Judite clearly remembers the first contact. It was 2006, she was 16 years old and her brother Artur had just died in the hospital after a brutal attack by homophobes when the First Command of the Capital (PCC) knocked on the door of their house. When he opened he saw “a thin boy, with glasses, with a nerd”.
"Are you Artur's sister?" -I ask.
-Yes, it's me.
"May I speak to your father?"
He came out and asked:
-What do you want?
"Talk about Artur." We know that you are a police officer, but we have come to offer you how you want us to kill the guys (who killed your son). Tell me how?
Judite says that her father, impressed, rejected the proposal. He trusted in the justice of God. “That kid even said: 'If you want, we'll record,'” recalls this Brazilian who grew up in Mogi das Cruzes, in the metropolitan area of São Paulo, in one of those neighborhoods where some friends from school smoke crack and others are in prison or dead. This 30-year-old journalist prefers to use that name to protect herself when speaking of the enigmatic brotherhood of criminals that dominates daily life in dozens of prisons and hundreds of favelas in Brazil. The PCC is the most powerful criminal organization in South America.
The gang was born in one of the most inhumane prisons in São Paulo, Taubaté, the year after the worst prison massacre in Brazil. When Brazilian prisons were even worse than now. Each jail had a boss that allowed raping the wife of a debtor inmate, sexually abusing the most vulnerable inmates or dividing up cells, recalls Sidney Salles, 52, who rented one for him just because he wanted to have intimate encounters. "Those who had more money lived better and subjected others," he now tells at his home in Várzea Paulista. “They started taking care of the inmates. Often vulnerable people, who were in danger. They created a power to protect them, so that they did not beat them, rape them… ”. Salles was imprisoned in Carandirú prison for six years for robbery. He witnessed the rise of the PPC. He was able to change the robberies for the pulpit of an evangelical pastor thanks to the fact that he survived at that time when any prison dispute was resolved by stabbing or punching. "In order not to see your mother cry, you made someone else's cry," he says. That hell began to change with a soccer game that was played in the courtyard of the Taubaté penitentiary on August 31, 1993, the day PCC was born.
Video about the history of the PCC. In the image, the evangelical pastor Sidney Salles, one of the prisoners who survived the massacre of 111 inmates in the Carandirú prison in 1992.
That acronym, which sounds like a Chinese or Cuban communist party, is that of a Brazilian organized crime group that has some 35,000 “brothers” baptized in a secret ritual. With São Paulo as the epicenter, they are spread across Brazil and abroad. Not all members are cut from the same pattern. Some are entrepreneurs of crime; others, workers. They are loyal to the band, entrepreneurs. The group owns drug businesses for about 100 million dollars a year (not counting the fabulous profits from trafficking to Europe), operates in all the countries of South America and collaborates with mafias on the other side of the Atlantic. This is the story of an organization as peculiar as it is unknown outside the region, which last January made history in Paraguay when its members staged the largest prison break in the country.
The soccer game played by the First Command of the Capital against the Caipira Command in 1993 was the founding moment when power changed hands in that jail, according to investigators. The winning team killed and beheaded the inmate who dominated the prison and the deputy director. They kicked the head of the first; the second was jabbed into a stake in full view of all, as described by Fatima Souza in the book PCC: A facção. A barbaric scene, unpublished then. No longer.
The eight prisoners who won the match forged an alliance. They were brothers and the enemy would not be other prisoners, it was the system. The authorities. They would demand that their rights be respected. They agreed to serve their sentence, but they would not tolerate being killed behind bars, their relatives being humiliated or having no water to wash themselves. They managed to become the voice of the prisoners before the State. They thrived on crime while implanting their methods of running business and resolving conflicts in the most underserved neighborhoods.
Cell by cell and street by street, the PCC became a hegemonic power in prisons and neighborhoods. It has a hard core of 35,000 baptized brothers in these 27 years, explains Lincoln Gakiya, a prosecutor who has persecuted them since 2006 to put them on the bench. In addition, hundreds of thousands of other people – criminals, trapicheros, but also cleaners, bricklayers, street vendors or telemarketers – follow its rules. They live at the pace set by the First Command of the Capital. They call it being in tune with the PCC (and the areas of the organization are also called in tune). Organized crime nests where the State leaves spaces.
Its operation is different from that of the Mexican cartels, the Italian mafia and other Brazilian criminal groups, say the academics who have studied it. The organization enforces its own code of justice, prohibits crack in the prisons it controls, regulates drug prices in São Paulo and claims to be behind the drastic drop in murders of the last two decades in that megalopolis. Prosecutor Gakiya adds that the PCC controls drug trafficking routes from production to placement in ports on the other side of the Atlantic. European or African allies take the last step: take it up to the noses of Europeans.
Although it has a statute and circulates circulars, its operation is shrouded in mystery. No brother usually admits or proclaims that he belongs to the PCC. Impossible to know how they recognize each other. Some academics emphasize his entrepreneurial ways, others his military methods. For the sociologist Gabriel Feltran, author of the book Irmãos, a history of PCC, works like Freemasonry: “It is a secret society that is organized with a very clear distinction between the business (of each one) and the political organization. Suppose we are three Masons. I have a restaurant, another has a spare parts workshop and another is a writer… Each one has his business, they are not Freemasonry businesses. But when we decide to belong to a brotherhood, we are brothers. That my restaurant has more money than your workshop does not imply distinctions within the brotherhood. It is a network of mutual aid ”, he explains in his office at the Federal University of São Carlos, 240 kilometers from São Paulo. Feltran has been studying the dynamics of the band for 15 years through interviews with hundreds of residents of São Paulo favelas.
“It is a unique organization that gives its members a lot of independence in their criminal activities with the understanding that they will not be predatory,” agrees Steve Dudley, who studies organized crime at the Insight Crime Foundation. Dudley underlines by email that the PCC "prohibits extortion", something "unusual in an organization that exercises so much control over the territory in which it operates."
The idea is that if the brothers do well, the PCC does too. The author of Irmãos He describes it as a remarkably horizontal organization, but with disciplinary and management positions that articulate it. A network between criminals who collaborate and whose heart is internal debates – sometimes via mobile phone from prison – to agree on the correct decision in each case, always according to their codes.
The academic emphasizes that they do not do business with just anyone. His partners "cannot have raped, have killed unjustly (without his justice), cannot have made a serious mistake on a mission or not have been strong enough to avoid snitching." Abusing children, murdering without permission, belonging to a rival group or turning over a brother is paid for with death; some repeated mistakes, with exile. And the first fouls, with warnings or fines.
The statute of the PCC, reproduced in Feltran's book, has 18 articles: the first ones say that its members must commit themselves “to fight for peace, justice, freedom, equality and unity” with an eye “always on the growth of the organization ”and with respect to“ the ethics of crime ”.
The PCC is entered at the invitation of at least two members who will be the godparents of the baptized, explains the anthropologist Karina Biondi, author of the book Together and mixed: Uma etnografia do PCC. There he says that the group is looking for candidates with certain skills. The main one: an enormous power of persuasion. But also good public speaking and a track record of loyalty to crime. At the baptism ceremony they promise that the brotherhood will be above all. “Several women confessed to me that they felt hurt when their husbands joined. They said: 'I stayed in the background, I preferred the PCC,' ”says Biondi, a professor at Maranhão State University, who years ago began to investigate the group's prison dynamics through interviews with prisoners and relatives while visiting her husband. imprisoned for a crime of which he was acquitted.
Biondi explains that the band opened the door to women, to sisters, a few years ago, but that they are still few because it is very difficult to make one's own space in such a strongly macho world. The interest in including them reached the point of organizing a campaign in which he offered to exempt them from paying the monthly fee if they were baptized, says Biondi.
The contribution, which is around 1,000 reais ($ 200, 180 euros) and is less for incarcerated members, is used to pay visits to remote prisons, weapons, food for the neediest families or Christmas toys.
With an eye to keeping the police out and not harming the drug business, the PCC has created its own sophisticated justice system based on three pillars that applies inside and outside prisons: the accused has the right to defend himself, Killing without authorization is prohibited and verdicts are debated until a consensus is reached. They resolve disputes of all kinds, explains Rodrigo, the pseudonym chosen by a 42-year-old filmmaker who lives in Brasilandia, a group of favelas in São Paulo with 280,000 residents that the subway does not reach and the one that accumulates the most deaths from the coronavirus in the city. Few respect the quarantine there because they live overcrowded, they need to go out to earn a living or they do not believe that the threat is so serious.
In neighborhoods like that they don't trust the police, says Rodrigo. There the conflicts are resolved in the PCC mode. “They all make up with the brothers. Will I call the police to solve my problem? No, I am taking him to the PCC ”. Is what they call bring a topic to ideas. "It's any kind of problem, from rape to theft of tennis shoes."
This brotherhood of criminals also solves everyday problems, as shown by several examples that Biondi rescued from his investigations: complaints about a badly parked car that prevents the passage; a mother who asks them to talk to her son, hooked on drugs; another who protests because the dentist does not appear at the clinic. "Some brothers are more attentive to the neighbors, others do not want to get involved with problems of men and women," says the academic. "It works differently in each neighborhood, it depends on who is in charge." And when the PCC refuses to get involved, criticism comes from the neighborhood and complaints are heard such as "the neighborhood is abandoned, nobody cares for us."
Many times, the brotherhood system replaces ordinary justice. Last January, when the police questioned Giulia Candido, 21, about the death of her baby, and then let her go, the PCC took up the case in its own way. The baby had arrived at the hospital lifeless, with bite marks on his face and fractures to his skull, chest, jaw, nose and collarbone. For the officers there was no indication that she had participated in the fatal beating, according to the press. But Candido was kidnapped by criminals related to the PCC to sit her before a crime court. She was lucky: the police managed to rescue her alive. According to the authorities, the organization had sentenced her to death.
Sentences are served in hours. Unlike popular juries, these criminal courts do not end with a vote. "They reach a consensus, I never knew about a vote," explains Feltran, and says that his sources have always told him about "hellish debates of hours and hours." The sociologist studied a case in which there were 40 participants on the phone. Rodrigo, the filmmaker, describes it like this: “If you robbed a neighbor, you went to the ideas (a kind of trial), the parties argued, they (the brothers) listened and the one who was wrong paid. A broken leg or even death ”. The Brazilian series Tuning, which is broadcast by Netflix, recreates one of these trials without mentioning the organization's acronym. In one scene, several criminals debate standing in a circle in an abandoned ship. One brother is accused of killing a junkie without permission, another is a prosecutor, and a third who directs the session telephones the first's godfather to present the defense arguments.
Despite being a system dictated by criminals, the sociologist Feltran emphasizes that it is the closest thing to a fast, efficient and free justice system in many of the poorest and most abandoned neighborhoods in Brazil. In the 13 years that have passed since the homophobic murder of Artur, that thirty-something his journalist sister remembers as someone "very modern, very different" who "taught theater in the favela," no one has been tried.
The band has lit up a whole terminology:
- caxinha (box)Monthly fee
- Coisa (thing)Enemy. Policeman
- Sisters-in-lawWives of PCC members.
- DecreedSentenced to death
- statuteCode of conduct
- SiblingsMembers of the PCC.
- IdeasTrials to apply your own justice system
- HailInformative circulars
- Final overall tuneThe dome of the PCC, the last instance
The prosecutor Lincoln Gakiya (Presidente Prudente, São Paulo, 1966) was decreed by the criminal group for the first time when his second son was born, 15 years ago. “I was returning with my wife from the maternity ward when they told me; (my bosses) recommended that I ask for a 15-day permit ”. Fear coexisted with the joy of the baby's arrival and the tasks of caring for her other child, Gakiya says at the São Paulo Prosecutor's Office. Returning to work, he wanted to know the seriousness of the threat. "Know who, how, where and why of the death threat." Thus began his persecution of the PCC.
The man who has investigated the PCC the most from the courts explains that drug trafficking is the main business of the group that operates throughout South America – especially in Paraguay and Bolivia – but has members in the United States, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and United Kingdom. “They still sell more within Brazil, but the traffic to Europe is a no-return path because it is a fantastic profit with little risk,” says Gakiya. So much so that money laundering is one of the urgencies of the PCC. Just think that the gram of coca that, according to the Global Drug Survey, is sold in Brazil for 12 euros, in Barcelona it is 60 euros and in Berlin it costs 78 euros. Only in Colombia is it cheaper.
The quarantines due to the coronavirus pandemic have scared away the clientele that came to the corners to get maría or coca, emphasizes the prosecutor, and the closing of borders has harmed their international businesses.
When he began to investigate them, Gakiya discovered that the order to kill him had come from a prison near his city, where the eight leaders of the gang had been held for years. Although prisoners always find ways to communicate and create their own languages, mobile telephony was the panacea in Brazil. Without cell phones, the PCC would not have reached its current power, specialists agree.
IN 2006, THE PCC STOPPED THE SÃO PAULO MEGALÓPOLIS. WITHOUT MOBILE PHONES, IT WOULD NOT HAVE REACHED ITS CURRENT POWER
The organization first punched the table two decades ago. Thanks to the incipient mobile telephony, he organized a simultaneous riot in some thirty prisons in the state of São Paulo. On February 18, 2001, the PCC appeared before the general public, taking hostage the 10,000 relatives who were visiting the prisons.
Five years later, another blow. Faced with the transfer of hundreds of its members to other prisons because it was discovered that they planned to riot on Mother's Day – mothers are sacrosanct – the PCC responded with a pulse to the state. No witness of that May 2006 in São Paulo forgets it. They paralyzed the largest city in Latin America for several days with dozens of simultaneous attacks against police officers, police stations, barracks … while inmates in dozens of prisons rose up against their guards. Schools, stores and banks closed. The buses stopped running. Some 560 people died in two weeks; part by police shots. It was the local version of 9/11 in New York or 11-M in Madrid.
Three weeks later, one of the most surreal scenes in the history of the PCC took place. Eight deputies of an investigation commission on arms trafficking went to the jail to hear the testimony of the prisoner Marcos Williams Herbas Camacho, Marcola, a charismatic robber, intelligent and voracious reader, according to Irmãos. A leader of the organization for years, he was one of the first to be baptized and is considered the great symbol of the PCC. The official transcript of those four long hours of appearance occupies more than 200 pages and allows a peek at the man and the entrails of the gang, including the fratricidal battle that Marcola had just won. In this excerpt he talks about the confrontation with his predecessor, Geleião:
—Mr President (Deputy Moroni Torgan): What happened?
—Mr Marcos Williams Herbas Camacho (Marcola): There was simply a lack of motivation for the friendship to continue.
"What caused it?" You know?
—Divergence of opinions. It was very radical, I thought it would end up putting us all in a very bad situation.
"What kind of attitudes would those be?"
"He wanted to blow up the stock market." It was not what has happened now, he wanted terrorist attacks and I was totally against, at the time, against such situations. So we started to diverge a lot. And since he had the maximum power, my life was in great danger in the São Paulo prison system.
Marcola won that war for power but lost his first wife, a lawyer who was shot twice by his rivals at the front door. The shooting suspect was killed shortly thereafter.
Born in Osasco, on the outskirts of São Paulo, in 1968, today he is 52 years old. Although he started out as a pickpocket – frowned upon in the underworld – he became a robber, in his day the elite of Brazilian crime. He has been incarcerated for more than half his life, has escaped several times, and is one of those who has been able to savor the fruits of his illegal businesses. At the end of the nineties he was traveling by private plane. His wife visits him, he has several children and one of them studies in Australia, according to the prosecutor.
After kicking many favelas, the sociologist Feltran disagrees with the prosecution. He says that the PCC "is not a cartel with bosses." He maintains that in Brazilian indigenous ethnography there are “many other references than leadership without command. I am sure that it is one of those headquarters without command ”.
The researcher Biondi explains that "the word of the PCC is not sovereign." And it evokes two cases. The time that the baptized in a neighborhood went on a trip to avoid receiving the circular that dictated that for each brother killed by the police they had to kill two officers, and the prisoners who refused to receive "a gender equality salve for the that each cell had to accept a homosexual from those who were gathered in a single cell ”. The prisoners refused, arguing that the PCC was "being oppressive."
On the street, the gang is invisible at first glance. Nothing indicates in places like Brasilandia that it controls a territory. No flags, no graffiti. Much less the exhibitionism of the Rio de Janeiro drug traffickers, who come to record themselves with their mobile phones while dancing funk, waving their rifles high. The modes are rather a reflection of the restraint that characterizes the Brazilians of São Paulo. But it is enough to observe in many neighborhoods of São Paulo to distinguish groups of kids gathered on street corners any morning during the week, when the streets are deserted because everyone has gone to work far away. They are teenagers, including some girls, who seem to be doing nothing but are attentive to the clientele while smoking marijuana. They are the end of the chain, those who sell maria or coca to whoever pays for it.
Upon landing in the barrios, the gang imposed price controls on the traffickers to avoid competition and conflict. The PCC "does not have a monopoly on the sale of drugs in São Paulo, it is enough to regulate the market," says Feltran.
For the neighborhoods of the favelas of São Paulo his arrival was a revolution, as the filmmaker Rodrigo relates. “With the arrival of the PCC, peace reigned in the periphery. What the government tried to do for decades, it solved in a month. It was incredible". A radical change in the daily lives of millions of people. As a teenager, Rodrigo witnessed shootings often. “They were common, especially at kermesses (religious festivals). Every party had its fight. The party attracted many people to drink hot wine, and then rival gangs would come and the dead would arrive ”. While in the peripheries the PCC is credited with the low levels of violence in São Paulo, in the academy the debate continues and prosecutors like Gakiya reject that it is the work of the gang.
Gakiya estimates that the PCC makes about 100 million dollars a year with the sale of drugs, its main business. It might seem little when compared to some cartels in Latin America, but that calculation does not include international profits because, he explains, there has not yet been an opportunity to estimate them.
To understand the fabulous profits that the sale of cocaine to Europe promises, the accounts of another business serve, the very frequent theft of high-end cars at gunpoint in São Paulo. In Irmãos, Feltran makes the following calculation with a Toyota Hilux pickup: someone pays two kids 900 reais (190 euros) each for stealing it; The vehicle travels to the border with Bolivia, where it is exchanged for 5-7 kilos of coca base paste that, cut and sold at retail in Brazil, can cost 76,000 euros. On the other side of the Atlantic, each one of those kilos of coca would cost 80,000 euros.
The business is so lucrative that 1,149 Toyota Hilux trucks were stolen in Brazil in 2017
The drug is sold in Brazil at ridiculous prices for any European. And that is why it is a crucial moment for the PCC. In the short time since it opened to international markets, it has seen its profits soar.
The latest plan to kill the prosecutor Gakiya dates back to the end of last year, after he managed to get 22 men considered the bosses of the PCC, with Marcola at the head, to be dispersed. Now they are in federal prisons, more modern, guarded, less crowded than the state ones. They spend 22 hours a day in isolation cells. Gakiya stresses that he would have liked the petition to disperse them to be collective, signed by judicial and political authorities, to avoid being targeted again. It makes it clear that if anyone can boast of having dispersed them, it is him; not the former Minister of Justice Sergio Moro, not the governor, not anyone. Only he, who was the only one who signed the application.
He believes that these transfers will not affect the business of the criminal group because "the machinery of daily business is very oiled, but it will harm them to make strategic decisions." Gakiya's plan is to delve into internal frictions so that the organization implodes.
In the midst of the pandemic, the PCC has received another blow, the arrest of "its main supplier of cocaine, although not the only one," says the prosecutor. Gilberto dos Santos, Fuminho, arrested in April in Mozambique, "is not a member of the PCC", but a friend of Marcola. He handled personal business for her.
They still sell more within Brazil, but the traffic to Europe is a one-way street because it is a fantastic profit with little risk Lincoln gakiya
Even Brazilian parliamentarians or prosecutors admit that prisons are the great quarries of criminal groups, which they recruit under the nose of the State. Since the gangs share the dominance of the presidios, the newcomer is frequently asked if he prefers to go to the wing dominated by the PCC or another group. Gakiya reveals that it is common for, if one is from a rival faction, to impersonate one of them or directly convert. Basic strategies to stay alive.
On January 1, 2017, when Brazilians were recovering from the New Year celebrations, a sinister atmosphere settled in the courtyard of a prison in Manaus (Amazonia) after family visits. Surveillance cameras captured dozens of inmates armed with shotguns, pistols, machetes, clubs and iron bars hunting for inmates of the PCC. As the São Paulo organization was a minority there, the brothers were in the gallery of the undesirables, with the rapists and ex-policemen. During 17 hours of brutal violence, 56 prisoners were killed, most of them from the PCC or related: some were beheaded, others had their hearts ripped out, some were burned alive. Scenes of barbarism that later circulated via WhatsApp.
It was the biggest blow suffered by the PCC in its history. His revenge, six days later, in a prison 800 kilometers away, in Boa Vista, left 33 dead from the Comando Vermelho, the most powerful gang in Rio, and local allies. These orgies of blood meant the breakdown of years of alliance between the two most powerful criminal organizations in Brazil. A war for control of drug routes and prisons began that bloodied the north and northeast of Brazil. To swell its ranks for battle, the PCC simplified its recruitment rules, researchers have found.
The São Paulo criminal group had struck in Paraguay a year earlier its most spectacular blow with its sights set on eliminating intermediaries in its international expansion. They ambushed the armored Hummer of Brazilian Jorge Rafaat, known as the King of the border, who controlled drug trafficking and smuggling in the area. He was murdered. One less rival. The meticulous operation took place in Pedro Juan Caballero, the first city on the Paraguayan side. His prison was precisely the scene of the largest prison break in the history of Paraguay last January. Prosecutor Gakiya maintains that the operation to remove 75 prisoners was not organized by the PCC leadership but by one or more of its members.
Brazil's prisons have been a huge black hole for decades. In the nineties it was more dangerous for a criminal to be in prison than on the streets. Criminals killed themselves for any matter inside or outside of prison. And they were also exterminated. The PCC might not have been born or ascended so quickly without the massacre in the Carandirú prison, the worst in Brazilian history, in 1992. A year before the gruesome soccer game in which the brotherhood was founded, the police entered the Largest prison in Latin America to quell a riot and killed 111 inmates. Sidney Salles, who survived that massacre, abandoned crime and became an evangelical pastor who runs five rehabilitation centers and gives talks about the prison system that have led him to Harvard, witnessed that process: the arrival of the brothers it was welcomed by most of the inmates, he says.
In a country like Brazil, which has more than 800,000 incarcerated people, the rise of the PCC represented a radical change for inmates, Salles explains. Suddenly someone was defending those who were raped, those who did not have family visits because they were too poor to pay for the trip, those who did not have a toothbrush or water to wash. “It was then that the PCC came in, playing the role of the state. Until today".