A shadowy vigilante death squad operating on the Brazil-Paraguay border is killing supposed thieves and then leaving notes next to their mutilated bodies -- a macabre message even for a region steeped in drug violence.
On the night of August 1, two Brazilian brothers were shot dead on the border between Brazil’s Ponta Porã municipality of Mato Grosso do Sul state and Paraguay’s Pedro Juan Caballero city of Amambay department, reported G1 Globo.
It was the area’s sixth execution in less than one week, according to the media outlet. And just as in the previous killings, besides the 30 spent bullets left at the scene was a note signed by the “Frontier Vigilantes” (Justiceiros da Fronteira), stating that “no more robberies will be accepted in the region.”
The killings raise to 53 the number of people murdered on Brazil’s side of the border during the first six months of this year, a 30 percent increase from the 39 people killed between January and July in 2020, according to a report by the country’s State Secretariat for Justice and Public Security (Secretaria Estadual de Justiça e Segurança Pública – SEJUSP) seen by Brazilian press.
Meanwhile, gunmen shot dead 34 people on the Paraguayan side of the border, and an additional 21 killings are still under investigation, G1 Globo reported, citing Paraguayan law enforcement.
“[The executions are due to the] damage that drug trafficking has experienced with the increase in seizures. In the first 7 months of 2021, more than 480 tons of narcotics were seized…some drug dealers [therefore] seek to replenish their resources with robberies of other dealers,” claimed Antonio Carlos Videira, Mato Grosso do Sul’s Secretary of State for Justice and Public Security.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Frontier Vigilantes first surfaced sometime in the 2010s in response to perceived growing theft and robbery. The group, however, stayed quiet for several years. Then in May 2018, a young Paraguayan border resident was kidnapped and killed. He had his hands cut off – the group’s way of denoting a thief. The note left by his body ended in one word: "volvimos" (“we’re back”).
Since then, the death squad has engaged in sporadic killing sprees of supposed low-level thieves on both sides of the border. Their modus operandi has always been the same, killing their victims and then leaving their bodies along with a note.
By positing themselves as protecting residents, the group resembles a more violent version of Brazil’s far-right urban militias. The leaving of messages next to the corpses also echoes vigilante groups in Mexico that have long sprung up to counter waves of drug violence. While media reports suggest the Frontier Vigilantes were similarly formed, they have been conspicuous in not targeting any known drug traffickers.
One theory recently considered by Brazilian police is the violence at the border has little to do with gang conflicts or drug robberies. Instead, the killings are a result of the Frontier Vigilantes working alongside the most powerful gang in the region, Brazil's First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).
Once fought over as a key trafficking route, the border area between Ponta Porã and Pedro Juan Caballero is now an undisputed PCC stronghold. The gang members also maintain strong social control over residents, and they have a reputation for targeting those who get in their way. Therefore, it's unlikely the death squad could operate without the gang's knowledge or tacit approval.