Authorities say clashes between rival criminal groups have led to a spike in murders in Brazil's biggest city, but other factors may lie behind the growing violence.
Brazilian authorities said a conflict between the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) and the Brazilian Revolutionary Criminal Command (Comando Revolucionário Brasileiro da Criminalidade - CRBC) led to an increase in homicides in the metropolitan area of São Paulo in the first three months of 2017, Folha de São Paulo reported on May 8.
According to the São Paulo state Public Security Ministry, a total of 250 murders were registered in the greater São Paulo area between January and March 2017, 31.5 percent more than during the same period the year before, when 190 killings were reported. (See InSight Crime's graphic below)
Police authorities believe the spike in violence is the result of an offensive ordered by the PCC against the CRBC, which has allegedly been threatening the PCC's influence in São Paulo.
However, the spike in homicides has not been uniform across the state. While murders in Guarulhos, the state's second-largest city and CRBC's headquarters, have increased by 60.5 percent, in the city of São Paulo they actually decreased by 13 percent, dropping from 231 between January and March 2016 to 201 for the same period this year.
Rafael Alcadipani, a member of Brazil's Forum for Public Security (Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública), said São Paulo proper had been spared the growing violence because the PCC retains control of the city.
"But clashes between rival factions could lead to an increase in homicides in the near future, generating a greater problem for public security," Alcadipani said in comments reported by Folha de São Paulo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Clashes between the PCC and CRBC may account for part of the rise in homicides in the greater São Paulo area, but several other factors are likely compounding the increasing violence.
First, the CRBC is a small criminal group by Brazilian standards, with only an estimated 50 to 100 members. Furthermore, São Paulo is home to several other criminal organizations, such as the Third Capital Command (Terceiro Comando da Capital - TCC), Seita Satânica, Cerol Fino, and Democratic Freedom Command (Comando Democrático da Liberdade - CDL), among others.
"All of these groups are competing for a share of the drug trade and other illicit income streams like cargo theft," Lloyd Belton, an analyst at the consulting firm S-RM, told InSight Crime.
These factors make it unlikely that the rising homicide rates are solely the result of the PCC-CRBC conflict.
SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles
Turf wars between criminal groups in São Paulo must be considered in the larger context of gang dynamics in the country. The conflict between the PCC and the group's former allies, the Rio de Janeiro-based Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV), has shaken up country's criminal landscape. Smaller splinter groups have emerged in São Paulo, and might be trying to take advantage of PCC's alleged vulnerability, while the gang is busy fighting the Red Command on various fronts.
According to Belton, the PCC's effort to stamp out competitors in São Paulo can be read as an attempt "to consolidate its control and dominance in its traditional stronghold, thereby ending the unofficial ceasefire it had with these groups for the better part of a decade."
Additionally, Brazil is currently suffering from the worst recession in its history. As InSight Crime has previously noted in the case of Rio de Janeiro, the economic downturn may be behind the worsening security conditions in that city. Budget cuts can prevent security forces from receiving the resources and training required to effectively confront criminals, and they are also likely to hamper any efforts to modify existing security strategies.
SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profiles
São Paulo seems to be suffering from a similar dynamic. Poorly trained security forces and flawed policies contributed to 532 killings by police between January and November 2015 -- a higher figure than the one reported in 2006, when intense clashes between the PCC and security forces left hundreds dead.
Moreover, as a recent InSight Crime investigation in Guatemala shows, it can be difficult for authorities to accurately determine the share of total murders committed by crime groups. Thus, statements by Brazilian officials blaming gang conflicts for rising violence should be viewed with some degree of skepticism.