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Brazil: Organized crime, including street gangs; state response to combat organized crime in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (January 2005 - October 2007)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 14 November 2007
Citation / Document Symbol BRA102649.E
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Brazil: Organized crime, including street gangs; state response to combat organized crime in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (January 2005 - October 2007), 14 November 2007, BRA102649.E, available at: [accessed 20 April 2014]
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.

General Situation

According to the Travel Report issued by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, gang-related violence in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo has occurred in public places such as on buses, in businesses and at police stations, and that serious and often violent crime is prevalent in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasilia, Recife and Salvador (Canada 20 Aug. 2007). The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) rates the criminal threat in Rio de Janeiro at "critical" and on the rise (OSAC 8 Mar. 2007); in São Paulo, the threat is also rated "critical," with the added observation that violence is often led by "mobile street gangs and organized criminal groups" (ibid. 6 Feb. 2007).

In its 2007 annual report, Amnesty International (AI) states that, the participation of Brazilian government officials in criminal activities has contributed to "an apparent increase in organized crime across the country" (AI 2007). According to AI,

Law enforcement officials were reportedly involved in the drugs trade, selling guns, and smuggling arms, mobile phones and drugs to members of criminal gangs in detention (2007).

Global Integrity's 2006 Country Reports scorecard on Brazil notes that "Brazilian police are notoriously under-funded" (Global Integrity 2006), an observation which is echoed by OSAC (OSAC 8 Mar. 2007; ibid. 6 Feb. 2007). Other sources have noted that corruption is a serious problem for the Brazilian police (US Mar. 2007, Sec. III; EFE 15 Dec. 2006). However, OSAC characterizes the police response for US citizens in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo as "adequate" (OSAC 8 Mar. 2007; ibid. 6 Feb. 2007).

Offering a comparison between the situation of organized crime in São Paulo and that in Rio de Janeiro, Guaracy Mingardi, a senior criminologist for the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (Instituto Latino-Americano das NaçSes Unidas para Prevenção do Delito e Tratamento do Delinqüente, ILANUD) states:

In Rio de Janeiro, organized crime based on drug trafficking predominates, and is "harder to control," but cases of kidnapping have been successfully controlled there, whereas in São Paulo they are still numerous (IPS 22 June 2006).

Rio de Janeiro

In December 2006, there were reports that "paramilitary-style militias" were controlling up to 92 shantytowns (favelas) throughout Rio de Janeiro state (AI 2007). These militias are composed of active and former police officers who provide security in exchange for protection money (ibid.; AFP 29 Dec. 2006). Some residents complain that these militias often resort to violence and extortion and leave them vulnerable to revenge attacks from drug gangs when the militias cease to offer protection (AI 2007).

On 15 December 2006, the Spanish news agency EFE reported that Federal Police agents had arrested 74 city police officers accused of ties with arms- and drug-traffickers in the city of Rio de Janeiro, making the operation the biggest such arrest in the city's history (EFE 15 Dec. 2006).

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on 29 December 2006 that organized crime gangs had attacked civilians and police officers alike in several Rio de Janeiro neighbourhoods and suburbs, leaving eighteen people dead, seven of whom were killed in an bus explosion (AFP 29 Dec. 2006; US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.a). The state Security Department believes that the attack order was given by imprisoned drug kingpins held at the Bangu I penitentiary to [translation] "intimidate the new government of Rio de Janeiro which [would] take office on Monday [1 January 2007]" (AFP 29 Dec. 2006). However, Rio's penitentiary authorities claimed that the attacks were an act of revenge against militias who had recently been pushing out drug traffickers from favelas (ibid.; see also US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.a).

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report published by the United States Department of State notes that in 2006, Brazil's Federal Police made several breakthroughs against foreign drug trafficking groups, including arresting drug lord Pablo Joaquin Rayo Montano in São Paulo (US Mar. 2007, Sec....

In January 2007, Brasilia-based Correio Brasilense published an interview with Rio de Janeiro's Public Security Minister Jose Mariano Beltrame, who outlined his department's new security strategies (11 Jan. 2007). In particular, his department was planning the establishment of Latin America's largest Intelligence Centre in Rio de Janeiro, which would include an administrative section and an intelligence training institute, with computer applications used to track down financial crimes, such as money laundering, which is used to finance drug gangs (Correio Brasilense 11 Jan. 2007). The department would also install more cameras throughout the city to better track criminal activity as it occurs (ibid.).

In June 2007, The New York Times reported on Federal Police raids in Rio de Janeiro in which 40 people, including judges, police officers, prosecutors and lawyers were charged with accepting bribes from organized crime bosses who were running an illegal lottery called the "animal game" (jogo de bicho) (7 June 2007). Earlier in 2007, several Samba school directors preparing for Rio's Carnival were reportedly assassinated because of disagreements with gangs, who allegedly use their lottery profits to finance the Carnival (The New York Times 7 June 2007).

According to AI, Rio de Janeiro state authorities are increasingly employing "militarized tactics" such as using armoured troop carriers (caveirSes) to police favelas (2007). AI reports that there have been cases in which innocent civilians have been "killed by military police officers shooting indiscriminately from caveirSes" (AI 2007).

Based on official figures published by AI, Rio de Janeiro state police killed 807 people in the first nine months of 2006, an increase over the same period in 2005 (ibid.).

São Paulo

Citing official numbers, AI states that between January and September 2006, police killed 528 individuals in São Paulo state, which surpassed the total number for all of 2005 (2007).

Senior ILANUD criminologist Guaracy Mingardi expressed his opinion that while São Paulo state's murder rate has decreased in recent years, due in part to an increase in the police presence and disarmament efforts, this has not been accompanied by qualitatively improved policing (IPS 22 June 2006).

In July 2005, São Paulo state police reportedly arrested 11 members of the organized crime syndicate named First Command of the Capital (Primeiro Comando da Capital, PCC), including the group's main administrator, Deivid Surura (Dow Jones 26 July 2005). The PCC's primary revenues derive from participating in the drug trade, and from providing protection to criminals and their relatives, both inside and outside prison (ibid.). According to the Lima-based Latinamerica Press, the 6,000 PCC members who are in jail "influence" more than 80 percent of São Paulo's prison population (14 June 2006).

In May 2006, members of the PCC reportedly instigated a series of riots across São Paulo state in response to the planned transfer of their leader, Marcos Herbas Camacho (Latinamerica Press 14 June 2006), to a high security prison (AI 2007). It was later discovered that Camacho had obtained a recording from his lawyers (Washington Post 10 Aug. 2006; The New York Times 30 May 2006) – which detailed a plan to send him along with 700 other convicts to a prison hundreds of miles away in order to disrupt their illegal operations – by bribing a government sound technician for 100 American dollars to record the closed-door hearing (ibid.). Riots broke out simultaneously in over 70 prisons across the state (ibid. 16 May 2006; Latinamerica Press 14 June 2006; US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1a), and were coordinated by the use of cell phones and radios which were smuggled into the São Paulo's prisons (The New York Times 7 May 2006). In the ensuing days of violence, rioters killed over 40 police officers, attacked banks, police stations, public buildings (ibid.; HRW Jan. 2007; AI 2007) and burned over 80 buses (ibid.). Police responded by killing over 100 people allegedly involved in the rioting (AI 2007; HRW 18 May 2006; US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.a; The New York Times 30 May 2006). The attacks also left sixteen civilians dead (ibid.) and although the PCC did not specifically target civilians, the fighting caused "hysteria and paranoia among the local populace" (OSAC 6 Feb, 2007).

According to The New York Times, some experts reportedly criticized the police's lack of preparedness regarding the rioting and the government's refusal to accept outside help "to avoid political embarrassment" (The New York Times 17 May 2006).

The Independent Special Commission for the Public Security Crisis of São Paulo State, which published a report in September 2006, noted that 493 people were killed during the 10 days of violence in May 2006, which is almost twice the average homicide rate (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.a). The report also states that between 60 and 70 percent of the 124 suspects killed by police had injuries suggesting execution-style killings (ibid.; see also HRW Jan. 2007).

Members of the PCC led further attacks in São Paulo in mid-July 2006, which killed eight people (AI 14 July 2006; EFE 7 Aug. 2006). On 7 August 2006, EFE reported 78 attacks during that day in São Paulo, in which the PCC used guns and firebombs against police, buses, and public buildings. In response, police killed two suspects and arrested twelve others in their attempts to control the situation (EFE 7 Aug. 2006).

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 for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France-Presse (AFP). 29 December 2006. "Le Brésil sous l'emprise de la peur du crime organisé." (NEXIS)

Amnesty International (AI). 2007. "Brazil." Amnesty International Report 2007. [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]
_____. 14 July 2006. "Brazil: Further Criminal Attacks in São Paulo." (AMR 19/025/2006) [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]

Canada. 20 August 2007. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. "Travel Report: Brazil." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]

Correio Brasilense [Brasilia, in Portuguese]. 11 January 2007. Ricardo Miranda. "Brazilian Security Secretary Discusses Plans to Fight Organized Crime in Rio." (Factiva/BBC Monitoring Americas 15 January 2007)

Dow Jones International News. 26 July 2005. "Brazil Police: Major Blow Dealt to Organized Crime Group." (Factiva/AP)

EFE News Service. 15 December 2006. "Dozens of Brazilian Cops Arrested for Organized Crime Links." (Factiva)
_____. 7 August 2006. "Organized Crime Challenging São Paulo Authorities Again." (Factiva)

Global Integrity. 2006. "Brazil Scorecard – Law Enforcement." 2006 Country Reports. [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). January 2007. "Brazil." World Report 2007. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2007]
_____. 18 May 2006. "Investigate Deaths in Gang Violence: Police Accused of Summary Executions." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]

Inter Press Service (IPS). 22 June 2006. Mario Osava. "Brazil: Gov't Stands by While Murder Rate Skyrockets – Report." (NEXIS)

Latinamerica Press [Lima]. 14 June 2006. José Pedro Martins. "Criminal Violence Puts Public Security in Check." [Accessed 14 June 2006]

The New York Times. 7 June 2007. Larry Rohter. "Brazilian Numbers Game Ties Officials to Mobsters." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]
_____. 30 May 2006. Larry Rohter. "Police Are Criticized in Wave of Gang Violence in Brazil." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]
_____. 17 May 2006. Paulo Prada. "5 Days of Violence by Gangs in São Paulo Leaves 115 Dead Before Subsiding." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]

Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC). 8 March 2007. Brazil 2007 Crime & Safety: Rio de Janeiro. [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]
_____. 6 February 2007. Brazil 2007 Crime & Safety Report: São Paulo. [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]

United States (US). 6 March 2007. Department of State. "Brazil." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]
_____. March 2007. Department of State. "Brazil." International Narcotics Control Strategy Report 2007. [Accessed 29 Oct. 2007]

Washington Post. 10 August 2006. Monte Reel. "Brazil Confronts Prison Gang Violence; Members on Outside Challenge Government with another Wave of Attacks." (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Agência Carta Maior, Brazilian Ministry of Justice, Brazzil Magazine, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Centro de Estudos de Criminalidade e Segurança Pública (CRISP), Centro de Justiça Global, Courrier international, European Country of Origin Information Network (, Gabinete de Assessoria Jurídica às OrganizaçSes Populares (GATOP), O Estado de São Paulo, Istoé [São Paulo], Jornal do Brasil [Rio de Janeiro], Justice Studies of the Americas, Núcleo de Estudos de Violência.

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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