By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Seven violent attacks were reported in the southern Brazil state of Santa Catarina on Monday night, as a wave of violence which has seen dozens of buses torched reached its seventh day. In total, 54 violent incidents have been reported in 18 cities statewide since January 30th, military police said.
Authorities have credited the upsurge of attacks – which have seen relatively few injuries – to a recent police crackdown on crime, particularly drug trafficking. They say that, as with a similar surge of violence in November last year, during which 68 violent attacks were recorded, members of criminal groups that operate in and out of state jails have ordered the violence.
However, Folha de São Paulo reported that the attacks may be a reaction to an assault on inmates of Joinville prison on January 18th. CCTV footage shows the prison officers firing rubber bullet at prisoners who are half naked and crouched against a wall with their hands clasped behind their necks.
In a statement, the director of the Department of Prison Administration (Deap), Leandro Lima, said the incident was being investigated. “To give smoothness to the investigative process,” the statement read, all professionals “identified in the images have been removed from duties and functions.”
This is peak tourist season in wealthy state capital Florianópolis, considered to have among the best living standards in Brazil. Civil and military police maintained a heavy presence over the weekend and public transportation is operating with police escorts after 10PM.
The unrest comes soon after a period of deadly violence in São Paulo last year. October, the most violent month for São Paulo in the past two years, saw an eighty percent increase in homicides on the same period in 2011: 329, compared to 182.
That surge in violence was thought to signal the end of a “truce” between police and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital, PCC), a notorious gang involved in drug trafficking and organized crime.
Many experts said that those killings did not express frustration at effective policing, as authorities claimed, but anger at the widespread police brutality and extra-judicial killings that have earned Brazil criticism from rights groups.
Camila Nunes Dias, a Universidade de São Paulo sociologist and expert on the PCC, told The Rio Times that the violence in Santa Catarina could be connected to a prison gang called the PGC (Primeiro Grupo Catarinense). She said that although she did not think this violence was directly connected with the PCC, the PGC has a organizational structure based on that of the PCC and was formed partly in response to similarly poor prison conditions.
“The PCG operates in and out of prisons and has approximately ten years of existence. It is similar to PCC, but much smaller in terms of performance, structure, organization,” she said. “Like the PCC, [the PCG] are the expression of the fact that the prison is today the locus of organized crime; a space in which the government does not holds the least control.”
The state of Santa Catarina is one of three states in Brazil’s Região Sul (South Region), along with Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul. It is a place of contrasts, boasting beautiful beaches, stunning scenery and quaint cities that are home to southern Brazil’s melting pot of European migration.