At least 34 prisoners have been murdered in a jail in the far north of Brazil, marking a worsening security situation in Brazil as rival drug gangs fight for control of the lucrative drug trade.
Media in Roraima state carried shocking images of a pile of mutilated corpses, some missing limbs and heads, and even a heart, on a bloodstained corridor floor of the prison in Boa Vista, the state capital. Mutilations and decapitations are common in Brazil’s medieval and overcrowded prison system, where drug gangs rule.
“It is a barbarity,” said Francilene Vargas, an officer from the Roraima narcotics department who had seen the scenes inside the prison after the incident in the early hours of Friday morning.
The killing spree came five days after a massacre at a prison in Manaus, in which 56 prisoners were killed. Four more were killed in a nearby institution on 2 January.
The Manaus violence was blamed on a battle between two drug gangs – the Manaus-based Northern Family (FDN, in its Portuguese acronym) and São Paulo’s First Capital Command (PCC), the most powerful gang in Brazil. Authorities in Manaus said the FDN had attacked and killed members of the PCC, along with a few other prisoners.
One image from the Boa Vista prison showed a phrase written in blood on the tiled floor that read, “The PCC are in charge here. Blood is paid for with blood”, raising fears that the incident was a revenge attack for the Manaus massacre.
Vargas said it was too early to say if this was the case. “Bodies are still being counted,” she said. “We know there are a considerable amount of bodies, and we are investigating the relationship with what happened in Manaus.”
Vargas said the PCC was the dominant drug gang in Roraima’s prisons, which indicated it had “the bigger command” of the overall drug trade.
“The Northern Family has few members [in Roraima],” she said. “What we perceive is that the commanders in other states are arriving here and there are orders from other states being followed here.”
Uziel Castro, the Roraima state secretary for justice and citizenship, said PCC prisoners had attacked other inmates who were not linked to any drug gang.
“What happened was an isolated action by members of the PCC – a criminal organisation that exists in the prison system – against people who were not from any faction,” he said.
According to police, the FDN has become increasingly powerful in the Amazon as it seeks to dominate the area’s drug trade. It has been fighting the PCC for control of drug routes from Peru and Colombia, down the Solimões River to Manaus, a major city, and on to Europe.
Complicating further Brazil’s tenuous security situation, the PCC broke last year with its long-time rivals, Rio’s Red Command – Brazil’s second biggest gang – who have now allied with the FDN.
Carlos Ramos, a police corporal and communications coordinator for its Association of Firefighters and Military (or street) Police, said security sources in the state believe that only a few FDN members at most died in the killing. Most worked in the kitchen area.
“As they couldn’t get into other wings to do the massacre, they did those they could reach. They just executed for the sake of ease,” he said. The killing came in response to a general order from PCC bosses, he said.
Ramos said prisoners circulated freely inside their respective wings in the overcrowded prison, which is filled to twice its capacity, according to media reports.
“Even when the cells are locked, they know how to open the locks,” he said. “Locks are a toy for them.”
Brazil’s president, Michel Temer, has struggled to manage the growing prison crisis. After saying nothing for three days following the Manaus massacre, he was ridiculed for describing it as a “terrible accident”.