Crime & Justice

Born behind bars, Brazil’s PCC now South America’s leading criminal gang

By Nayara Batschke and Alba Santandreu

Sao Paulo, Jun 10 (EFE).- Brazil’s First Capital Command (PCC), an organized crime gang whose tentacles now spread across the region, emerged in the early 1990s during a prison uprising in Sao Paulo state.

Three decades later, it has grown to become South America’s most powerful criminal organization and is suspected of orchestrating last month’s murder in northern Colombia of Paraguayan prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, who had been investigating the PCC.

The head of Colombia’s National Police force, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, said that group based largely in Sao Paulo state allegedly initially sought to target Pecci in Paraguay, where the gang has taken over the narcotics trade on the Brazilian border after the murder of drug lord Jorge Rafaat Toumani.

Due to the difficulty of killing Pecci in Paraguay, an agreement was reached among international crime gangs for the hit to be carried out anywhere in the world under the alleged coordination of the PCC, according to Vargas.

Having expanded to more than 30,000 “baptized” members, the PCC’s reach now extends throughout virtually all of South America, Lincoln Gakiya, a prosecutor from an organized crime unit in Sao Paulo state who heads up investigations of the crime gang, explained in an interview with Efe.

And it has a particularly strong presence in Bolivia and Paraguay, the main corridors through which drugs from Colombia and Peru reach Brazil, he added.

In Paraguay, the gang dominates that nation’s prison system and also uses its foothold there to control that nation’s triple border with Argentina and Brazil.

“It’s an important country because of the cocaine that arrives there from Peru and Colombia and is later transported to Brazil,” Gakiya said.

The PCC now focuses almost exclusively on international drug trafficking, exploiting gaps in the operations of Mexican and Colombian cartels.

“The PCC discovered a market niche that wasn’t being utilized by the Mexicans or the Colombians. The main consumer market for both is the United States; the European route became secondary and the PCC discovered that,” the prosecutor said.

The “foreign” drug gangs would go into different Latin American countries to acquire the drugs, but they didn’t have the necessary logistics to transport the cocaine to Europe, a vacuum the PCC exploited to become the “biggest and most influential” criminal organization in South America.

The drugs that arrive in Brazilian territory are primarily shipped to Europe via the southeastern port of Santos, an international smuggling operation that is facilitated by the bribery of government officials.

Gakiya estimates the PCC may export as much as 10 metric tons (10,000 kilograms) of cocaine (valued at 35,000 euros per kg) every month to Europe.

To ensure those shipments get to their destination, the PCC has formed alliances with powerful European drug-trafficking organizations, which in turn receive 40 percent of the drugs exported by the Brazilian gang.

Investigations have shown the PCC likely has close ties to ‘Ndrangheta, a powerful organized crime syndicate based in the southern Italian region of Calabria.

The PCC first emerged in 1993 at a prison in Sao Paulo state with the mission of protecting inmates’ rights inside the prison system.

Three decades later, it has transformed itself into one of the most dangerous and highly organized crime organizations in South America.

Unlike drug gangs in Rio de Janeiro, the PCC has sought to promote peaceful coexistence among its “brothers” and keep the organization from splintering, researcher and academic Milton Lahuerta told Efe.

All members must adhere to a strict code of conduct and accept a rigid hierarchy, at the top of which is Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho, alias “Marcola,” who is currently behind bars in a maximum-security prison.

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