May 19, 2006 5:49 pm


I know this is a story about Brazil. But this is a story which could be written (though it is not) about any terrorist organization or rogue state. The dynamics are the same. It begins thus:

Life in São Paulo returned to something like normal by the middle of this week after prison riots and attacks on police and property orchestrated by organised crime left 132 people dead and 53 injured between Friday night and Tuesday morning.

But many wondered what kind of normality it was. The handling of events by authorities, and especially the way they were brought to an end, suggested a lack of control amounting to a crisis of governability.

How did it happen that a gang got so powerful that its leaders could take the Brazilian government hostage from within their prisons? Read and cry:

The PCC was formed in 1993 after riot police put down a rebellion at the notorious Carandiru prison in São Paulo and 111 prisoners were killed. It protested against what Walter Maierovitch, a former senior security official, calls the"inhuman overcrowding" of Brazil’s prisons, with prisoners sleeping in shifts for lack of bunk space and diseases such at tuberculosis rampant.

The PCC grew slowly at first but expanded rapidly under Marcola’s leadership after 2002. Authorities continued to deny its existence but it was already showing its power. In 2001 it had caused riots at 29 prisons. In 2003 it ordered the murder of Machado Dias, a judge who had sent its members to maximum-security jails.

As the PCC’s statutes make clear, it was dedicated from the start not only to fighting for better conditions but also to imposing itself on prison authorities and to providing support services to prisoners and to active criminals on the outside. Members pay monthly dues and a percentage of their criminal earnings; its income is estimated at R$1m ($467,000, €367,000, £248,000) a month.

The PCC also has political ambitions, of sorts. Before general elections in 2002 and again this year it has announced its intention to finance candidates, although no candidate has ever admitted receiving its money.

Although its political aims are not clearly stated – it says it wants"liberty, justice and peace" – it would be a mistake, says Mr Paes Manso, to underestimate its political intelligence."It is no coincidence that the PCC has done this now, at the start of campaigning for October’s elections," he says.

If the PCC wanted to embarrass presidential candidates, it has succeeded. Geraldo Alckmin, the former governor of São Paulo state, stepped down in March to run for the presidency. According to an opinion poll conducted by the Folha de S. Paulo, a daily newspaper, 37 per cent of people blamed him for the weekend’s events.

Even more, 39 per cent, blamed President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, while 55 per cent blamed the judicial authorities. Such attitudes are not surprising. Mr Maierovitch says authorities have consistently made concessions to the PCC to be able to demonstrate to the public that it is under control or has gone away.“The sad reality,” he says, “is that the state is now the prisoner of the PCC.”

Now substitute EU and UN attitudes towards Islamists, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah . . . . . .

Yes, Brazilian appeasers have led their people to a place where they can look forward to a government led by the PCC. Bolivia is already ruled by Pot growers.

What would life be like under the rule of criminals? Ask the Palestinians.

comments powered by Disqus