Carnage at a prison in the Amazon – The Economist Jan 7th 2017 


A massacre in Manaus shows that competition among gangs is increasing

THE rampage lasted 17 hours. By the end of it, 56 inmates of the Anísio Jobim prison complex in Manaus, a city set amid the Amazon rainforest, were dead. Many had been decapitated; severed arms and legs were stacked by the entrance to the jail, known to most as Compaj, a contraction of its full name. Luís Carlos Valois, a judge who negotiated an end to the violence on January 2nd, called the hellish scene “Dantesque”. It was Brazil’s bloodiest prison riot in a quarter-century.

Only the death toll makes the carnage at Compaj stand out. Brazil’s prisons erupt often. Last year 18 inmates died in clashes between gangs at prisons in the northern states of Roraima and Rondônia. In Pernambuco, a north-eastern state whose prisons are overstuffed even by Brazilian standards, violent deaths are a frequent occurrence. In January 2016, 93 prisoners broke out of two of the state’s jails.

Prisons are both hellholes and headquarters for Brazil’s most powerful criminal gangs. The country’s prison population of 622,000, the world’s fourth-largest, is crammed into jails built to hold 372,000 inmates. Compaj houses 2,200, nearly four times its capacity. Guards often do little more than patrol the perimeters, leaving gangs free to manage far-flung criminal operations via mobile phones.

The riot at Compaj suggests that prison violence—and the behaviour of the gangs behind it—is entering a new phase. Officials in the state of Amazonas say members of Família do Norte (Family of the North, or FDN), which controls drug trafficking in the Amazon region, organised the Compaj massacre. Having gained control over much of the prison, the gang sought to wipe out opposition from Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital, or PCC), a larger rival based in São Paulo, a south-eastern state.

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