Brazil's southern state of Santa Catarina has witnessed over 50 violent attacks during a six-day period, raising new concerns over whether prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC) is involved.
Santa Catarina, a state just south of São Paulo usually associated with tourism and beaches, has suffered 54 violent attacks, including numerous assaults on police stations, between January 30 and February 5. Some 18 buses have been burned by alleged criminal groups during this time period, as well as numerous other trucks and cars. Police have apprehended 20 people who supposedly participated in the attacks.
Only one death has been registered so far: a male victim killed by Military Police, reportedly after he refused to stop at a checkpoint and tried to shoot at the law enforcement officers.
According to the state's public security department, the attacks are being coordinated from within prisons, and could be connected to the transfer of inmates from a penitentiary in the capital city, Florianopolis, to another one some 180 kilometers south in the city of Criciuma, reports Veja. The state governor and the head of penal affairs echoed this explanation, adding that the violence is related to the recent indictment of nine people, including four prison gang leaders, accused of conspiring to gun down a prison guard outside her house in October 2012.
The state authorities also cited a viral video filmed at another prison, showing guards abusing inmates, as a possible reason behind the attacks. The video was released by Brazilian press several days before the attacks in Santa Catarina began, and shows prisoners kneeling naked in a room while guards spray them with pepper spray and rubber bullets.
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Santa Catarina saw a similiar outbreak of disorder last November, when 58 attacks were registered over a week, an unusual wave of violence for a normally tranquil state. The attacks ceased after the director of a local prison resigned, suggesting a relationship between the two events. At the time, the state governor was tight-lipped over the causes of the attacks, stating that he knew of a link between prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC) and a local faction, the First Catarinense Group (Primeiro Grupo Catarinense - PGC). But he asserted he could not say whether these groups were coordinating the attacks in Santa Catarina.
If the current attacks are indeed being coordinated from Santa Catarina's prisons, it demonstrates the reach of Brazil's prison gangs. The PCC has previously demonstrated that they have significant capacity to affect public order, as they are currently engaged in a deadly conflict with São Paulo's police force after their jailed leaders were transferred to a prison outside of the city. The PCC retaliated by killing dozens of security officials last year on the streets of São Paolo.