The death of a top Rio de Janeiro drug trafficker at the hands of police provides insight into the relationship between one of Brazil’s most powerful criminal organizations and the local community, as well as authorities’ ongoing struggle against urban drug syndicates. 

On September 26, police in Rio de Janeiro killed drug trafficker Nicolás Labre Pereira de Jesús, alias “Fat Family,” Infobae reported.

Fat Family was allegedly one of Brazil’s most wanted men and the criminal boss of the Morro Santo Amaro slum in the Catete area, near the center of Rio. He also had links to the Red Command (Comando Vermelho) criminal gang and a history of homicide and drug trafficking. The 28-year-old was reportedly the brother of the imprisoned drug trafficker Marco Antônio Pereira Firmino da Silva, alias “My Thor,” a leading member of the Red Command.

The manhunt for Fat Family began in June after the trafficker’s dramatic escape from the Souza Aguiar hospital, where he was being treated after getting shot in the face during a security operation. Fat Family was under police custody when around 20 armed men armed with rifles and grenades broke him out of the hospital in central Rio. One person was killed and two more injured in the incident.

At least ten people were killed and dozens of schools shut down around the city during ensuing security force operations aimed at recapturing the fugitive. When police finally caught up with Fat Family in Rio’s São Gonçalo neighborhood on September 26, a shootout erupted that saw him and two of his associates gunned down.

In apparent response to Fat Family’s death, an offshoot of the Red Command imposed a curfew in the middle-class neighborhood of Catete, at the foot of Morro Santo Amaro slum, EFE reported. Just hours after the operation, all businesses in a 5-kilometer area shut their doors, with only the civil police station remaining open. A local resident told the news service that she had never seen a similar curfew in the 40 years that she had been living in the neighborhood.

Declaring curfews in homage to fallen drug traffickers is apparently common in other slums in the outskirts of Rio, but not in wealthier areas like Catete.

“Those who can give orders, those with good sense obey them,” a taxi driver told EFE.

Folloing the events in Catete, Rio de Janeiro state’s interim Gov. Francisco Dornelles called to President Michel Temer to deploy the armed forces onto the city’s streets in response to the current crime situation, LMNeuquen reported.

The military had temporarily been patrolling in Rio while the city hosted the recent Olympic Games, and local officials have since requested that some of those units remain in place. So far this year, some 80 police officers have been killed by organized criminal groups in Rio alone, according to LMNeuquen.

InSight Crime Analysis

Fat Family was a major figure in Rio’s underworld, and his death says a lot about the city’s gangland dynamics and current security situation.

Daniel Caplin of the consulting firm S-RM told InSight Crime that the curfew in Catete is an “unusual” occurrence for the central neighborhood that has created an atmosphere of fear the area has not experienced since the early 2000s.

Caplin added that the enforced shutdown can probably be attributed to a show of force by the local gang in the face of security forces, who had been closely hunting Fat Family ever since the hospital raid.

The curfew is also a display of the Red Command’s ability to instil fear in the city’s residents while protecting its relationship with the local community. Seeing as this particular faction of the Red Command is based in Morro Santo Amaro, it most likely chose to declare a curfew in the Catete neighborhood — just downhill from the slum — in order to avoid alienating its own social base while inflicting significant damage on commercial activities, Caplin explained to InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Red Command

The Red Command’s traditional ties to the community where it is present stem back to its roots as a hybrid leftist insurgency and criminal group. It often portrays itself as a defender of the poor and has been known to carry out social development programs, political and security risk analyst Lloyd Belton of S-RM told InSight Crime on a separate occasion. Recently, the Red Command released a pamphlet in São Gonçalo — where Fat Family was killed — warning that it would retaliate violently against robbers in the area.

Fat Family’s case also draws attention to the shortcomings of the “kingpin” strategy that security forces have pursued in their attempts to retake control of Rio’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. While it is easy for authorities to portray capturing or killing major criminal figures as a short-term success, lasting security gains are more likely to be achieved by implementing socially-oriented initiatives within local communities that root out the causes of crime.

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