HomeNewsRio's Campaign Against Red Command Achieving Little But Increasing Body Count

Rio's Campaign Against Red Command Achieving Little But Increasing Body Count


Last week's police raid in Rio de Janeiro, which left as many as 23 dead, marked yet another escalation into a security campaign against the Red Command gang, which has killed dozens of people and may end up benefiting an entirely different set of criminals.

On May 24, military police led a 12-hour operation into the northern Rio favela of Vila Cruzeiro, a neighborhood controlled by the city's most prolific drug trafficking organization, Red Command (Comando Vermelho - CV). According to Globo, the raid had been planned for months but was rushed at the last minute due to the threat of CV criminals fleeing the area.

The result: at least 23 dead, amid allegations of torture, executions and a terrified population. At least one victim, Gabrielle Ferreira da Cunha, was confirmed to have been killed by a stray bullet while inside her home.

SEE ALSO: Rage, Rinse, Repeat - The Futile Cycle of Anger at Rio's Police

The pattern has become familiar. Last February, Vila Cruzeiro saw nine people killed in another operation.

And a year ago, another raid targeting CV, in the neighborhood of Jacarezinho, saw 28 people killed.

Brazil's Attorney General's Office, and its local counterpart in Rio, have both opened investigations into the Vila Cruzeiro raid. But similar steps were taken after Jacarezinho, with little results to date.

InSight Crime Analysis

There is no doubt that the Red Command is a major criminal threat, with a dominant presence in an estimated quarter of the city. The gang's rivalries have led to hundreds of homicides nationwide.

But the motivations and results of these police raids in Rio may not stand up to scrutiny. As the police chip away at CV territory one set of actors repeatedly muscles in to fill the gap: militia groups.

These vigilante forces originally rose up to fight back against drug traffickers but have since become a dominant criminal force themselves. Largely made up of active and former police, military and prison guard personnel, their connections to security forces has seen them act with broad impunity.

A report by Brazilian media outlet UOL found, that between 2016 and 2019, just under 3 percent of police shootings took place in militia territory, as compared to 57 percent in areas held by the CV.

"Rio is a city with two police forces: one that promotes incessant and violent confrontation against drug trafficking and another that is lenient with the militias," said the report.

SEE ALSO: Brazil Tries to Reclaim Rio's Favelas - Ad Infinitum

Such alleged preferential treatment could see militias move in on areas held by the CV. Joana Monteiro, an expert in public security at the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank, told InSight Crime that reduced police interventions in militia territories feeds into perceptions that they drive down violence. Monteiro affirmed "there is more violence in the areas controlled by drug traffickers both because there are more disputes between them and because the police intervene more."

After the Jacarezinho massacre, Benjamin Lessing, a professor at the University of Chicago who examines organized crime, also told InSight Crime that "militias everywhere can use this as a way to gain civilian support. These shootouts don't happen in militia-held areas."

But having the militias move in often comes at a cost to Rio's poorer citizens. Beyond engaging in extortion and, in some cases, drug trafficking, throughout much of the city, these groups have installed their own form of government. They are often the only providers of basic services, monopolizing Internet and television access, or even building entire apartment buildings.

For Monteiro, militia groups are looking to position themselves as "territorial criminal enterprises... trying to monopolize coercion" in Rio. She went on to forecast "I think we are moving to a new reality with lower violence and higher economic diversification."

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

BRAZIL / 11 DEC 2020

It was August 31, 1993, and the sun was shining when eight men entered a makeshift soccer pitch in the…


Paraná is a hub for drug trafficking. Vast quantities of cocaine and marijuana enter the state from Paraguay, via the…

BRAZIL / 24 MAR 2022

The 2021 ranking of the world's most violent cities predictably features a heavy presence by Latin American and Caribbean population…

About InSight Crime


Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…


Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…


Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…


Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…


InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…