29 years of the Carandiru massacre

Image: Will Mu


A day of struggle for release and against the constant massacres promoted by the State

The Carandiru massacre, when 111 detainees were murdered by military police on October 02, 1992, marks a series of structural changes in the functioning of Brazilian prisons, the national and international commotion surrounding the massacre made the State change its strategy of management of prisons, which began to be managed by the so-called criminal factions in the context of the expansion of mass incarceration, so that since then periodic massacres in prisons have been presented by the State as motivated by "settlement of scores" between factions, such as way for the State to disclaim responsibility for the deaths of people in its custody. But in addition to these massacres that have continued periodically since the business-military dictatorship to occasionally scandalize public opinion, the prisoner's life is disposable.

Brazilian prisons live a daily life of “silent massacre” where historically people die from diseases that are perfectly treatable in the outside world, associated with mistreatment, hunger, lack of hygiene and lack of medical assistance, a situation that has only worsened with the Covid-19 pandemic.  Paulo Malvezzi commenting on the repercussions of the massacres in 2017 in Amazonas, he states that in the previous year alone 400 violent deaths in prison would have been recorded, the massacre “the account you like” for him would characterize the contemporary procedure for massacres perpetrated by the State: “In the post-Carandiru, even perhaps in the post-Holocaust period, there is a certain etiquette for committing a genocide or a massacre. You must cover this with a managerial speech, repeat exhaustively that abuses are exceptions and will be curbed, and avoid shocking images like we saw in Manaus at all costs. It's okay to have 400 bodies, as long as you don't put them all together and take a picture. Then it becomes a crisis.”

In the table below we list the main massacres in the Brazilian prison system since the 1980s, where we can clearly observe the continuity of massacres between dictatorship and democracy, and the new prison management made from the factions.

Source: (SALLA, 2007; ALMEIDA, BR and CHIES, LAB 2019) and authorship) *Official numbers. There are disputes by movements regarding the reality of such numbers in different cases. **The notion of protagonism used here does not exclude, on a case-by-case basis, that another pole of actors does not have a supporting role in relation to deaths.

Even so, the rebellions have taken place periodically in the traditional vacation months of the civil service, which shows the permanent instability of prison management in this context of barbarism. Magazine query Piaui to the bulletin Secure Source, from the Brazilian Public Security Forum, “accounted for 62 rebellions in Brazilian and Paraguayan jails and penitentiaries from January 2016 to 2020, with a balance of 472 fugitives, 143 dead, 71 injured and 27 hostages. Paraná leads in the number of rebellions in January: there were 12 in the period from 2015 to 2019, followed by Goiás, with 7. (...) In the months of August there were 82 rebellions in prisons in the country in the period from 2015 to 2019 and in October, 63 revolts.”

Currently there are more than 83 known criminal factions, they operate in a territorial manner, the largest being the First Command of the Capital, the only one to operate in all states of the federation. The second largest is Comando Vermelho, which emerged in Rio and now operates in 17 states, and the third largest is Família do Norte, which operates in Rondônia, Roraima and Pará. The power of the factions goes beyond prisons, and they are already recognized political forces, controlling considerable territories in large cities and mobilizing immense resources mainly from drug trafficking.

The factions add up as yet another form of violence against prisoners, but now parastatal and rooted in the prison mass, a hierarchical bureaucracy of crime managing the interior of the prison as a business outsourced by the State, which operates in the daily life of prison institutions employing profitably inmates in functions of the criminal spoliation economy – renting cells, dealing drugs, carrying out smuggling and trading in miscellaneous products, organizing the links between prisoners, the prison administration and the outside world. This outsourcing of prison administration, which today is managed by the factions, in addition to being a source of additional resources, serves to legitimize the State brutality of the police forces, supposedly against these same organizations that are created under their judicial and police supervision in penitentiaries, placing the management of Brazilian prisons on the fringes of legality, in disrespect for the penal execution law, international treaties and the Constitution.

In its operation, virtually all prisons in Brazil are illegal, which turns prison into an experience of kidnapping, extortion and sometimes enslavement. Exercise of discretion by the Brazilian State to capitalize on marginalized populations, prison governance with the mass incarceration policy that ascends in the new republic is only possible by managing conflicts through the expansion of so-called criminal organizations.

The power of the factions was imposed on the public debate with the phenomenon of the so-called mega rebellions, the first occurred in 2001, when 29 prison units in 17 cities in São Paulo rebelled simultaneously. This phenomenon would be repeated with greater intensity in 2006 when there were simultaneous rebellions in 74 prison units, along with hundreds of attacks by the State and with police executions, resulting in 505 deaths in the series of events that became known as The "May Crimes"”. And again, in 2020 with the rebellion coordination of 15 prisons and more than 1300 escapes at the beginning of the pandemic.

These events can be considered some of the largest coordinated prison uprisings in the world, and the agenda of claims centered on issues related to faction leaders or even the absence of presenting a clear and recognized agenda of the prisoners sets the tone for the terms of the dispute. between the forces that manage the prison system, without, however, calling it into question. Making these actions have a political character distinct from the recent prison strikes and protests in the US, where there are prisoner organizations that clearly claim their own agenda vis-à-vis the State.

In the last decade, the date of the Carandiru Massacre has been claimed as a day of struggle for release and against the constant massacres promoted by the State, this year was no different and the State Front for Release called a public class on Av. Paulista with the theme “29 Years of the Carandiru Massacre – Democracy of Massacres” together with the Fora Bolsonaro act that took place, in other states such as Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and the Federal District, blocks were formed for the extrication together with the acts against Bolsonaro. May the 02nd of October be remembered, feeding and strengthening the necessary fight for a world without prisons!

*Gabriel Silva He is a member of Quilombo Invisível and the Network for Protection and Resistance Against Genocide.

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