Riots in Sao Paulo: Prison cells and cell phones

Brazil - PCCOne week has passed since the city of Sao Paulo was paralyzed by gang attacks and the blogosphere in Brazil is wildly spinning the many aspects of this unprecedented confrontation. Here, we will present an overview of the various narratives generated from the multifold and multicolored currents flowing through the ever more popular and impassioned personal journaling of Brazilians.

“Sao Paulo, with a population of 17 million and a land mass which spreads over 3,00 square miles is the world’s third largest city and the largest metropolis in South America. This most modern cosmopolitan city in Brazil, has often been compared to New York because of its attraction, which lies in ethic minority communities, upthrusting skyscrapers, and the outstanding cuisines that the city offers. Apart from the outstanding qualities that this city portrays, it is also considered a home to organized crime groups. The vile and evitable drama, which has really turned ugly, sparked up when around 700 members of the PCC [First Command of the Capital] crime gang were moved from a low to a maximum-security prison to minimize the influence they have had over the years on other inmates. The PCC was formed years ago as a gang within the prison walls to protect the rights of prisoners. Today, they have spread immensely outside the prison system and formed organized crime gangs which deal in drugs, kidnapping and armed robbery in most crucial and economically vibrant Brazilian cities.”
São Paulo, Brazil on – Blog

“I believe I imagine civilization as a circle because I've grown up in Sao Paulo. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, there is a close contact between privilege and poverty which does not happen here. From an historical perspective, what differentiates São Paulo is its urban expansion model, which left the poor crowds on the margins of the city. It created a central privileged zone kept orderly by the control of public authorities and a periphery that was invisible. INVISIBLE… Until now!!!! The PCC attacks present a new reality, tearing down the illusion that Sao Paulo was different from other cities. The expansion of the privileged center grew to the poverty zones, crossing to the world beyond the bridge… Sao Paulo is exactly the same as the rest of the country, built upon a brutal inequality which concentrates and does not distribute wealth.”
PCC attack's (II)Jaw of 1984

Video editing by Spyk

A week ago the whole country incredulously watched the images of the biggest Sao Paulo avenues completely empty at 7 pm on a working Monday. The unimaginable shown on TV sparked reactions that reverberated at many levels of the ongoing political conversation. The main character of the present story — the PCC gang — immediately jumped right into the debate as another powerful voice to be dealt with. Although the novelty left the media and politicians speechless at first, the blogosphere was quick in identifying and tagging the political motivations in every new fact. One of the main pieces on this level of the debate would be the Statutes of the PCC, which have been referenced in many blogs:

“Article 16 (last one) – most important of all is that nobody will detain our fight because the Command's seed has spread to all prison systems in the state and we have structured ourselves outside also. Although suffering many sacrifices and many irreparable losses, we consolidated our position on the state level and we will surely fulfill our national presence in the long run. In connection with the CV (Red Command) we will start the revolution in the country from inside the prisons. Our military arm will bring terror to the ones in power, the oppressors and tyrants who use Taubaté Annex and Bangu I [high security prisons] in Rio de Janeiro as society's vengeance tool in fabricating monsters”..
PCC's StatuteNude Moon – Blog

“Is PCC a leftie party? Well, if it is not yet, they've got plans to be, as they will try to elect two representatives in Ocotber. How nice, hum? As if it was not enough for us to deal with the PT [government party] gangs, now we will have a PCC congressional bench.”
Is PCC a leftie party?Resistência

“Who would be interested in so much blood, fear and uncertainty right now? Who are the political beneficiaries of such tragic events? Everybody agrees that the recent events will seriously damage the main opposition candidate presidential campaign – Sao Paulo ex-governor Geraldo Alckmin… Many have already mentioned the PT connections with organized crime and international drug dealers. But, in spite of the extreme gravity of such charges, those denunciations were never looked into in a way that could clarify the facts.”
Sao Paulo under attack… from PT?The Fire Throat

Then the visceral reaction from security forces in Sao Paulo started to be noticed, firstly under the radar, but soon generally acknowledged by the mainstream media and authorities. There were also strong speculations about a possible deal with the PCC as the only explanation for the way the attacks abruptly stopped after a meeting between its main leader, Marcos Camacho (aka Marcola) with his lawyer and three São Paulo government authorities on Sunday night.

“Attention please, friends!! I am asking everybody following this blog to help stop what is going on right now. The civil and military police, wounded by the PCC killings, are generating a Nazi-like state in our periphery. There are already more than 100 murdered ‘suspects’ and none of them are from PCC. I already have four dead colleagues, not to mention the ones in the hospital. None of them had any previous filings with the police and that's why I beg you to spread the word. People are dying with bullets in the back while delivering pizza, while going back home from work. The cowardly police tremble in front of real thieves but they are ready to kill someone who is simply going back home from work. It is a shame and, if they call this ‘duty’, it's time for us to react with concerned citizenship, showing them that we do not want this slaughter. MARTIAL LAW FOR INNOCENT POOR PERSONS DECREED.”

“This is what some policemen are doing in the periphery, in the poor neighborhoods in which they also live, where the abandonment of the law is more radical and more rooted than in the central areas of the city. In those dark alleys the police fulfill their vengeance by shooting the pizza boy, or the guy waiting for his fiancé in the bus station, or the unaware group of friends that chats in some dark crossing. Or even the motoboy who was fleeing frightened — who told him to run? He must have done something… Are these policemen aware that this truculent and arbitrary behavior contributes to and builds the prestige of the big gang leaders, who become the only alternative for protection in these communities?”
A voice of sanityThe dead

I am very afraid of this [killing of anonymous ‘suspects’]. I am more afraid of this than of any PCC, in any part of the world.
Urban Guerrilla / Dead in BattleNothing Simple is Ever Easy – Deinha in NY

“The order to stop the riots came from Marcola during the night of the meeting through a note which read: ‘We are making everybody aware that the facilities (prisons) under our control will be normalized at 9:00 am tomorrow, when our brothers (leaders) will be taking their sun bath in Venceslau (high security prison).’ Although the PCC leaders stayed in their cells without sun baths, the rebels obeyed and ended the biggest simultaneous prison rebellion in the country, which included 73 prisons in Sao Paulo state. On Monday at 4 pm there were still 20 prisons out of control and at 8 pm they were all at peace — a strong indicator that the deal really happened”.
Governor dealt with the banditsPresident Lula's Friends

If there is one thing that was crystal clear to all in the aftermath of the riots is that PCC's power arises from its communication capabilities from within the prisons. The issue became spicier when a TV network showed what is supposed to be a cell phone interview with someone who presented himself as the PCC leader, Marcola, on Wednesday night. State authorities asserted that the interview was false and that it would be impossible for Marcola to talk to anybody as he is incommunicable in a high security jail.

Following the wave of unprecedented violence over the weekend in São Paulo – coordinated by inmates from inside the jails with their cell phones – the Brazilian mobile operators are under pressure by the government to block signals in prisons, reported Cellular News. Meanwhile, in a related article, the BBC, reports on “a row which has broken out over an interview which a journalist says he got with a gang leader – via mobile phone from a maximum security jail”.
Interview of PCC leader from jail by mobile

“Marcola demonstrated great capability for communication and media manipulation on Wednesday night, when he gave a cell phone interview to the Bandeirantes TV network. Besides presumably overriding the closed Differentiated Disciplinar Regime [high security restrictions] in which he is imprisoned, he portrayed himself as defending the society, saying that the police are putting the population at risk by promoting a war to respond to PCC movements, “in a war where both parties have great fire power, the citizen who has nothing to do with both parties will loose”. Marcola said that the PCC attacks were a reaction to the bad treatment in prisons.”
Tropical MobOption Journal

It has been a tense week in Brazil. Everything started to feel and look quite different from what we used to expect as ‘normal’. São Paulo was so paralyzed by fear of the PCC's attacks that few noticed the official announcement of the members of the Brazilian soccer team that will play the World Cup in Germany. And the weekend brought a surprising interview with Sao Paulo ‘s governor Claudio Lembo — of the conservative opposition party PFL. His words sounded like a leftist manifesto. He was clearly pissed by his abandonment by those having a direct interest in his success. — the ex-governor and presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin and the ex-mayor of the attacked city of São Paulo and now gubernatorial candidate, José Serra.

“Brazil is a country of many defeats, social defeats. We have an evil bourgeois, a very perverse white minority. Their wallets will have to be opened to eradicate misery, to help to create more jobs, more education, more dialogue and equal opportunities for all. If we don't deal with the Brazilian mentality –especially of the white minority — we won't go anywhere.”
Cladio Lembo interview with Monica Bergamo, in Received by E-mailblogless

When asked if his allies had supported him during the tense days, Claudio Lembo answered that Alckmin had called twice — “you know, phone calls are expensive“. Serra didn't call and neither did former president and main opposition leader Fernando Henrique, “he was in New York“. “President Lula called, and was very elegant with me. I talked a lot with the President and he gave me a lot of support“.

These days of chaos and violence in Brazil have revealed technology as a multi-edged sword. Demons as well as Saviors can be unleashed through the expansion of something as simple as a cell phone conversation. When long-standing grievances and inequities are combined with the new tools of communication and as people who have never talked to each other before hurl their passions at one another, and trigger each other into action, we who struggle for open systems will be challenged to create and make firm a commons that is both democratic and civil.

Important update [05/23/2006]: The blogger / writer Ferrez quoted in my last post is being threatened after denouncing police action in the periphery of São Paulo after the PCC attacks and riots. He was interviewed by Agência Carta Maior before fleeing the city this weekend because of death threats.


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