Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The year 2016 ended in a flurry of mostly natural deaths of famous people around the world; 2017 began with the entirely un-natural deaths of 56 un-famous people in a Manaus prison.
Deaths with disfigurement, up to and including decapitation. Deaths as vengeance, deaths as turf wars, deaths as threats. Deaths ineluctably foretold in years past, and inevitable in years to come. Deaths resulting directly from Brazil’s “war on drugs”.
Deaths directly related to Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro is the headquarters of the Comando Vermelho (CV), by most reports the second-largest criminal organization in Brazil, after São Paulo’s Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC). CV engages principally in drug and arms trafficking, but also uses bribery and money laundering to ensure politicians and police do not interrupt their lucrative activities.
CV operates out of Rio’s favelas and, not coincidentally, out of Rio’s prisons. Recently, rival PCC has attempted to expand its operations around Brazil and into Rio, and CV has also spread its tentacles into Brazil’s north and northeast. The favorite vehicle for expansion of both groups is Brazil’s prison system.
Because Rio and São Paulo prisons fear losing any effective control over inmates, authorities prefer to separate powerful gang leaders from each other. So, rather than leaving them all in one prison location, they “expatriate” them to prisons in far-flung parts of Brazil — including Manaus.
In those locations, where prison controls are far weaker than in Rio (seven out of every ten prisons around Brazil have no metal detectors nor cellphone blocks), the “expatriate” gang leaders immediately set to work, using their vast financial resources, to create subsidiary branches.
Think General Motors, or Apple, or Microsoft or any other multinational business: they export leaders around the world in order to grow the business. CV does the same, but there is an essential difference — CV does not export products or services, CV exports evil.
The current battlegrounds for competing evildoers CV and PCC are the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and the prisons in Manaus. The Manaus massacre was designed and executed by CV to extirpate infiltrators who had entered “their” territory. It was a warning to PCC that they should stay out of Rio, lest they receive the same treatment here as in Manaus.
In Mexico and Colombia, and elsewhere around the world, drug cartels generally stay within defined territories. Inevitably, however, one group sees what it thinks is a weakness in the other, and attempts to expand into that new market. The predictable result is death.
No one who knows anything about drug and arms trafficking believes that, after the elimination of its Manaus outpost, PCC will simply chalk it off to experience, fall back to its lairs in São Paulo, lick its wounds, and leave Rio’s favelas to CV. The nature of evil is always to expand.
The best-known prayer in the western world says, in relevant part: “deliver us from evil.” The Curmudgeon can only say “Amen!”