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By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The government of Amazonas called for the federal government’s help to combat drug trafficking and strengthen the security of state prisons. The request for support was a result of the murder of at least sixty prisoners from the Anísio Jobim Penitentiary Complex (COMPAJ), in Manaus, during a rebellion that began on Sunday afternoon (January 1st) and lasted more than seventeen hours.

Governor José Melo de Oliveira Amazonas, prison riot, massacre, federal aid, Brazil, Brazil News
Governor José Melo de Oliveira announces immediate measures to strengthen security in the state’s prison system, photo by Vitor Souza/SECOM.

Faced with the request and situation in Amazonas, which is already considered the third bloodiest episode in the history of the Brazilian prison system, the Minister of Justice and Citizenship, Alexandre de Moraes, traveled to Manaus yesterday (January 2nd) to meet Governor José Melo de Oliveira.

Accompanying the minister, was the director of the National Penitentiary Department (DEPEN), Marco Antonio Severo, and the national secretary of Public Security, Celso Perioli.

According to state officials, the riot is yet another episode of the war between criminal factions vying for control of illicit activities in the region. State Secretary of Public Security Sérgio Fontes said in an interview that was between the Família do Norte (FDN, or Family of the North) and the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC, or First Command of the Capital).

“What happened at COMPAJ is yet another chapter of the war that drug trafficking imposes in this country and demonstrates that this problem can not be faced only by states,” Fontes said, without detailing the kind of aid requested from the federal government.

Brazil, Manaus,Amazonas' Public Security Secretary during a press conference to release the latest news about the rebellion,
Amazonas’ Public Security Secretary during a press conference to release the latest news about the rebellion, photo internet reproduction.

Fontes said that he believed that the riot began as a dispute for the control of drug trafficking outside the prison facility.

He explained that during negotiations, only a few demands by the groups were made. “What they wanted was to eliminate members of the rival faction,” concluded the secretary.

“It is not just a problem of the penitentiary system and it is not an isolated case in the country. It’s much bigger, since the inside prison jail is an extension of the war that also happens outside [the prisons],” said the state secretary.

According to local officials on Monday afternoon police had to contain a large crowd, composed mainly of prisoners’ family members, that gathered outside the ME’s building seeking to know if their loved ones were among the dead. Twelve agents working for an outsourced company were taken hostage during the rebellion and released alive by the detainees themselves.

The national president of the Brazilian Bar Association, Claudio Lamachia, said yesterday, the public authority needs to reassume control Of penitentiaries and prisons of the country, which he says are controlled by criminal factions.

Lamachia said that the news about the rebellion confirmed that brutality in the Brazilian prison system ‘became routine’ and that there is no ‘novelty’ in the case, noting that in recent years similar incidents have occurred in Maranhão, Pernambuco and Roraima.

“The Brazilian state must fulfill its obligation to solve this problem with the speed and urgency necessary, without palliatives that only mask the question,” Lamachia said in a statement.

Last week the federal government had announced it had disbursed R$45 million to the state for improvements in its prison system.

The death of the sixty inmates is already being considered the second largest prison bloodbath since the 1992 Carandiru massacre when 111 prisoners were killed by police. Of the 184 inmates who escaped from the two of the units, 144 are still at large.

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