The wicked plan to free Brazil’s deadliest drug gang leaders

. Feb 14, 2019
pcc marcola

On February 13, São Paulo state authorities decided to move against the PCC (The First Command of the Capital)—Brazil’s most powerful and arguably deadliest drug gang. Twenty-two jailed leaders of the group—including kingpin Marcos “Marcola” Camacho—were transferred to maximum security federal prisons around the country, moving them away from the notorious Presidente Venceslau penitentiary in São Paulo state. This is the boldest move against what is an ever-growing criminal organization since 2006—when a confrontation between police and the gang sparked a running battle on the streets of São Paulo.

Over the years, authorities have been reluctant to remove PCC leaders from the state, fearing violent retribution from the gang. But experts suggest the group’s rapid expansion can partly be put down to the fact many of its imprisoned leaders have been kept together in São Paulo for so long. Twenty-six years after its foundation, the PCC is now among the biggest organized crime gangs in South America, with a stake in all the major drug routes in and out of Brazil.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since mid-2018, rumors of a possible transfer put the PCC leaders into action. Prosecutors and judges were threatened, and a huge Hollywood-style prison break plan was foiled by the authorities, setting the transfer plans into motion once and for all. </span></p> <h2>Jailbreak</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In October 2018, law enforcement agents apprehended an LJ35 jet in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción, suspected of belonging to Gilberto Aparecido do Santos—&#8221;Fuminho&#8221;—Marcola&#8217;s right-hand man in the PCC top brass. The pilot, Iranian national Nader Ali Saboori Haghighi, was arrested on the scene and deported to the U.S.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The reason for the seizure was that authorities had intercepted an elaborate escape plan, led by Fuminho, to break Marcola and his cronies out of the Presidente Venceslau state penitentiary. According to material obtained by the Public Prosecution Service, Fuminho—who is a fugitive of justice since 1999, when he and Marcola broke out of a penitentiary in São Paulo—spent &#8220;tens of millions of dollars&#8221; purchasing bulletproof cars, aircraft, weapons, and training personnel.</span></p> <div id="attachment_14083" style="width: 670px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-14083" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-14083" src="" alt="marcola pcc" width="660" height="360" srcset=" 660w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 660px) 100vw, 660px" /><p id="caption-attachment-14083" class="wp-caption-text">Marcos &#8220;Marcola&#8221; Camacho</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The plan involved blocking off the nearby Raposo Tavares highway, closing the nearby airport, and shutting off the local power station. Around the time the jet was seized in Paraguay, drones were spotted outside of the penitentiary on a regular basis, presumably carrying out reconnaissance.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Fuminho&#8217;s plan involved recruiting an army of mercenaries, including gangs involved in attacks on banks around the country, as well as Iranian, African, and Colombian soldiers who were trained on Fuminho&#8217;s farms in Bolivia.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The security forces outside the prison would be targeted by the criminals, while the penitentiary&#8217;s walls were to be blown up with explosives. Once extracting Marcola and the others, the escapees would be flown to Bolivia or Paraguay.</span></p> <h2>Marcola and the PCC</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The PCC started life as something of a <a href="">union for prisoners</a>. Inspired by the Carandiru Massacre of the year before (in which 111 prisoners were killed by police, in a botched attempt to quell a riot), eight inmates in a detention facility near São Paulo decided to form an organization to &#8220;fight oppression in the São Paulo prison system&#8221; and &#8220;avenge the deaths of the 111.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">They had fertile ground for growth, as even besides Carandiru, there were numerous reports of horrible prison conditions around São Paulo.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The group then began going after rival factions. Orchestrated by its first leaders César &#8220;Cesinha&#8221; Augusto Roriz da Silva and José Márcio Felício (&#8220;Geleião&#8221;), the fledgling PCC began attacking other prison gangs in São Paulo and imposing its authority. In the space of a few years, the gang controlled the vast majority of prisons in the state.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Their dominance was based on a strict set of rules that its &#8220;brothers&#8221; would abide by. Drug trafficking within the prison was run by the gang, as well as kidnappings and robberies on the outside. Members paid a monthly fee to the group and, in exchange for their loyalty, they were provided with lawyers and their families would receive food and household materials.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The group expanded with the help of mobile phones. Smuggled into prisons to the PCC leaders, they were able to recruit people on the outside and orchestrate criminal activities. After a series of PCC-led riots in several prisons across the state, some of its leaders were transferred to penitentiaries around the country. Instead of harming the gang, the move helped the PCC spread nationwide.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The watershed moment for the PCC came in 2002, in the form of a palace coup in the gang&#8217;s top brass. Cesinha and Geleião entered a fierce dispute with fellow &#8220;brother&#8221; Marcola, a childhood friend of Cesinha&#8217;s.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A notorious bank robber from a young age, Marcola was arrested in 1998 after a criminal endeavor gone awry. Months later, he escaped from Carandiru prison along with Fuminho, but was arrested six months after, spotted driving his luxury Dodge Stratus in São Paulo. He has been inside ever since.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A bitter feud among the PCC&#8217;s leadership saw Cesinha and Geleião hung out to dry. Marcola seized control for himself, with Fuminho by his side, and ordered the murder of his old friend in prison.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Marcola is largely responsible for making the PCC what it is today, a sprawling crime gang with fingers in every pie. Once restricted to robberies and drug dealing, Marcola turned the PCC into a corporation of crime. Accounting systems were put in place and a vast leadership structure was created. Instead of becoming a constant source of terror for São Paulo residents, the gang moved into the shadows, seizing control of major drug routes in Paraguay and Bolivia and steadily growing into the multinational crime behemoth it is now.</span></p> <h2>Terror on the streets</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, despite the low-profile, business-related strategy the PCC has adopted, there have been times where it has resorted to full-blown brutality. In 2006, when the state government decided to move the PCC top brass into a higher-security prison regime, the gang leaders orchestrated a series of attacks around the city of São Paulo, provoking 59 deaths of police officers in a space of a few days. People were afraid to walk the streets of Brazil&#8217;s largest city.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The police struck back with disproportional brutality, killing hundreds upon hundreds of civilians, many of them in death squad &#8220;execution-style&#8221; murders. The PCC then kidnapped a reporter from nationwide television network Globo, and as a ransom demanded the media giant broadcast a video from the crime gang on live television.</span></p> <div id="attachment_14085" style="width: 990px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-14085" loading="lazy" class="wp-image-14085 size-full" src="" alt="pcc 2006 attacks sao paulo" width="980" height="653" srcset=" 980w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 980px) 100vw, 980px" /><p id="caption-attachment-14085" class="wp-caption-text">Roughly 90 buses were burned down in 2006</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The video, eventually shown on a Sunday evening to the entire state of São Paulo, contained a message from the crime faction, requesting the leaders be returned to their original prison regime and making it clear to the population that the PCC&#8217;s war was not against civilians. &#8220;We are at war with the government and the police. Don&#8217;t mess with our families and we won&#8217;t mess with yours,&#8221; the broadcast said.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Tensions boiled over once more at the start of this year in the northeastern state of Ceará. Newly instated state penitentiary secretary Luis Mauro Albuquerque declared that prisoners from crime gangs would no longer be kept together, going against the previous system of dedicating specific prisons to members of specific factions.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The PCC formed an unprecedented (and temporary) truce with other criminal gangs in the region to send a message to the government. The state was hit with over 100 attacks against police stations, public buildings, and roadways, leaving a trail of torched vehicles and a sensation of terror on the streets.</span></p> <h2>The PCC v. Sergio Moro</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This week&#8217;s move to transfer Marcola and others to federal prisons is part of Justice Minister Sergio Moro&#8217;s plan to combat organized crime in Brazil. In a recent set of &#8220;anti-crime&#8221; proposals submitted by Mr. Moro, there are explicit measures to fight crime factions, and for the first time, the PCC would be mentioned by name by Brazilian legislation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Yesterday, Mr. Moro continued his assault on organized crime gangs by toughening up rules for visitation rights for inmates of federal prisons. Visits can now only be made in visitation booths (where the inmate is separated by a pane of glass) or via videoconference, with all contact under supervision.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It remains to be seen whether there will be any immediate backlash from the PCC, or whether the transfer of Marcola will have any significant impact on the gang&#8217;s operations. The state government has put roughly 22,000 police officers and 13 helicopters around São Paulo, in so-called &#8220;strategic areas&#8221;, to try and dissuade retribution from the gang.

Read the full story NOW!

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at