Red Command – InSight Crime

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The Red Command (Comando Vermelho) is Brazil’s oldest criminal group, established in a Rio de Janeiro prison in the 1970s as a self-protection group for prisoners. It all started with low-level crimes like muggings and bank robberies, but in the 1980s the group entered the cocaine business, working with Colombian drug cartels and taking on a role of social leadership in many marginalized neighborhoods of Rio.

Story

The Red Command was born out of an alliance between common criminals and leftist activists, when the two groups were thrown together in prisons under the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985. The terrible conditions in Candido Mendes prison, on the island of Ilha Grande in Rio de Janeiro, has prompted inmates to come together to survive within the system. They initially formed a left-wing militia organization called “Phalange Vermelho” or “Red Phalanx”, but the ideology was quickly dropped as the group became more involved in organized crime and was dubbed “Red Command”. By the press.

By 1979, the group had spread out of the prison and into the streets of Rio. Members who were outside were responsible for providing money to those inside through criminal activities such as bank robbery, allowing them to maintain a decent quality of life in prison. and to finance escape attempts.

The ideas of the Red Command spread to other prisons and the power of the organization increased. Two decades later, in São Paulo, a similar movement of prisoners would emerge – the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).

The Red Command was ideally placed to partner with the Colombian cartels when the cocaine trade began to explode in the 1980s, as it had the structure and organization to reliably procure and distribute large quantities. drug. Members from outside now had a clear goal: to form well-armed gangs to seize drug territory on behalf of the Command. He took control of many poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro that had been neglected by the state, setting up a parallel system of government inside the favelas and providing jobs for residents long excluded from Brazilian society.

In the 1990s, the city’s all-powerful illegal gambling bosses known as “bicheiros” saw their influence wane, paving the way for the Red Command to become Rio’s first organized criminal group and strengthen its influence. presence in other states.

In 2005, the Red Command was thought to control more than half of the most violent areas in Rio de Janeiro, although that number had fallen to less than 40% in 2008. The group’s influence in the early 2010s, but the long-term effects of the security strategy were limited.

The Red Command is believed to have maintained links with the now largely demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). The head of the Red Command, Luiz Fernando da Costa, alias “Fernandinho Beira-Mar”, was arrested in Colombia in 2001 after allegedly exchanging weapons for cocaine with the guerrillas.

At the end of 2016, the breakdown of a long-standing alliance between the Red Command and the CCP sparked a wave of violence in Brazilian prisons. Over the next year, the conflict between the two groups continued as the CCP sought to reduce the power of the Red Command by forming alliances with enemy gangs as well as by co-opting members of the Red Command into the Red Command. aim to take control of drug trafficking in the traditional areas of influence of the group.

Direction

The Red Command has a relatively loose leadership structure and has been described as a network of independent actors, rather than a strict hierarchical organization headed by a single leader.

However, there are prominent patrons within the structure, including Luiz Fernando da Costa, alias “Fernandinho Beira-Mar”, who is currently imprisoned, and Isaias da Costa Rodrigues, alias “Isaias do Borel”, who has been in prison. prison for over 20 years until his release in 2012.

In December 2014, the Paraguayan authorities arrested a senior leader of the Red Command, Luis Claudio Machado, alias “Marreta”.

Geography

The Red Command is based in Rio de Janeiro, but is present in other regions of Brazil, notably in São Paulo. It also operates in Paraguay and Bolivia.

Allies and enemies

The Red Command worked closely with the CCP, until the groups’ long-standing alliance broke in 2016.

Besides the CCP, the main enemies of the Red Command are the militias made up of active and former officers of the security forces and criminal groups based in Rio Amigos dos Amigos and the Pure Third Command (Terceiro Comando Puro – TCP), a dissident faction. of the Third Command (Terceiro Comando), which was set up by former dissident members of the Red Command.

The Red Command maintained an alliance with the Northern Family (Família do Norte – FDN), a powerful criminal group based in the Amazon metropolis of Manaus, between 2015 and early 2018, when the two groups severed their cooperation over internal disputes. .

The Red Command is believed to have ties to recently demobilized FARC rebels in Colombia, and to other networks trafficking cocaine from the Andes region as well as marijuana from Paraguay.

Outlook

The Red Command has lost power in recent years, with the rise of rivals such as Amigos dos Amigos, who reportedly formed an alliance with the CCP to challenge the Red Command’s territorial control in Rio. But it seems to be expanding its international presence, notably in Bolivia and Paraguay. According to 2013 estimates, the Red Command ships a ton of Colombian cocaine to Brazil each month from Paraguay, which has become a cocaine trafficking hub for Brazilian gangs.

The Red Command’s current dispute with the CCP has spilled over into the prison system, sparking violent clashes in Rio and northern Brazil over control of lucrative drug trafficking routes and local drug markets.

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