This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Paraisopolis and the PCC - history and symbology
Sao Paulo was once again in the news earlier this week when at least 120 members of the Military Police - including an elite squad - entered and occupied one of Brazil's largest favelas.
Paraisopolis is home to about 80,000 people, and is the size of approximately 80 soccer fields, or some 798,695 square meters. There are some 17,200 houses. Bottom line: closely-packed quarters.
The violence started when a police action in the favela on Sunday night resulted in the death of a 25 year old man who the police called a drug trafficker and car thief. People inside the favela, however, thought otherwise, calling him a "trabalhador" or, simply put, worker.
Most of the violence was focused at two entrances to the favela, where Volkswagen vans, tires, trash, furniture, and other flammable items were piled and set ablaze.
Rocks, bottles, sticks, and other items were thrown at the police, but there were enough shots fired from sniper positions inside the favela to provoke the police to bump up the number to 300 Military Police, as well as call in a support unit which sent in an armored vehicle and a helicopter.
As far as I can tell the violence has subsided. But all those who are interested in this incident need to understand that there is a symbolic quality to Paraisopolis that few foreign reporters understand: this is PCC territory.
In 2003, members of the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), or the First Capital Command as the prison gang is known in English, were placed in charge of Paraisopolis by the leader of the PCC - a very shrewd man known as Marcola.
Marcola, who is currently in prison, made his stamp on history in May, 2006, when he ordered a general strike on Sao Paulo police that brought the city to its knees.
But when he ordered his men to take over the drug trafficking network in Paraisopolis, he sent in a team of 50 men, who acted as a type of paramilitary group that enforced the law within the "city inside a city." For Marcola, Paraisopolis was a very important community to control, influence, and develop as a support system for the PCC.
When the police come in and act like they run the show, there will always be trouble.
According to my sources, there were two mid-level Military Police guys who were calling themselves the "donos" or "owners" of Paraisopolis. This news most certainly made its way back to Marcola. And I'm sure he made a phone call to put his people inside the favela on the alert. But Marcola is smart enough to know that he can't just start killing cops. There needs to be a reason. And that reason was delivered by the very security organization that does not want to go head to head with the PCC.
Reading the news Monday morning, I was reminded of Black Hawk Down, and how Mark Bowden described in his book the way the locals in Mogadishu would pop out of nowhere and fire randomly and sometimes lethally on the US Rangers who were completely surrounded.
It explains why the Military Police in Sao Paulo went in with so much force. The other explanation is that Paraisopolis is located near Morumbi, a well-heeled neighborhood in Sao Paulo. The Secretary of Public Security couldn't let the burning tires and thrown bottles go without some sort of response.
I have to consider that Marcola used this incident as an opportunity to test the reaction forces and willingness of the relatively new government in place. Paraisopolis was a test of will between two men: Marcola and the Secretary of Public Security for the state of Sao Paulo. Makes me wonder if Marcola has something else up his sleeve...