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Brazil: Update to BRA33316.E of 3 December 1999 on the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) gang; its organization and activities, particularly in Rio de Janeiro (2000-2003)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 5 May 2003
Citation / Document Symbol BRA41405.FE
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Brazil: Update to BRA33316.E of 3 December 1999 on the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) gang; its organization and activities, particularly in Rio de Janeiro (2000-2003), 5 May 2003, BRA41405.FE, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Red Command or Red Commando (Comando Vermelho) is Brazil's most powerful drug gang ( 21 Oct. 2002; Libération 12 June 2002; Dowdney 2002, 170). The Red Command's territorial base territory is the favelas, or shantytowns, of Rio de Janeiro (ibid., 22; 21 Oct. 2002; Chicago Tribune 2 Feb. 2003). On one hand, favelas give the Red Command a strategic geographical position that allows it to control comings and goings and, on the other hand, they provide them with the necessary manpower for selling drugs (Dowdney 2002, 22). The presence of military-style quadrilhas in the streets and the graffiti markings of the Red Command initials "CV" on buildings in a favela indicate that a territory is under the gang's rule (ibid., 33; Chicago Tribune 2 Feb. 2003). Drug gangs like the Red Command control favelas using paramilitary-style techniques (Dowdney 2003, 19).

Several sources indicated that the Red Command's main activity is trafficking drugs ( 21 Oct. 2002; Chicago Tribune 2 Feb. 2003; Latinamerica Press 21 Oct. 2002; Washington Post 19 Sept. 2002) like marijuana and cocaine (Dowdney 2002, 6; Courrier international 4-10 July 2002). One of these sources reported that the Red Command controls 90 per cent of cocaine trafficking in Rio de Janeiro (ibid.). The organization is also involved in roadblocks, robbery and kidnappings ( 21 Oct. 2002).

The organizational structure of the Red Command is described as originating as "a network of affiliated independent actors rather than a strictly hierarchical organisation with a single head figure" (Dowdney 2002, 22). Each dono, or leader, manages the activities of a Red Command faction within a given community (ibid.). Two of the most powerful Red Command donos, Luiz Fernando Da Costa (also known as Fernandinho Beira-Mar and Seaside Freddy) and Elias Maluco, are currently serving time in prison (ibid., 31; Agence France-Presse 30 Sept. 2002). A prison-based structure that centralized power within the organization gave rise to the positions of president and vice-president of the Red Command-positions that were filled by incarcerated donos who "rule prison life, settle internal faction disputes that occur outside of prison and make the final decision on any matters of mutual interest for faction affiliates" (Dowdney 2002, 32). Outside prison, one dono is designated as the liaison between the Red Command donos who are not incarcerated and those serving jail time (ibid.). An former drug trafficker and member of the Red Command described the organization as "a cross between a workers co-operative and a state power" (ibid.).

According to Luke Dowdney, a strict hierarchical and militarized structure controls the operation of drug gangs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro (ibid., 33). In descending order, the hierarchy consists of the leader (dono); the dono's general manager in the favela (gerente geral); three sub-mangers who are responsible for the sale of marijuana (gerente de preto), the sale of cocaine (gerente de branco), and overseeing the ‘soldiers' (gerente de soldados); managers responsible for the sale of both marijuana and cocaine from their specific sales points (gerente de boca); security ‘soldiers' (soldado); personal armed security guards who act as the dono's and gerente geral's right-hand men (fiel); drug dealers (vapor); look-outs (olheiros); and drug packagers (endolador) (ibid., 33-35). Some of these positions are open to children (ibid., 8). The same source also indicated that drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro employ 10,000 of the city's residents (ibid., 6). For more detailed information on the organizational structure of drug gangs, see Child Combatants in Organised Armed Violence: A Study of Children and Adolescents Involved in Territorial Drug Faction Disputes in Rio de Janeiro at the following Internet address: . The author of this report, Luke Dowdney, is a researcher at Viva Rio (WCC 9 Sept. 2002), a non-governmental non-profit organization fighting for peace and development in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro (Viva Rio n.d.).

In the last two years, Red Command members are reported to have murdered a Brazilian journalist who was investigating the gang's activities in June 2002 ( 21 Oct. 2002; Libération 12 June 2002), and to have paralysed Rio de Janeiro on several occasions (in September 2002 and in February 2003, in particular) using various tactics, such as shutting down businesses and schools, burning buses, assaulting police stations and bombing middle-class neighbourhoods ( 21 Oct. 2002; The Guardian 26 Feb. 2003; EFE News Service 5 Mar. 2003; Agence France-Presse 30 Sept. 2002; ibid. 5 Oct. 2002; Latinamerica Press 12 Mar. 2003; The Narco News Bulletin 5 Mar. 2003; The Washington Post 28 Feb. 2003). The last demonstration of this sort took place just before Rio de Janeiro's Carnival in February 2003 (ibid.; The Guardian 26 Feb. 2003; EFE News Service 5 Mar. 2003; Latinamerica Press 12 Mar. 2003). Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva deployed thousands of army troops in the city to fight this wave of violence (EFE News Service 5 Mar. 2003; The Narco News Bulletin 5 Mar. 2003; Washington Post 28 Feb. 2003). Some of the sources consulted linked the Red Command to other criminal organizations like Brazil's First Commando of the Capital (Primeiro comando da capital, PCC) (Courrier international 4-10 July 2002; EFE News Service 22 Feb. 2001) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) (Le Monde 14 Sept. 2002).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References 21 October 2002. "Parallel Power: Brazilian Organized Crime Threatens to Disrupt Presidential Election." [Accessed 30 Apr. 2003]

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 5 October 2002. "Security Forces Take to the Streets of Rio Ahead of General Elections." (NEXIS)

______. 30 September 2002. "Brazilian Drug Traffickers Shut Down Rio Stores Ahead of Elections." (NEXIS)

Chicago Tribune. 2 February 2003. Patrice M. Jones. "Drug Lords Do What Officials Don't – Control Brazil's Slums: New Leader Faces Battle on Reform." [Accessed 30 Apr. 2003]

Courrier international [Paris]. 4-10 July 2002. No. 609. Giuseppe Bizzarri. "Dans l'enfer des prisons de São Paulo : au Brésil, le ‘syndicat' des taulards fait la loi." (NEXIS)

Dowdney, Luke. 2002. Child Combatants in Organised Armed Violence: A Study of Children and Adolescents Involved in Territorial Drug Faction Disputes in Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro: ISER/Viva Rio. [Accessed 1 May 2003]

EFE News Service. 5 mars 2003. "Brazil-Carnival/Crime (Scheduled): Rio Wants Army Troops to Stay on Streets." (NEXIS)

_____. 22 February 2001. "Brazil - Prisons: A Tunnel Under Construction Discovered Inside a Brazilian Prison." (NEXIS)

The Guardian [Manchester]. 26 February 2003. Alex Bellos. "Rio Gangs Cast Violent Shadow Over Carnival." [Accessed 30 Apr. 2003]

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 12 March 2003. Vol. 35, no. 5. "Brazil: Gang Violence." (NEXIS)

______. 21 October 2002. Vol. 34, no. 21. "Prison Locked for Last Time: While Symbolic, Carandirú's Closing Will Have Little Effect on the Corrupt, Overcrowded Prison Systems." (NEXIS)

Libération [Paris]. 12 June 2002. Chantal Rayes. "Brésil : un jounaliste tué par les narcos : Tim Lopes enquêtait sur le trafic de drogue dans les ‘favelas' de Rio." (NEXIS)

Le Monde [Paris]. 14 September 2002. Jean Jacques Sevilla."À Rio, un chef de gang brésilien commande des exécutions depuis sa prison." (NEXIS)

The Narco News Bulletin. 5 March 2003. Karine Muller. "The Drug War Turns Rio into a Scene from Film Noir." [Accessed 30 Apr. 2003]

Viva Rio. n.d. "The Viva Rio." [Accessed 2 May 2003]

The Washington Post. 28 February 2003. Jon Jeter. "As Carnaval Opens, Violence Rocks Rio." [Accessed 30 Apr. 2003]

______. 19 September 2002. Anthony Faiola. "Brazil's Benevolent Drug Lords." [Accessed 30 Apr. 2003]

World Council of Churches (WCC). 9 September 2002. "Seminar: Children Affected by Organised Armed Violence." [Accessed 2 May 2003]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases

Internet sites, including:

Amnesty International

BBC News

Centre for Geopolitical Drug Studies

Human Rights Watch

Observatoire géopolitique des drogues

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime


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Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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