News

Netflix’s Triple Frontier: Oscar Winner of Narco-Exploitation Movies

0
With a script that makes little sense and drug-related elements force-fed into the narrative, Triple Frontier appears nothing more than an action-packed movie trying to surf on the wave of success of “Narcos” and other popular narco-themed productions. This is a shame in light of how promising the idea was of setting the story in one of Latin America’s booming organized crime hub. “The effects of committing extreme violence on other human beings are biological, and physiological. That’s the price of being a warrior,” says a worn down-looking ex-soldier to a few dozen uniforms at a US military academy. Triple Frontier’s opening scene sparks curiosity yet sets the audience up for disappointment. With the movie title setting the story in the Tri-Border Area where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet, the audience could be forgiven for having high expectations of a deep-dive into a booming yet relatively unknown criminal hotspot.

SEE ALSO: ‘Narcos Mexico’: Netflix’s Clues About Today’s Criminal World

Might the movie touch on recurrent rumors of overlaps between Islamic terrorism and drug trafficking in the money laundering hub? Would it portray Brazil’s powerful gangs encroaching on Paraguayan criminals’ turf? Could it exploit the tri-border setting to paint the dirty and dark side of militarized antinarcotic efforts, as its narco-themed predecessor “Sicario” did so successfully? None of the above. Not even across Triple Frontier’s two – very long – hours.

Geography 101 Failed

Hollywood productions can be forgiven a few shortcuts when dealing with the drug trade in Latin America. It’s even expected. But Triple Frontier’s narrative reaches a level of such incoherence that one wonders if any study was made to understand the region and its criminal dynamics. The scenario’s premise is unsettling in and of itself. The tri-border area is one of Latin America’s most decried money laundering hubs. Criminals are spoilt for choice between whitewashing dirty proceeds through financial institutions, contraband or currency exchange schemes to name but a few. Yet an almighty capo decides to stash away hundreds of millions in drug money in a house in the middle of the jungle because “he doesn’t trust banks.” Surprise: disgruntled former US special forces soldiers walk up to the house, murder him, and rob him. So why choose the Tri-Border Area setting? Why name the movie after it? This was almost certainly to jump on the bandwagon of recent drug-themed productions, as the setting has no bearing on the scenario. The movie makes no mention of marijuana, despite Paraguay being South America’s top producer and the Tri-Border Area being a key trafficking spot for the drug heading to Brazil and Argentina. Rather, the location of the heist leads the narrative to fall into complete geographic nonsense.

SEE ALSO: Fiction Merges With Facts in Netflix’s ‘El Chapo’

After loading up a van with over 2 tons of cash, the protagonists drive to a supposedly close-by landing strip to board an old Soviet Union military helicopter. From the middle of the jungle, this strip is among snowy mountain peaks meant to represent the Andes. Never mind that the Andes are over 1,000km away and are virtually impossible to spot from the Tri-Border Area. The movie descends further into farce when the soldiers’ escape plan sees them take a helicopter across all of Paraguay, all of Bolivia, and drop off an informant in Peru, before crossing the Andes altogether to board a boat waiting on the Pacific coast of Peru. Or maybe it’s supposed to be Chile – one simply doesn’t know anymore by this point. But before they can cross the Andes, the five soldiers crash into a field. “That’s cocaine they’re growing,” says a grim Ben Affleck. Another movie might have taken a stab at subtlety here. But one actually wonders whether the Triple Frontier character believes cocaine pops out of the earth, and is unaware of the chemical process applied to coca leaves. The ex-soldiers go on to massacre a bunch of local farmers, who are too curious about the heavy cash-loaded bags, before paying off the village chief for the “debt” of the killings and moving on to cross the Andes with mules. On the other side await a couple of the late capo’s men, at the command of “twenty heavily-armed teenagers.” How these low-level criminals from southwest Brazil and their underaged guns-for-hire managed to beat the five airborne protagonists to the Peruvian – or Chilean? – seaside and how they knew where to stand guard along the Pacific coast is a thing of wonder, obviously left unexplained.

A missed opportunity

For all their flaws, Narcos and Sicario had the merit of striving to offer a more nuanced approach to the drug trade and its wide-reaching political and human repercussions. Triple Frontier not only misses that opportunity, it also wastes the great potential offered by the initial Tri-Border Area setting. Some areas of the border region are virtually lawless. The official borders themselves are unguarded for extended parts and extremely porous, fuelling trafficking and smuggling of all sorts. The area is considered one of the largest contraband hubs throughout Latin America. Yet Triple Frontier shows none of that, save for a brief portrayal of how easily the Paraguay-Brazil border can be crossed. Just as the audience is left hanging with the movie’s opening remarks on violence and human psychology, Triple Frontier hints at deep corruption, without ever bothering to bring a closer look. “That’s a lot more than $75 million dollars in there,” an informant tells one of the ex-soldiers. “It’s not just Lorea [the capo] in there. A lot more people are going to come looking after you,” the character adds. The viewer is left with no idea of who else’s money was stolen, as the script makes no further mention of the issue. To save the day, the movie’s fighting scenes are at least enjoyable, and the cast’s training with Special Forces certainly paid off. A violent shootout between police and drug traffickers arguably offers the movie’s most interesting detail. One of our protagonists, working for a security consulting firm hired by Paraguay’s government, grabs an assault rifle with an under-barrel grenade launcher from a downed police officer, and fires an explosive round through the window, single-handedly ending the firefight. “Good shot,” he quips as he instantly hands the weapon to a police officer, hinting at the murky reality and jurisdiction issues of US state and private antinarcotic cooperation in the region. The movie scores a point with this detail, especially when considering the recent debate over Paraguay’s March 2017 Congressional approval of training by US Navy Seals, which spurred criticism over the opacity of the operation. Still, Triple Frontier offers no more than yet another action-packed movie with the same-old brotherhood under fire themes, squandering a shot at a more enriching look at one of Latin America’s more complex organized crime hubs.

Marielle Franco Arrests Raise Suspicions About Brazil Militia Ties to Bolsonaro Family

0
Two former police officers with links to a militia group have been arrested in the high-profile killing of a Brazilian human rights activist. The same militia may also have ties to the family of Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, raising further questions. Authorities have accused Ronnie Lessa, a former police sergeant and expert sniper, of shooting Marielle Franco, an activist and councilwoman who had been a vocal critic of the deployment of federal security forces to Rio de Janeiro’s poor districts. Élcio de Queiroz, a dismissed military police officer, allegedly acted as Lessa’s getaway driver, G1 Globo reported. A later police raid of a Rio home linked to Lessa turned up 117 M-16 assault rifles. Investigators said that Lessa, who had been forced to retire from the police after being severely injured in a car bomb attack, was a contract killer and gunrunner for militia group “Escritório do Crime” (Office of Crime).

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Brazil Militias

President Bolsonaro and his family’s alleged ties to this militia once again surfaced in the wake of these arrests. Lessa had been living in the same luxury condominium building where Bolsonaro owns an apartment. Queiroz had also posted a picture of himself with the president on social media. In January, it was reported that the Rio office of Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s son and a state assemblyman, had employed the wife and mother of the criminal group’s founder, Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega, a fugitive captain of the Special Operations Police Battalion (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais — BOPE). The women were on the office’s public payroll until November. Flávio Bolsonaro said that he was unaware of the hiring of the fugitive policeman’s relatives, adding that their hiring was arranged by former aide. The Escritório do Crime group was first linked to the murder of Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, in August. In November, authorities said that the militia was trying to interfere in the Franco investigation.

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrest of the two former police and the seizure of an arsenal of high-powered weaponry further add to suspicions that the state may have been involved in Franco’s killing. Bolsonaro and his family have not been linked to the killing, and there is no indication that they had any knowledge about it. Yet the arrests further stoke critics’ suspicions that the president and his family have links to “Escritório do Crime,” even if those links are tenuous. Militias such as the Escritório do Crime are often composed of former and current security officers, and these paramilitary-style groups exert control over drug trafficking and other criminal structures. The groups have also been accused of committing several murders in Rio and elsewhere.

SEE ALSO: Marielle Franco Insights Show Grim Banality of Brazil Violence

Impunity is rampant for murders in Brazil, where five to eight percent of homicide cases are brought to justice. But Franco’s popularity and commitment to social justice have led to her murder being used to pressure authorities to hold all involved accountable, including any intellectual authors. If the militia’s ties to the highest levels of power are confirmed, this is likely to open the floodgates to more sweeping revelations.

Brazil’s Port of Natal New Link in Netherlands Cocaine Chain

0
Authorities have revealed a new cocaine trafficking route from a Brazil shipping port to the Netherlands, confirming that the small European country is now a preferred receiving destination for the drug from across Latin America. In February, Brazilian authorities seized 3.3 tons of cocaine in two separate shipments of tropical fruits at the port of Natal, the first seizures of this kind at Brazil’s easternmost port, globo.com reported. Both shipping containers were headed to Rotterdam. During the past four months, authorities in Rotterdam have discovered seven tons of cocaine in shipments all coming from the same Brazilian port.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profile

The ten tons of drugs seized in just four months equaled more than half of the 18 tons of cocaine apprehended throughout 2018 at the port of Santos, Brazil’s largest, Tribuna do Norte reported. The quantities involved point to the port of Natal, which opened in 1932, becoming a major exit point for drugs from Brazil, with the Netherlands as the intended destination. Reaction from the French shipping giant, CMA CGM Group, which is the only company exporting fruit from the port, has been swift, with the company suspending its activities in Natal and rerouting its exports through the nearby port of Fortaleza. Authorities have launched a three-month investigation and have requested a new container scanner, which the port previously lacked. The absence of such equipment has been blamed for the ease with which criminal groups were using Natal to export their drug shipments. The seizures in the Netherlands and Brazil have shown a similar modus operandi: cocaine packets camouflaged among fruit boxes. But a chemical analysis of the cocaine revealed that it came from three separate countries: Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. This hints that the criminal groups involved are receiving cocaine from various sources, combining it, and packaging it to send to the Netherlands.

InSight Crime Analysis

The uncovering of the cocaine pipeline to the Netherlands via the port of Natal indicates that drug smugglers are increasingly targeting the European nation. In recent months, the Netherlands has seen record drug seizures, along with neighboring Belgium. Record cocaine production in Colombia and a growing market for the drug in Europe are likely the reasons criminal groups are seeking new routes to the continent. What makes the port of Natal particularly useful to drug smugglers is its relative proximity to Europe — extending far into the Atlantic — and its lack of security infrastructure. Since 2009 Brazil has been the main outlet for South American cocaine destined for Europe, according to the United Nations on Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). From Brazil, traffickers coordinate with European criminal organizations to receive and distribute the drug. For example, in December, Interpol busted a large drug trafficking ring involving Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia, which smuggled loads of cocaine as large as 200 kilograms from Brazil, Guyana, and Colombia into Rotterdam and Antwerp. Drug smugglers clearly have identified the Netherlands as a destination of choice, and fruit coming through Natal have made for the perfect hiding place.

Brazen Paraguay Vehicle Theft Shows Minotauro’s Influence from Jail

0
Despite being jailed in a federal prison in Brazil, an alleged PCC gang leader continues to govern the Brazil-Paraguay border, suggesting that the government is showing no clear signs of wanting to combat organized crime groups head on. Police in Paraguay said that five vehicles, with a value of around $60,000, were seized from a warehouse in the criminally strategic border town of Pedro Juan Caballero. The raid was blamed on Sérgio de Arruda Quintiliano Neto, alias “Minotauro,” a leader of Brazilian gang, First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), who was consolidating power and establishing himself as an important crime boss on the Brazil-Paraguay border until his arrest in February.

*This article was originally published by ABC Color. It was translated, edited for clarity and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the original article in Spanish here.

The five vehicles that disappeared on February 7, included a red Chevrolet Montana, a silver Hyundai Tucson, a white Chevrolet S10, a white Volkswagen Tiguan and a white Ford Focus.

SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profile

The vehicles, suffering from mechanical problems or lacking parts, had been under police guard in a sealed warehouse.  However, not only was the warehouse raided but a crane was used to remove all five vehicles, suggesting that the operation could not have been carried out without the complicity of police forces. Around 20 police officers in Paraguay who had been paid off by the PCC have recently been identified and arrested. Several of Minotauro’s gang members have also been identified, but most of whom strikingly still remain free. The aforementioned warehouse was supposedly used by Minotauro and other members from Brazil’s PCC — the country’s most powerful organized crime group — to outfit vehicles with double bottoms to transfer drug shipments, in addition to repainting, modifying and equipping vehicles with armor to shield them from security forces while being used in attacks.

SEE ALSO: Arrests Suggest Crooked Cops Are Aiding PCC’s Expansion Into Paraguay

Aside from these modifications, the now disappeared vehicles had special value for Minotauro and the PCC as they had recently been used in several of the latest attacks carried out on the Brazil-Paraguay border. Minotauro is currently being held at a federal prison in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. This does not seem to have stopped his ability to give orders to his collaborators in Pedro Juan Caballero, a town he once supervised through a monitoring center which controlled security cameras at strategic points.  

*This article was originally published by ABC Color. It was translated, edited for clarity and reprinted with permission, but does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

Brazil Clampdown on Gang-Controlled Prisons Unlikely to Succeed

0
A recent prison crackdown in Brazil has sparked a violent response from the country’s most powerful organized crime group, but the government’s measures lack long-term focus and are unlikely to secure any lasting prison improvements or future security gains. Authorities in Brazil’s São Paulo state transferred Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho, alias “Marcola” or “Playboy,” the chief leader of the country’s most dominant organized crime group, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), to a high-security federal prison in mid-February, Folha de São Paulo reported. Another 21 alleged PCC leaders were also transferred to federal prisons across Brazil in the capital Brasília, and also in the cities of Porto Velho and Mossoró. Public security officials were warned that the PCC may be planning to carry out attacks in response. Authorities responded by mobilizing more than 20,000 São Paulo police officers as part of a security operation to secure the city. The decision to transfer the PCC boss Marcola comes after authorities uncovered and thwarted in November 2018 a $100 million plan to break the leader out of jail using hired foreign mercenaries and military-grade helicopters, in addition to missile launchers and high-powered weapons, Folha de São Paulo reported at the time. The government said in a statement that “isolating [criminal] leaders is a necessary strategy for confronting and dismantling criminal organizations,” according to the BBC. São Paulo prosecutor Lincoln Gakiya said the transfers and isolation of PCC capos causes “disorientation” and a “lack of coordination” among gang members.

SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profile

This is just the latest move from authorities during the early tenure of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro to clamp down on the country’s gang-controlled prisons. In early January, for example, northeast Ceará state’s new top prison official, Luis Mauro Albuquerque, promised to stop segregating the prison population based on gang affiliation and crackdown on cell phone use, which authorities say would make it harder for gang leaders to maintain order both within and outside of prison. The gang response was rapid and violent. The PCC and Red Command (Comando Vermelho), along with their local rivals in the Guardians of the State (Guardiões do Estado – GDE) and Family of the North (Família do Norte – FDN), called a truce and carried out hundreds of attacks primarily on infrastructure in dozens of municipalities across the state. The PCC’s opposing reactions to the prison measures are likely tied to geography. The PCC dominates in southern Brazil and its home state of São Paulo, where the group’s base is strongest. The PCC’s place in northern Brazil, on the other hand, is much more tentative. The group is working to expand into the region and battling rivals in an effort to win control over illicit economies.

InSight Crime Analysis

Brazil’s PCC has adapted and at times responded with extreme violence to the government’s past attempts at clamping down on the control they wield inside the country’s prisons, and the latest measures are likely just a band-aid solution that doesn’t fully address underlying causes of crime and violence or the deep-seated problems within the prison system. “Moving prisoners around seems to spread the problem rather than curtail or eliminate it,” said Desmond Arias, a professor at Baruch College City University of New York and the author of two books on Brazil. “Moves like these have been tried for years with limited efficacy.” The very PCC leaders that authorities are transferring, such as Marcola, have organizing expertise and leadership skills that make them effective organizers within prison. As they are moved to other prisons, authorities run the risk of reproducing unaddressed dynamics that existed in other prisons, according to Arias.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

What’s more, the PCC relies on a decentralized network rather than any one person or group of so-called leaders. Marcola and the other transferred PCC leaders will again be placed in a Differentiated Disciplinary Regime (Regime Disciplinar Diferenciado) — a special arrangement of tighter prison isolation. But even this extreme isolation of top members, coupled with the murders of other high-level leaders, has done little to sway the group’s power and ability to operate both inside and outside prison walls, or expand regionally. Inmate transfers and crack downs on cell phone use, while potentially effective in the short-term until such groups adapt, are ineffective policies by themselves in the long run. Instead, a multifaceted approach with a long-term focus on root causes is needed to curtail the PCC’s control within prisons. Prison transfers may destabilize the PCC’s prison leadership for a time, but they ultimately do nothing to improve the corruption, overcrowding and underfunding in Brazil’s prison system, which has created the perfect conditions for the PCC to establish order and criminal governance within them. “The PCC has in many ways served as a kind of organizing force within the prison system,” said Matthew Taylor, an associate professor at American University whose worked extensively in Brazil. “It’s hard to see how these [transfers] will actually influence the way that prisoners behave, especially in states where the PCC is dominant.”

Police Exercise License to Kill in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro

0
Killings by police in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro nearly doubled in January 2019 when compared to the previous month — suggesting that President Jair Bolsonaro’s and Governor Wilson Witzel’s promises of lethal action against criminal elements have been kept. On February 22, Brazil’s Institute for Public Security said police killed 160 people in January, an 82 percent increase over December, Estadão reported. The alarming number of deaths in clashes with police coincides with the first month of Bolsonaro’s and Witzel’s terms. Both took office on January 1 and promised to implement shoot-to-kill policing tactics. It was the second highest number of killings for the month of January since 1998. Alongside this sharp spike in police killings, street crime such as muggings and robberies on public transport hit its highest level since 1991, with 11,230 cases reported. This violence has continued unabated into February. One operation by military police in the communities of Morro do Fallet and Fogueteiro on February 8 saw 15 people killed in suspicious circumstances.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Homicides

Families of the victims have alleged that a number of the young men were rounded up inside a house and massacred. Others have filed complaints with public defenders saying that some of the victims were shot in the legs to prevent them from running away and then stabbed to death. However, when asked about the operation in Morro do Fallet, Witzel dismissed the controversy and praised the actions by the military police. “They work to defend us all. What happened in Morro do Fallet-Fogueteiro was a legitimate action by the military police,” he said. Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation into the case.

InSight Crime Analysis

In the run-up to Bolsonaro taking over the presidency, a few seemingly moderate cabinet picks led to hopes that he would temper his pledge to give police a license to kill. But there was no sign of any wavering from Witzel, a former marine and hardliner who framed his and Bolsonaro’s fight against organized crime as a war against terrorists. The police, who were staunchly behind Witzel’s candidacy for governor of Rio de Janeiro state, have recently spoken out about feeling unfettered and able to act as they see fit. One colonel in Rio’s military police told the press that “this atmosphere, created by a more permissive discourse (from officials), will lead to an increase in lethality.” And while some hoped that Minister of Justice and Public Safety Sergio Moro would be a voice of restraint, his anti-crime proposals have actually broadened the circumstances in which police can claim to have acted in self-defense. This harsh crackdown on crime has also been accompanied by the targeting of politicians who have spoken out against these heavy-handed tactics. The March 2018 murder of councilwoman and activist Marielle Franco remains unsolved, but her slaying has been linked to her outspoken criticism of a security crackdown in Rio. Franco’s political mentor and a congressman from Rio, Jean Wyllys, fled Brazil in late January after receiving death threats. Given Witzel’s sweeping victory in last year’s election, and the alignment between state and federal security policies, it seems these lethal confrontations are only set to continue.

Major Odebrecht Corruption Cases and Investigations in 2019

0
Since beginning in Brazil with the “Operation Car Wash” (“Operação Lava Jato”) investigation in 2014, the Odebrecht corruption scandal has been headline news across Latin America. Presidents, lawmakers, and business tycoons alike have been charged and jailed across the region. Here, InSight Crime presents a round-up of investigations or trials against prominent figures in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mexico: Mexico has shown a lethargic approach to the Odebrecht scandal. The only high-profile name being investigated for the largest corruption scandal to rock Latin America is Emilio Lozoya Austin. The former president of the state-owned oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), who served under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, is accused of conducting a corruption scheme that involved ghost companies between 2012 and 2016. In addition, Mexican prosecutors believe that Austin used the hefty bribes received from Odebrecht to fund the electoral campaigns of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI), including that of Peña Nieto. Many in Mexico believe that the lack of accountability and prosecution by the federal government was a way for the former and current administration to protect those who were involved with Odebrecht.  In a country known for its high levels of impunity, it remains to be seen if this case will eventually lead to more far-reaching investigations. In February, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador vowed that the investigation into Odebrecht would continue, which may see more inquiries begin soon. Dominican Republic: Preliminary Odebrecht hearings have dominated news headlines in the Dominican Republic in recent weeks. Known for its entrenched corruption, the Caribbean nation is currently investigating seven people that reportedly received more than $92 million in bribes from the Brazilian construction giant. Two names that stand out from the investigation are current Senator Tommy Galán and former Public Works Minister Víctor Díaz Rúa. Both men are members of the Dominican Liberation Party (Partido de la Liberación Dominicana – PLD), which is gearing up for the 2020 presidential election.  A guilty conviction could potentially tarnish the image of the party and hamper its chances at retaining power as the current president, Danilo Medina, is also a member of the PLD. El Salvador: Former president Mauricio Funes is being investigated for allegedly embezzling $351 million. Odebrecht is suspected of paying out between $1-3 million to Funes during 2009 presidential campaign. Funes, who was president from 2009 to 2014, is also under judicial investigation for reportedly paying off deputies in order to obtain favorable votes in the Legislative Assembly during his presidency. The ex-president has four arrest warrants out against him for corruption cases. He is now residing in Nicaragua protected by political asylum granted by President Daniel Ortega. However, the spokesperson of newly-elected president Nayib Bukele announced that the government will begin talks with Nicaragua to demand Funes’ deportation. Guatemala: Guatemala’s current investigation into Odebrecht is centered on the former minister of infrastructure, and current fugitive, Alejandro Sinibaldi. The Attorney General’s Office and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) claim that Sinibaldi led a criminal structure within the Communications Ministry. Sinibaldi is currently under an Interpol search warrant and an additional eight people with close ties to him are being sought by authorities, including his brothers, Alvaro and Luis Rodrigo Sinibaldi. Another key figure being investigated in Guatemala is former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón, who was arrested in the United States in January 2018. Baldizón is accused of allegedly receiving bribes from Odebrecht officials to help them with public works contracts in the Central American nation. After a failed attempt to seek asylum in the United States, Baldizón decided to withdraw his request and is now pending extradition to Guatemala. A constitutional crisis has unfolded in Guatemala after President Jimmy Morales decided to ban the CICIG from the country, a move that has been met with public and international backlash. As a result of the absence of the CICIG, the latest hearing against Sinibaldi and Baldizón was suspended and rescheduled for February 27, 2019. It remains to be seen what impact the ongoing crisis with the CICIG will have on the future of the case.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Money Laundering

Panama: Former President Ricardo Martinelli, who is under arrest, and other people with close ties to his presidency are currently under investigation for allegedly receiving bribes from Odebrecht. Panamanian prosecutors indicate that from 2009 to 2014, the duration of Martinelli’s presidency, payments surpassing $96 million were awarded for infrastructure projects such as road improvement in Chanis, the Tocumen Airport expansion, the urban renewal of Curundú, improvements to Line 1 of the Metro, and many others. As a result, the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office in Panama launched an investigation against the former economy minister Frank de Lima, who is accused of receiving at least $7 million in improper payments. Another high-level name that is currently under investigation is the former minister of public works, Jaime Ford. Ford is linked to accepting illegal bribes from the Brazilian company, as well as being accused of overpricing the Arraijan-La Chorrera Highway project for illicit purposes. Colombia: In Colombia, Odebrecht paid at least $32.5 million in bribes to ensure contracts for the building of the Ruta del Sol highway and other infrastructure projects. Colombia’s Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez has found himself in the spotlight  after Jorge Enrique Pizano, an auditor, revealed secret recordings in which he talked about contract irregularities with Martínez, who was at that time an attorney for Corficolombiana, a minor partner of Odebrecht. Pizano’s tapes with Martinez came to light in a television interview. Pizano, who was suffering from cancer and ultimately died of a heart attack, provided the interview on the condition that they only broadcast it in the event of his death. Congress has opened an investigation into Martinez’s statements about the Obredecht scandal, and he is under pressure to resign. Martinez’s conflict of interest doesn’t stop with Corficolombiana. He was also legal advisor to Luis Carlos Sarmiento, Colombia’s richest man and founder of the conglomerate Grupo Aval. Grupo Aval is a part owner of Corficolombiana and is currently cooperating in a US Justice Department investigation, according to Reuters. Former Senator Otto Nicolás Bula Bula, who was sentenced to two years in jail for bribery, has been the government’s key witness in unraveling the graft scheme. The investigation has ensnared a number of government officials during the administrations of both former presidents Alvaro Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos, including former senator Bernardo Miguel Elías. Ecuador: Ecuador’s Odebrecht case illustrates a close-knit corruption structure that took place under the presidency of Rafael Correa. His childhood friend and ex-vice president, Jorge Glas, who is already serving a jail term for the corruption scandal, has been accused by Luis Mameri, Odebrecht’s vice president in Latin America, of accepting further bribes than initially known through a company named Glory International. In September 2018, the Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office opened a preliminary investigation against eight people for allegedly indulging in organized crime within Odebrecht’s corruption scheme. Among those investigated is former President Rafael Correa, who is currently residing and seeking asylum in Belgium. In addition, former legal secretary of the presidency Alexis Mera, former Interior Minister José Serrano, and former Attorney General Diego García are also being investigated for their role in the Hydroelectric San Francisco Project. Ecuador’s Attorney General’s Office recently announced that an additional 11 preliminary investigations were going to be targeting Rafael Correa, Alexis Mera, and Jorge Glas. The latest announcement solidifies Ecuador’s efforts to punish those involved in this corruption scandal.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Elites and Organized Crime

Peru: To say that the Odebrecht scandal has rocked the political class in Peru would be an understatement. Maria Sokolich, Peru’s new attorney general following the controversial resignation of Pedro Chávarry, is currently overseeing the investigation into some of the country’s top politicians, which are holding or have held the highest office in this country. Current president Martín Vizcarra is being investigated for an alleged link between his company and Odebrecht between 2006 and 2008. His predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has an ongoing investigation against him — which forced his resignation in March 2018 — for alleged consultancies that his company, Westfield Capital, made to Odebrecht between November 2004 and December 2007. Former president Alan García, who was denied an asylum request in Uruguay after the allegations came to light, is accused of taking bribes during the construction of the Lima Metro. The two other former presidents being investigated for allegedly taking bribes are Alejandro Toledo and Ollanta Humala. In March, Odebrecht’s former executive in Peru, Jorge Barata, is expected to declare this in Brazil. Barata’s testimony could potentially create new shockwaves in the Andean nation. Recently, Odebrecht has announced it will cooperate with the Peruvian government. Its former executives in the country are set to be interviewed, which may yet lead to further revelations. Argentina: The Odebrecht investigation in Argentina threatens dozens of former high-level officials linked to public works projects during the presidencies of Néstor Carlos Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015). Most notably are the investigations into Julio de Vido and Daniel Cameron. Julio de Vido, a former minister of federal planning under Fernández, turned himself into authorities in October 2018. De Vido is accused of being part of the “Road Works” scandal, which involves the alleged embezzlement of public funds through tender processes for road works in the former president’s home province of Santa Cruz, as well as other infrastructure projects under his supervision. Meanwhile, former Energy Minister Daniel Cameron is being investigated as part of a case known as “Skanska II,” where irregularities in the expansion of gas pipelines in the country are being linked to a corruption scheme with the collaboration of Odebrecht. However, the level of corruption into the Kirchners’ is more profound. Reports suggest that an additional 14 businessmen and five former employees are also being investigated for many illicit activities in cooperation with the Brazilian construction giant. Bolivia: Bolivia’s has a history of favorable dealings with Brazilian companies that dates back to 1987. In that year, then-Energy Minister Carlos Morales Landívar was accused of using his political influence to favor the Brazilian company, Andrade Gutierrez. Now, Landívar is being accused of being involved in 2003 with Camargo Correa — among the 13 major companies in Brazil under investigation in the Lava Jato case — when he was minister of services and public works. However, the names directly linked to the Odebrecht case are the former president and current 2019 presidential hopeful Carlos Mesa and his successor, Supreme Court Justice and former president Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé. Both are being investigated for allegedly receiving bribes from Odebrecht during their presidencies, which spanned between 2003 and 2006. Mesa’s investigation could play a pivotal role in the presidential elections that are to be held in October. A conviction in Mesa’s case could leave the door wide open for Evo Morales to be reelected. Brazil: Over the past five years in Brazil, more than 77 company executives have agreed to plea bargains, one president was impeached, another former president is currently in jail, and his successor is now also being investigated as a result of the Odebrecht scandal. That’s just a slight glimpse of the far-reaching impact that the Lava Jato case has had on South America’s largest nation. On February 6, currently jailed former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was indicted for additional charges that would add 13 extra years to his current sentence. Lula is accused of receiving illicit benefits during his mandate from 2003 to 2010. In addition to Lula, other people close to his inner circle have been accused and arrested for corruption. One of those people, former Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha, has been in prison since 2016. Cunha is accused of receiving a $5 million bribe. However, despite his current arrest, Brazilian prosecutors have requested further charges against him. Meanwhile, Aécio Neves, a former governor and 2014 presidential candidate, is accused of receiving bribes in exchange for support for legislation mainly regarding works that were of interest to Odebrecht when he was governor of Minas Gerais state. Neves’ investigation is ongoing while he maintains a seat as a senator for Minas Gerais. Lastly, former President Michel Temer (2016-2018) has made headlines as Brazil’s federal police have asked for him to be charged with bribery and money laundering. According to officials, while vice-president in 2014, Temer and his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – PMDB) received more than $2 million from Odebrecht. Now that Sérgio Moro, who was once leading the Lava Jato corruption probe, is the new justice minister under President Jair Bolsonaro, close attention will be focused on sweeping new legislation that he has proposed to combat corruption.  

InSight Crime’s 2018 Homicide Round-Up

0
With a worsening crisis in Venezuela, dark days in Nicaragua, an ever more fragile peace process in Colombia, new governments and new ideas in Brazil, Mexico and beyond, 2018 was a year of turmoil across Latin America and the Caribbean. Homicide levels have reflected this uncertainty, rising sharply in parts, continuing to drop in others. In its Homicide Round-Up, InSight Crime looks into the murder rates country by country and the factors behind them.  Venezuela: 81.4 per 100,000 Venezuela has not given up its status as the Latin American country with the highest homicide rate, at 81.4 homicides per 100,000 people, or 23,047 murders. While this number is slightly down from the 26,616 murders reported in 2017, the country remains wracked by severe political, economic, and social conflicts. A report from the Venezuelan Violence Observatory (Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia – OVV), the only public source of homicides in the country, put the murder rate at 81.4 in 2018, down from 89 in 2017. But this drop might not be cause for optimism, as it is based on 2011 population figures and does not take into account the massive migration of an estimated three million Venezuelans fleeing crisis. The OVV also found that this supposed reduction in homicides contrasts with a sharp increase in killings by security forces — 7,523 victims in 2018 as opposed to 5,535 in 2017 — accounting for an astounding 32 percent of all homicides. While the government has not published official crime statistics for 2018, InSight Crime had access to a leaked document from the Venezuelan Observatory for Public Security, a department within the Interior Ministry. This spoke of an official rate of 10,573 homicides in 2018, or just 33 per 100,000 people, showing that the government does not include cases of “resisting authority” or other categories, such as victims of stray bullets. El Salvador: 51 per 100,000 El Salvador logged 3,340 homicides in 2018, a 15 percent drop from 2017. The resulting homicide rate of 51 per 100,000 people continues the downward trend seen in El Salvador in recent years. As recently as 2016, the country topped InSight Crime’s regional rankings with an alarming rate of 81.2 per 100,000. In 2017, the rate dropped by 20 homicides per 100,000, but the country remained second on the list, only behind Venezuela. El Salvador’s homicide rate has long been linked to its two dominant and deadly gangs: the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and the Barrio 18. Though there may be a number of causes for the reduction in killings, such as the gangs forgoing internecine wars, the government has claimed its “mano dura,” or what are euphemistically termed “medidas extraordinarias” (extraordinary measures) now, was largely responsible. That same crackdown, however, explains a United Nations report that found extrajudicial killings were on the rise and likely to go unpunished. During the first two weeks of the new year, 126 people were murdered. Police officials blamed the gangs for the bloodshed, accusing them of a show of force ahead of presidential elections on February 3. Jamaica: 47 per 100,000 In an address to the House of Representatives, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness said homicides decreased by 21.9 percent last year. The country recorded 1,287 murders in 2018 for a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 people. The police have attributed this improvement to the creation of Zones of Special Operation (ZOSO), areas in which the military joins in policing efforts. As part of his plan to bring the murder rate to 16 per 100,000 over the next decade, Holness has advocated for 20 more special security zones to be designated in 2019. Last year’s drop in homicides, however, comes after a near 20 percent rise in killings in 2017, which was linked to the poor rollout of the ZOSO plan and similar security crackdowns.

(InSight Crime map of homicide rates in Latin America and the Caribbean. Click the picture for a larger version.)

Honduras: 40 per 100,000* Between January to November 2018, Honduras saw 3,310 murders, according to the Observatory of Violence at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras – UNAH). This would point to a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000 people, a minor decrease from the 42.8 per 100,000 registered in 2017, when there were 3,791 murders. After hitting a high of 85.5 murders per 100,000 people in 2011, Honduras’ murder rate was cut in half by 2017. As in neighboring El Salvador, security officials attributed the downward trend to a government crackdown against drug traffickers and gangs. But officials have also blamed limited year-over-year reductions in the homicide rate on the very same security strategy, saying it leads to retaliation by criminal groups. In the first two weeks of 2019, 30 people were murdered in eight separate massacres, showing that the regular cocktail of gang violence, high levels of impunity and corruption continue. Trinidad and Tobago: 37.5 per 100,000 The year proved to be the second deadliest in the country’s history with 516 homicides, behind only 2008 when 550 people were killed. Despite its relatively small population of 1.3 million people, Trinidad and Tobago has seen violence grow steadily worse in recent years. Impunity continues to be a major challenge, as the Caribbean nation’s police officials have admitted that at least 83 percent of the murder cases from last year remain unsolved. Belize: 35.9 per 100,000 Despite being the smallest country in Central America, Belize has faced a stubbornly high homicide rate. While official stats have yet to come out, local media tallied 143 murders in 2018, just two less than in 2012, the country’s most violent year. The government has denied that Belize is a staging base for criminal groups such as the Zetas and Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) from Mexico, or the MS13 from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. However, a persistently high homicide rate shows that while Belize may have stayed out of the headlines, organized crime appears to be a major threat. Mexico: 25.8 per 100,000 Enrique Peña Nieto’s tenure as Mexico’s president ended with homicides at a record high. In 2018, the country logged 33,341 murders, up from 31,174 in 2017, according to data from the National System of Public Security. This brings the murder rate to 25.8 per 100,000 up from 22.5 in 2017 and 16.2 in 2016. The spike in homicides has been spurred by the continued fragmentation of larger cartels, and the government’s inability to react to the less organized, smaller gangs, which kill for control of territory. The new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has reversed his security plans, advocating for the creation of a national guard and keeping the military in the streets to try and stem the bloodshed after an average of 91 people were killed per day last year. Brazil: 25 per 100,000* 2017 marked a sad record for Brazil: 175 people were killed every day.  Last year saw slight improvement, with 39,183 murders between January and September, down from 44,733 killings in the same period in 2017, according to the Brazilian Public Security Forum (Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública). If this reduction held, it would bring the murder rate to 25 per 100,000 people for the year. But insecurity and violence continue to be top concerns for much of the population, as Brazil struggles to find effective ways to stop violent crime. The army was sent in to Rio de Janeiro in 2017, the latest example of a militarization strategy that has consistently failed in Latin America. Jair Bolsonaro was propelled to the presidency largely by pledging to allow police to shoot criminals and to simplify gun ownership laws. So far in 2019, criminal groups have unleashed an assault on the state of Ceará, and the government has responded to the violence with federal troops, turning northeastern Brazil into a battle zone. Such outright conflict may add to the body count, meaning Brazil will be unable to address the root causes of its consistently high murder rate. Colombia: 25 per 100,000* After seeing its lowest level of violence in 42 years in 2017, Colombia saw a small resurgence of violence in 2018, increasing to 12,311 homicides from 11,381 in 2017. This four percent rise takes the homicide rate to 25 per 100,000 people, up from 24 last year. In 2018, Colombia saw an increase and diversification of criminal groups in Colombia, including former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), who have gathered into ex-FARC Mafia groups that are growing in strength, as well as members of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN). The increasing number of FARC dissidents abandoning the peace process and the breakdown in talks with the ELN have emboldened these organizations. Furthermore, violence has risen along the border with Venezuela while social leaders have been killed as a result of fighting over control of illicit crops and land. Guatemala: 22.4 per 100,000 Guatemala continued to show marked improvements in its homicide rate, ending the year at 22.4 per 100,000 people. The country recorded 3,881 killings in 2018, down from 4,409 murders and a homicide rate of 26.1 in 2017, according to government officials. But civil society figures tell a different story. The Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo – GAM), a non-governmental organization which tracks crime in the country, said the official tally was short by over 1,000 homicides, placing the total at 4,914 and the murder rate at 28 per 100,000. Either way, Guatemala remains less plagued with violence than its Northern Triangle neighbors in Honduras and El Salvador. The findings of InSight Crime’s 2017 investigation into homicides in Guatemala remain valid. President Jimmy Morales’ war with the anti-corruption body known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) has left little room for the government to improve on rampant impunity for murders and faulty data-gathering about such crimes. Puerto Rico: 20 per 100,000 Puerto Rico saw its murder rate remain at 20 per 100,000 people in 2018, about four times that of the mainland United States. Records show that 641 people were killed last year, a dip from the 710 murders in 2017, and far below the record 1,164 homicides in 2011. Local drug gangs are largely to blame for the body count, with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) saying some 60 percent of homicides there are drug-related. This year, Puerto Rico has already seen a wave of killings, worrying residents and federal law enforcement. A police force struggling to maintain its ranks, as well as solve crimes, will only fuel insecurity on the island. Costa Rica: 11.7 per 100,000 With just 17 fewer homicides in 2018, Costa Rica saw its homicide rate remain relatively stable. The Central American country counted 586 murders, dropping the murder rate slightly from 12.1 to 11.7 per 100,000 people. Until last year’s drop, the homicide rate had steadily increased since 2012. The country’s Judicial Investigation Agency (Organismo de Investigación Judicial – OIJ) had even predicted the same for 2018. Traditionally one of Central America’s more peaceful nations, the country has suffered from rising levels of crime recently, thanks to its position as a key transit point for Colombian cocaine. The government has struggled to respond to an increase in available drugs, which has led to groups fighting for control of local markets. Uruguay: 11.2 per 100,000 Uruguay recorded a record high 382 murders in 2018. With 99 more homicides than in 2017, this marked a brutal year-over-year increase of 35 percent and a homicide rate of 11.2 per 100,000 people. These statistics are drawn from the Propuestas Foundation (Fundapro), linked to the opposition Colorado Party. Official figures have only been released for the first half of the year, showing 218 murders, as compared to 131 from January-June 2017. For one of the traditionally more peaceful and stable countries in the region, this sudden rise is alarming. Authorities are convinced fighting between organized crime groups is to blame. However, this may provide a convenient scapegoat to justify a militarized response when other problems, such as lackluster resolution and conviction rates for homicides, may also have contributed to the situation. Dominican Republic: 10.4 per 100,000* The Citizen Security Observatory reported that 801 murders were registered in the Caribbean nation during the first nine months of 2018, a drop of 145 when compared to the 946 homicides registered for the same period in 2017. Although this shows a continued downward trend that has lasted since 2011, a recent poll shows that public insecurity remains a top concern for the Dominican population. Panama: 9.6 per 100,000* In December, Panama’s Public Ministry released a report showing that there were 401 murders between January and November of 2018, about a dozen fewer than the 378 deaths in 2017. At this count, the homicide rate sits at 9.6 per 100,000 people. The report highlighted that more than 40 percent (169) of the incidents occurred in the capital, Panama City. National Police Director Alonso Vega Pino says that the slight increase is “directly related to organized crime.” Panama’s geography makes it a vital transit point for illegal trade in the region. An internal investigation into an international arms trafficking network in October 2018 illustrated the country’s ongoing challenges with confronting corruption and organized crime. Peru: 7.8 per 100,000* In 2017, Peru registered 2,487 murders, slightly up from the 2,435 in 2016, for a homicide rate of 7.8 per 100,000. No data is available for 2018 so far. The country has maintained relatively low levels of violent crime in recent decades, though institutionalized corruption is threatening resources dedicated to fighting Peru’s ongoing drug trafficking challenges. Bolivia: 6.3 per 100,000 During a televised news conference, Bolivia’s Interior Minister Carlos Romero announced that the country had registered a homicide rate of 6.3 per 100,000 people in 2018, a more than two percent improvement compared to the first half of 2017, when the country recorded a rate of 8.5 per 100,000. The announcement comes as the country prepares for primary presidential elections on January 27.  In the past year, opposition groups who firmly reject Evo Morales decision to run for a fourth consecutive term have conducted mass demonstrations and national strikes. The presidential elections, which will take place in October, are likely to take the focus away from national security issues at a time when Brazil’s gangs are moving into the South American nation. Ecuador: 5.7 per 100,000 Ecuador saw 975 murders in 2018, 18 more than the 957 recorded in 2017, giving the country a homicide rate of 5.7 per 100,000 people, according to figures from the national police. Less than a decade ago, Ecuador faced murder rates three times as high, but a process of so-called “gang legalization” has helped drastically reduce killings. However, an increase in drug trafficking from Colombia to Ecuador has renewed concerns about violence. The high-profile killing of three journalists by an ex-FARC mafia group has also made cross-border security a priority for the government. Argentina: 5.2 per 100,000* In the midst of a deep economic crisis, Argentina continues to have one of the lowest homicide rates on the continent. Argentina recorded a homicide rate of 5.2 per 100,000 people in 2017, a slight decrease from 6.6 in 2015, according to Security Ministry figures. No data was available for 2018 so far. Low levels of violence, however, haven’t translated into security. In December, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich signed a decree giving federal forces greater use of deadly force. The measure, expected to be implemented six months from now, is already creating controversy and uncertainty within the Argentine population. Paraguay: 5.1 per 100,000* The latest homicide report by Paraguay’s National Observatory of Security and Citizen Coexistence indicates that a total of 350 murders were recorded between January and September of 2018. This statistic yields a murder rate of 5.1 per 100,000, considerably lower than the homicide rate of 7.8 recorded in 2017. However, Interior Minister Juan Ernesto Villamayor recently stated in a radio interview that the country must reevaluate its transnational strategies with Argentina and Brazil to combat organized crime in the region. The First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), Brazil’s most powerful gang, continues to threaten the country’s security. Chile: 2.7 per 100,000 Chile continues its reign as the country with the lowest homicide rate in Latin America. From January to October 2018, a total of 488 killings were recorded, accounting for a homicide rate of 2.7 per 100,000 people. This is even lower than the country’s homicide rate of 3.3 that was registered for the same period of time in 2017. Even with low levels of homicides, Chile has seen random acts of violence. An explosive artifact, for example, was detonated at a local bus stop in the capital city of Santiago, resulting in multiple injuries. With organized crime expected to strengthen in 2019, it remains to be seen if Chile can continue to uphold its low levels of violence. Nicaragua: N/A In 2017, Nicaragua registered a homicide rate of 7 per 100,000 people, with 431 total murders, continuing a positive trend of lower violence seen over several years. However, levels of violence soared in 2018 due to the brutal repression of civilian protesters by the regime of President Daniel Ortega. Incomplete statistics of killings have been provided by civil society and non-governmental organizations. The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (Asociación Nicaragüense Pro Derechos Humanos – ANDPH) recorded in July that at least 448 had been killed and 595 people disappeared. Further information from the group has not been issued since it closed its offices in Nicaragua in August due to consistent government threats. * Murder rates calculated by InSight Crime based on partial homicide data for 2018 and the country’s 2017 estimated population total, according to the Population Reference Bureau. These will be updated as full 2018 figures become available.

Ceará Gang Truce Shows Brazil Government Could Be Common Enemy

0
The northern state of Ceará in Brazil has become a battlefield after government plans to clamp down on gang-controlled prisons were met with an unlikely alliance of criminal groups, showing their collective muscle through dozens of acts of violence. In the very first week of Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, this may set a troubling precedent for how Brazil’s gangs will respond to forceful attempts to bring them to heel. The violence began after Ceará’s new top prison official, Luis Mauro Albuquerque, promised to stop dividing prison populations based on gang allegiances and to conduct more thorough searches, especially to crack down on cellphone use. These measures, if implemented, would make it more difficult for jailed gang leaders to maintain control of outside operations. Their response was rapid. A truce was called between Brazil’s two leading criminal groups, First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Red Command (Comando Vermelho), as well as their local rivals, Guardians of the State (Guardiões do Estado – GDE) and Family of the North (Família do Norte – FDN), both of which have had ties to the PCC and CV.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Prisons

Intercepted text messages sent between members of the GDE spoke of a temporary truce between the gangs, saying “we are calling this truce because we must…it is the intention of the state (that we should kill each other). We will not satisfy the will of the state. We will receive our enemies with the dignity of bandits and expect the same feedback from them,” El País reported. The Justice and Public Security Minister, Sergio Moro, has ordered up to 400 extra police troops to Ceará to help control the violence. At least 191 people have been arrested on charges of rioting, civil disobedience and resisting authority. So far, this has not seemed to stem the violence. By January 9, over 180 instances of violence had been reported in various municipalities. While no deaths have been directly attributed to these acts so far, the gang members have struck at infrastructure: burning buses and police vehicles as well as attacking police stations, businesses, and banks. A bridge near the state capital, Fortaleza, was even damaged with explosives. However, Moro’s decision seems to at least be playing well politically since two other states, Pará and Espírito Santo, have also asked for federal troops to be sent there to quell criminality.

InSight Crime Analysis

The speed and spread of the violence across Ceará shows just how much power Brazil’s gang leaders continue to wield behind bars. PCC and Red Command began as prison gangs before going on to national and international prominence. The alliance between these gangs is a particular cause for worry. While they have regularly clashed in turf wars since 2016, PCC and Red Command had enjoyed an alliance for almost two decades. Now the gangs could once again be brought together to take on government forces. Similar events have been seen in the region, such as in El Salvador. Gangs there progressively turned from fighting each other, uniting to face violent government repression.

SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles

While the Ceará riots began in response to a local policy, this situation is now seen as a real test of Bolsonaro’s ability to “get tough.” His rhetoric on the campaign trail and since taking office has been heavy on bluster and slim on details, promising to give police a license to kill criminals or to make it easier for Brazilians to own a gun. He has packed his cabinet with military figures. His justice minister, Sergio Moro, is seen as more pragmatic and enjoys a solid reputation for his anti-corruption successes in recent years. However, such a coordinated backlash by the country’s most dangerous gangs in the first week of Bolsonaro’s presidency may signify troubled times ahead for him. And for Brazil.