drug trafficking routes in Paraguay and Bolivia, distribution of marijuana and cocaine in Brazil and investments that should be made with all the earned cash. The criminals conversing were all members of PCC, the largest criminal organization in São Paulo state.

The conference call was one of many secretly recorded by the Federal Police as part of the so-called Operation Leviathan, aimed at fighting the international drug trade, and Folha de São Paulo obtained copies of the reports of the calls.

The recordings started in October 2010 and lasted until May 2012, when police started to move in on 25 people targeted. On average, the calls would involve four people, and could last from just a few minutes to several hours. On one late-night call, nine people were chatting at once, six of them imprisoned.

The frequency of the telephone appointments depended on the assembled prison staff at the moment. Each day, a different low-ranking prisoner was chosen to talk on the phone in the name of PCC. After hanging up, the subjects would go to the bosses inside the prison – answers would be returned on a successive call.

The calls made no apparent mentions about killing police officers, as had happened before, but information on prisoners accessing TV and Internet from within jail.

The penitentiary in Presidente Venceslau, 610 kilometers from the city of São Paulo, is where top PCC bosses are sent when they are considered model prisoners. Otherwise they are sent to Presidente Bernardes Penitentiary, the only maximum security prison in São Paulo state.

A spokesperson for the State Secretary of Security refused to answer directly to the latest report. Last August, authorities found 8,355 mobile phones in Brazilian prisons, 12 of them in Presidente Venceslau. Cell phone signal blocking devices have been tested, but none of them has been considered effective.

Prisoners caught using phones answer criminally for their actions, suffering disciplinary sanctions and the loss of certain benefits in prison.

The conferences were mainly held to discuss where to stash weapons and drugs. In 2012, PCC suffered major losses with police’s actions, with 30 loads of drugs discovered, including 1.7 tons of marijuana in just one place and 19 guns in another location. Since then, the group has been investing in buying houses for hiding drugs.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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