By Pedro Fonseca and Brad Brooks
RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO At least 33 inmates were killed in a prison riot in Brazil on Friday, officials said, possibly in retaliation after members of a powerful drug gang were targeted in the worst prison massacre in decades that left 56 people dead earlier this week.
Several of the dead were decapitated, had their hearts cut out and their bodies burned on a bonfire, the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported, citing security officials.
State officials said the riot in Monte Cristo, Roraima state’s largest penitentiary, was brought under control by elite police forces. Violence between rival drug gangs in the prison had ended with 10 dead in October.
At least 93 prisoners have been killed in three separate prison riots this week in Brazil, sparking fears that months of violence between drug gangs who control many of the country’s prisons was spiraling out of control.
The top security official in the state of Roraima, Uziel de Castro, speaking on BandNews radio, blamed Friday’s violence at the state-run prison on the Sao Paulo-based First Capital Command (PCC) drug gang, which was targeted in Monday’s massacre at a prison in Amazonas state.
Brazilian Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes said, however, the killings in Roraima were the result of an internal PCC feud and not connected to Monday’s prison massacre in Amazonas. He insisted that Brazil had control of its prisons.
Security experts had predicted more violence in Brazil’s gang-controlled prison system in the wake of Monday’s massacre.
“It’s getting really ugly. This situation is clearly snowballing and there is nothing the government can do to stop the violence in the short term,” said Rafael Alcadipani, a public security expert at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank in Sao Paulo.
“We are paying the price for 50 years of total neglect of the penitentiary system. ”
In Monday’s uprising, members of PCC were attacked by the North Family drug faction, which controls the Anisio Jobim penitentiary in Amazonas, according to officials. North Family in Amazonas is believed to dominate cocaine traffic from Colombia and Peru, according to authorities.
The group is allied with the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command drug gang, Brazil’s second most powerful faction after PCC.
For more than two decades, PCC and Red Command maintained an uneasy alliance, ensuring that a steady flow of drugs and guns flowed across Brazil’s long jungle border.
But about six months ago PCC and Red Command split, as PCC moved to take control of lucrative drug routes across the border with Paraguay and become Brazil’s dominant gang.
Experts say PCC also has been moving to infiltrate areas in Red Command’s home base of Rio de Janeiro, further stoking a turf war that threatens to spill onto the streets of Brazil’s biggest cities.
Since the split, Red Command has allied itself with smaller regional gangs to confront PCC, primarily in the north and northeast of Brazil, where this week’s prison violence has boiled over.
Alcadipani, the public security expert, said that Brazil’s penitentiary system has been “self-regulated” by the gangs and that mass killings were rare until recent months because of a truce between Brazil’s biggest criminal factions.
“But we see that as soon as we have a gang war, these killings are inevitably going to happen because the state has no control over the prisons,” said Alcadipani.
(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro, Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo, Alonso Soto in Brasilia; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Jeffrey Benkoe)