The Family of the North has long been Brazil’s third-largest criminal group, with a strong presence in northern Brazil but not matching the nationwide presence of the First Capital Command and Red Command.
The Family of the North (Familia do Norte - FDN) was created between 2006 and 2007, by its two founders, José Roberto Fernandes Barbosa, alias “Zé Roberto da Compensa” and Gelson Carnaúba, alias “Mano G.” In addition to quickly dominating drug trafficking and other criminal economies in the northwestern state of Amazonas, the FDN sought to contain the advances of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) along the Solimões River, an important drug trafficking route as it connects the triple border of Brazil, Colombia and Peru, to the Atlantic Ocean. While the FDN has remained firmly headquartered in Amazonas, it has had connections to other Brazilian states and even Venezuela, as well as forging alliances with other criminal gangs in Brazil.
In early 2020, the FDN came under sustained attack by the Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, and while the fallout of this war has not been fully measured, it is likely the FDN has been left greatly weakened.
The FDN was established in 2006 and 2007 and, like the PCC and the CV, the group was orchestrated by its two supreme leaders, mentioned above, from within the Brazilian prison system. However, the idea was only put into practice when they got out of prison.
The FDN has sought to recruit members by fighting back against dangerous or unhealthy conditions inside prisons, extending a helping hand in exchange for membership. Inspired by the PCC and CV, the criminal group maintains a strict identification register of its members, assigning them each a registration number. The FDN is also subject to a set of rules, known as “Doctrines of the Family” (Doutrinas da Familia), which is overseen by a Council, once made up of its two founders and other senior members.
This foundation allowed the group to rapidly spread inside and outside the prisons of northern Brazil and to become the country’s third-largest criminal group, albeit without a nationwide foothold. The Attorney General’s Office stated in 2015, after Operation La Muralla, that the FDN was taking on dimensions similar to the PCC and CV, based on its leadership structure, internal set of rules, range of criminal economies, and local, national and international connections.
In order to prevent the spread of the PCC in the North, especially Amazonas, the FDN and CV forged an alliance in 2015. This lasted three years before breaking down and in 2018, FDN founder Gelson Carnaúba changed sides and joined the CV.
The group had already a scission in 2017 when a senior member, João Pinto Carioca, alias “João Branco,” founded a splinter group, the “Pure Family of the North” (Familia do Norte Pura) and the two factions have waged bloody campaigns of violence against each other since then. Particularly violent prison riots between the two groups led to the deaths of 55 inmates between May 26 and 27, 2019.
At the start, the main FDN leaders were Zé Roberto da Compensa and Gelson Carnaúba, followed by the likes of alias Roque, Copinho, Nanico and João Branco. In addition to these leaders, the FDN Council was made up of 13 members, all with full knowledge of the organization’s operations. However, this leadership was broken up after Carnaúba and João Branco left the group.
Videos by FDN members in response to the CV attacks in January 2020 show that what remains of the group is firmly under the command of Zé Roberto da Compensa, with his son, Luciano da Silva Barbosa, alias “L7,” emerging as another leader.
The FDN was established mainly in the state of Amazonas, operating within and outside the prison system. The group focuses its main actions on maintaining control of drug trafficking along the Solimões River, which links Brazil’s border with Colombia and Peru to Manaus, its largest northern city, and the Atlantic Ocean.
While the PCC and CV have maintained operations in the state of Amazonas, the FDN remained strongly present in most cities, municipalities and the border region. It is likely, however, that its geographical reach will have been severely affected by recent attacks against it by the CV and due to internal infighting.
Allies and Enemies
Initially, the FDN sought an alliance with the Red Command to contain the advance of the PCC in Amazonas. However, the FDN-CV alliance, which lasted from 2015 to 2018, was broken after a disagreement occurred within the FDN itself, involving Gelson Carnaúba and Zé da Compensa.
Since the breakdown of this alliance, the dispute for dominance of illicit routes in Amazonas, especially the Solimões River, has been bitterly contested between all three criminal factions. This has led to frequent riots in Amazonas prisons, in which hundreds of prisoners have been brutally murdered.
An investigation carried out by Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office and federal police also found that the FDN had maintained contacts with Nelson Flores Collantes, a known supplier of drugs and weapons for the now-demobilized Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC). Equally, there is evidence that the FDN has developed a relationship with criminal gangs in Colombia, including Oficina de Envigado and Los Caqueteños, allowing these groups to jointly exploit cross-border drug trafficking by land and river in the state of Amazonas.
The outlook for FDN is bleak, particularly after CV was able to take over the capital of Amazonas, Manaus, with relative ease. At stake is who will control the flow of narcotics that reaches the state of Amazonas from Colombia and Peru, by land and river. This might also lead to the FDN to lose control of its prized Solimões River, along which it sends cocaine to be distributed in Brazil and beyond.
The departures of João Branco and Gelson Carnaúba were severe blows, especially with the latter now seemingly heavily involved in the CV’s attempts to take Manaus.