A prison riot in Brazil’s Amazonas state capital Manaus left an estimated 60 prisoners dead, according to state officials. The rebellion started Sunday afternoon and continued into the early hours of Monday morning. The conflict broke out after months of escalating violence between two rival gangs: the local criminal faction Familia do Norte (FDN) and São Paulo-based Primeiro Comando do Capital (PCC).
A dozen or so prison guards were held hostage during the massacre and have since been released. Rival prisoners decapitated six bodies and threw the remains outside the prison gates. Videos of charred piles of bodies are making rounds on the internet. According to the company in charge of prison management, Umanizzare, the penitentiary holds 1072 prisoners, making it the largest prison in the state. The PCC members reside in separate holding cells from the rest in efforts to minimize conflict between gangs.
On the same day, an unknown number of prisoners escaped from another nearby penitentiary. One pair of escaped prisoners posted a picture of themselves on Facebook, with the caption “On the run from jail.” The picture hasf received over 6,200 comments. Authorities have already located some twenty prisoners.
While the PCC is South America’s largest criminal faction, the FDN controls the country’s northern prisons. The FDN has ties to the Rio gang Comando Vermelho (CV), which suffered prison attacks by the PCC in October. According to the Military Police, at least 25 died in the prison in Roraima, a state in northern Brazil. Prisoners held over 100 family members hostage during the October rebellion.
The FDN and PCC also clashed in July 2015, when 38 homicides occurred in the streets of Manaus over one weekend. According to tapped telephone conversations, the FDN wanted the PCC to stop recruiting new members from behind bars. The FDN beheaded three major leaders of the PCC in the months leading up to the violent weekend.
The Amazonas state shares borders with Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela, making it prime territory for drug trafficking.
No peace for prisoners
Sunday’s death toll is second only to the 1992 Carandiru prison massacre. On that bloody day in Brazilian history, police troops killed 111 prisoners in a half-hour shooting spree. The prison closed and the state never tried the guards responsible for the massacre. State authorities failed to control the situation among prisoners as well as the trigger-happy police.
Authorities are still trying to address Sunday’s massacre. Justice Minister Alexandre de Morães announced he will fly immediately to Manaus to oversee the situation. But how exactly the authorities plan to calm the rivalry between gangs is not yet clear.