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PCC shuts Brazil's industrial centre

By Aleksander Boyd

London 18.05.06 | Welington picked me up yesterday at 1pm to take me back to the Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo. Since normality had sort of returned to the city, after the violent events that left 135 people dead, there was plenty of traffic, which gave me enought time to pick his mind on the issue. As pretty much the rest of Brazilians I met during my stay, Welington is as friendly and open as they get. Earning his living as a chauffeur, he comes from a rather humble background and lives in a buzzling area. He said that on Monday night he couldn't find a petrol station to fill his car up, for the entire population of Sao Paulo was in a self imposed curfew. "We were extremely afraid" he said.

Sao Paulo is the largest industrial and financial centre of not only Brazil but South America. It is hard to believe that a bunch of prisoners could bring its activities to a halt over the transfer of some five criminals to a maximum security prison. In Welington's opinion the government is the one responsible for the mess, for having allowed the formation and consolidation of such a vast network of organised criminals. Corruption continues to be the main culprit, a feeling shared almost by all Latin Americans whether in Mexico, Caracas or Sao Paulo. I asked why did he think that the government was responsible. He replied by saying that the salaries of prison guards and police forces signposted to the prison system are so low that the only way of surviving is by compromising with the criminals, ever so eager to give bribes hand over fist.

As it happened Marcos Williams Herbas Camacho, a.k.a. Marcola, and four of his lieutenants from the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC), had been running, quite succesfully from behind bars, a criminal organization devoted to drug trafficking, racketeering and armed robberies. Its membership, according to Welington, is composed of 30.000 inmates in Sao Paulo only, and another 160.000 in the whole country. The modus operandi appears to be that Marcola et al conducted business through a network of cells composed by ex-inmates that pay membership and pledge loyalty to the organization. The Penitentiary Administration had allowed for the criminals to equip their cells with TV, conversations through mobile phones were equally permitted, defence attorneys passed instructions to members outside and that is roughly how they went about their business.

Thus the administration saw fit to disband the upper echelon of the PCC by sending its members to a maximum security prison. Welington jokes that, initially, Marcola didn't mind the news provided a set of conditions would be granted. These were access to TV and books -Marcola is meant to be an avid reader of Mafiosi literature- conjugal visits and other pleasures. Since the government did not agree on it he threatened with violent action, the scope of which seems to have been greatly underestimated. The PCC's show of force has been a wake up call for Brazil, but more importantly, the disruptive consequences of its actions have sent ripples around the world. What we are seeing is governments having to negotiate with criminals on non-negotiable issues, which is certainly a very disturbing matter.

Welington believes that the end of hostilities derived from Marcola's explicit orders of cease and desist after a meeting with government officials, rather than from the wave of arrest and assassinations conducted by the police. And he marvels at Marcola's irreverence concerning the official gesture of bringing him a pizza to the maximum security facility Presidente Bernardes, to which the gangster quiped "I rather have pao de queijo!"

The point remains though. The business community in Latin America apart from having to put up with ever changing rules, whimsical decisions from so called nationalists leaders, confiscation of property, increasing taxation and hefty regulations now have also to withstand the consequences of organized criminal gangs that have grown under the lenient watch of irresponsible administrations.

Welington concludes stating that on top of everything else more and more members of the judiciary are seeking to disqualify themselves from criminal cases owing to the sheer fear the PCC has instilled in the population.

Other Brazilians said to me that the PCC's exercise shows how ill prepared businesses are to deal with this sort of disruptions. Former President Fernando Henrique Cardozo declared that it was a mistake to negotiate with criminal groups. President Lula however has made a trademark of his administration to negotiate with outlaws, radical Marxists, military caudillos and others under his Foro de Sao Paulo. It should not come as a surprise, for instance, that Morales move against Petrobras is an orchestrated stunt between comrades to benefit Lula electorally. Either way Brazil, the 9th economy of the planet and its 188 million citizens, could do well with a government seeking to upheld law and order above all else. And the world at large would be a better place if Marcola, Pateta, Julinho Carambola, Junior and others would be punished exemplarily for their costly actions.

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