The city of Manaus has awoken red in recent weeks: the painting of the Red Command gang's insignia "CV" on its walls, the chanting of "Vermelho" (red) from its largest prison, and bloodshed throughout its poor neighborhoods.
The capital of Brazil's northern state of Amazonas is the brutal battleground in a prolonged feud between two drug gangs: the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) and Family of the North (Familia do Norte -- FDN).
Since January, the Red Command, whose power base is in Rio de Janeiro, has sought to put an end to the war through a violent takeover of Manaus. As a result, the city saw 106 murders in January and a further 55 by February 16, according to Brazilian media citing police figures.
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The Red Command's bloody campaign has led to it controlling 80 percent of Manaus' neighborhoods, local newspaper Em Tempo reported, quoting police sources.
In February, the Red Command launched an attack into the neighborhood of Compensa, an FDN stronghold in Manaus and home to FDN leader José Roberto Fernandes Barbosa, alias "Zé Roberto da Compensa," wrote Em Tempo.
The violence in Compensa has shaken residents. On February 13, Red Command members gunned down a 31-year-old man who came across them while they were tagging walls. Video of the killing of Wallemberg Vieira Bello, which surfaced on social media, shows the men spray painting the letters "CV" when several shots are suddenly fired.
Gang members also have made public celebrations of their victories. "Fireworks in every neighborhood. Drug traffickers celebrating the end of a rival faction. Manaus has become Gotham City without Batman," wrote one Twitter user.
The state government of Amazonas, which has shown little capacity to stop the bloodshed, announced February 10 that it had created a crisis team within the government alongside other security measures that included isolating prisoners and halting all visits to prisons.
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The Red Command's invasion of Manaus may spell the end of the Family of the North as a major criminal player after the group's fracturing in 2019 and the killing of many of its members in repeated prison riots.
A police source told Em Tempo that members of the FDN are being told to "become red" or become dead. "There are some who are running away ... from not wanting to join the [Red Command] or from fear of being executed," the police source said.
The source attributed the Red Command's crushing victory to its use of extreme violence. "They are far more violent. They kill and do it brutally. The FDN was already in a more 'peaceful' phase because they were focused on drug trafficking, without many clashes. This is also why they lost the territories so quickly," the source told the paper.
The list of Manaus neighborhoods in the hands of the Red Command reportedly includes Aparecida, Centro, Matinha, Vila da Prata, Cidade de Deus, Ouro Verde and Santa Etelvina.
The FDN was not in any state to fight back. Its war with the Red Command, ever since an alliance between the two gangs fell apart in 2018, had been progressively taking its toll. The prisons of Amazonas became the battlegrounds, with dozens dying in successive assaults.
Worse yet, in May 2019, 55 FDN prisoners were killed when one of the gang's lieutenants, João Pinto Carioca, alias “João Branco," sought to take over control from Zé Roberto da Compensa.
The FDN has also had trouble keeping its leadership intact. In 2018, FDN leader Gelson Carnaúba, alias "Mano G" -- who had forged an alliance between his gangs and the Red Command -- switched sides and joined the Red Command. In the current invasion of Manaus, graffiti bearing Mano G's name has been seen across the city, suggesting he is playing a crucial role in his former gang's downfall.
Since February 10, the Red Command reportedly issued statements saying that the violence was coming to an end. For at least 48 hours, between February 17 and 19, no homicides were reported in the city.