Note from BW of Brazil: A few of the images in this post are gruesome and may not be fit for some readers. But the emergency at hand cannot be ignored! While Brazil wants to keep the rest of world focused on the extravagance of the coming World Cup (never mind the overspending) and Brazilian ostentation funkeiros want to captivate the public imagination with artificial displays of “bling”, the fact is, Brazil has issues with serious human rights abuses going on. The atrocity in this report cannot be seen in vacuum but must be taken in the context of alarming police and death squad murders, incarceration rates, health care inequalities and the construction of the first private prison in Brazil last year.
Three prisoners decapitated alive in Maranhão
Courtesy of Portal Ai5
The prison system of Maranhão has been in a state of crisis since Tuesday, 12/17/2013, when three prisoners were beheaded during a riot at the Centro de Detenção Provisória (CDP or Provisional Detention Center) located in the Pedrinhas Penitentiary in the capital city of São Luís.
According to the General Superintendent of Penitentiary Administration, the riot was caused due to the rivalry between members of the same faction, and left three others stabbed and decapitated.
In October, after a rebellion that resulted in 9 deaths and 20 wounded prisoners, besides several attacks on buses, Govenor Roseanna Sarney (PMDB) declared a state of emergency in the prison sector and promised to build ten prisons within 180 days in order to lighten the burden of state jails and separate criminal factions. However, nothing has been done so far.
Why this is important
Courtesy of Avaaz
Barbarism emerges in the numbers of dead in São Luís in 2013: 983; the number of homicides in the jails of Maranhão – 62 (almost double the application executed by the death penalty in the United States in 2013); the overcrowding of prisons – Maranhão has the sixth worst situation, with a stocking rate that borders on 90%: there are 2,500 prisoners occupying a space in prisons made for 1,700. Maranhão has the highest murder rate of prisoners. With only 1% of the prison population of the country, it accounts for approximately 30% of deaths in prisons in the country.
In the Pedrinhas Penitentiary, three factions are in command: Primeiro Comando do Maranhão (First Command of Maranhão), Anjos da Morte (Angels of Death) and Bondes dos 40 (Tram of 40). There they command rapes, beheadings and scalping; from there they determine acts of terror that frightens the city, such as the collectives of fire which killed a 6-year child that was burned in attacks on buses in São Luís.
by Felipe Frazão
“It will get worse,” said TA, a young black 25-year old from the periphery slums of São Luís, taking his first steps on the outside of the Pedrinhas Provisional Detention Center (CDP) on one Wednesday night. The CDP is one of the most crowded units in the complex, with about 700 inmates. It was here that at least sixteen of the 62 deaths were recorded in the complex, according to the prison guards union of Maranhão (Sindspem). Accused of murder, TA received conditional freedom to respond to charges. With a startled look, he agreed to talk to Veja magazine on the condition that he would not be identified. The reason: fear of reprisals from the leaders of gangs if he has to go back to the “Cadeião do Diabo (Devil’s Prison).”
TA was imprisoned with 27 other inmates in a cramped Pedrinhas cell. The space had concrete “beds” for only four prisoners – most slept on the “praia (beach)”, the nickname of the floor of the prison. “The feeling is terror, terror. How is it that we can’t get scared? Soon as I arrived, they [inmates] gave me knives to sharpen. And I had to sharpen them…” He also reported that there was a confrontation between prisoners and the police. Hours before leaving the jail, Military Police (PM) tried to close the locks to keep all prisoners inside the cells. But there was resistance to confinement: “[Sic] It’s an open lock open because there are many prisoners in there and it gets very hot. So everyone keeps walking in the pavilion, and then PMs wanted to close the bars. Inmates didn’t let them because they didn’t fit. They came swinging batons, throwing granades, using pepper spray and shooting twelves [12 gauge shotguns] with rubber bullet.”
Weapons – The PM has set up a base at the entrance of each Pedrinhas unit and one only comes into galleries and pavilions when called. The police have seized 300 knives and makeshift weapons, a 380 pistol, ammunition and more than forty cellphones. Police must stay in the complex for ninety days, although troops are not satisfied. It’s an optimistic forecast, recognizes the commander of the Special Operations Battalion, Ivaldo Barbosa: “We, that sre PM, must know how to work and intervene in these situations. We will complete the mission so that we can get back to the barracks.”
The police say that monitors and security guards, hired to fill the gap in correctional officers – just 382 statewide – are constantly disrespected. They are identified by green vests and work unarmed. The President of Sindspem, Antonio Portela, says that outsourcing has weakened the safety and facilitated the entry of weapons. “I now monitors more victims than anything else.”
After the arrival of the PM, the entry of visitors is more restricted. Now, only women and mothers can visit the detainees, but they need to fill out a registration. Two of them remained hopeful of entering the prison to deliver food on one night, even after a heavy rain. But it was in vain. “There are those on duty that are cool but has also those who are disgusting. They think that we are the same as the inmates, just because it’s my husband think I’m the same way and do the same thing he does,” complained Maiane, 29, wife of a detainee arrested for murder. “I wanted to deliver cookies, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste. They only eat what we take. Their food is spoiled, noodles and sour beans.”
Family members of prisoners report that they live with rats, garbage and spoiled food.
“Pretty soon they will require us to wear a uniform,” said the mother of the prisoner Thiago, a newcomer to the CDP charged with murder. She declined to be identified for fear of reprisals against his son, who exchanged gunfire with police on the day of the crime. Thiago spends his days lying in the Gama 12 gallery, after having undergone surgery to remove a bullet from his body.
We are all complicit
by Lucia Nader and Marcos Fuchs
The tragedy of the Pedrinhas prison shows the popular support for the most inefficient prison policies in the world
The tragedy in the Pedrinhas prison in Maranhão, where, since 2013, 62 people were killed in a brutal manner, is the result of a coldly calculated operation supported by public opinion which, perversely, promotes an unacceptable, illegal and inefficient prison system.
Those responsible for the tragedies are among public authorities: governors, judges and prosecutors. But the accomplices are all of us who do not want or cannot change a system that remains intact with archaeological rigor, the same methods and same conditions that existed in the dungeons of the Dark Ages.
In Pedrinhas, one of the victims was immobilized and, while still alive, watched the dissection of his own leg until death, while the scene was recorded on a cell phone. Another was stabbed several times with the tip of a BBQ skewer. Three were beheaded. What the three incidents had in common was the fact of their being caged, under the Government of the State of Maranhão and under the pretext of being reeducated. The venue has a capacity of 1,700 people but houses 2,500.
It’s not the first time that the public has been scandalized by facts like this. Five years ago, Conectas projected to diplomats from around the world at the UN in Geneva, photos of prisons of the state of Espírito Santo which showed dismembered human bodies in laundry carts. In the ES horror, prisoners were kept in sealed metal containers, under a scorching sun. When the door was opened, several unconscious fell to the outside.
Tragedies like these are seasonally repeated in Brazil. They are like the summer rains that every year, on a due date, collapse with the strength of indifference on thousands of deaths in the foreseeable tsunami. Gradually, these catastrophes are incorporated into the Brazilian calendar, such as Carnival or the soccer championships.
This is only possible because there is public support. In a country where most of the 548,000 prisoners are preto (black) or pardo (brown), poor and residents of the periphery (favela slums), the middle class and the elite don’t care about have their caged fellow humans literally defecating on each other. Many of those who shrug off these violations have the magical idea that people are stuck with no return to a distant universe. They should know that prisons in Brazil are absolutely inefficient. They function like a revolving door, with a recurrence rate of over 60%, which, in passing, the prisoner is enticed by organized criminal groups and suffer all kinds of brutality before returning to the street.
The Brazilian obsession with arresting and mistreating prisoners beats world records. In 20 years, the country saw an increase of 380% in the number of prisoners.
We constructed an illegal prison system. In it, we systematically violate laws and constitutional guarantees. It is a vicious cycle where everyone loses. The investigation process is insignificant – less than 8% of homicides are even investigated. With this, the main tool of prisons – nearly 40% interim – is suspect, almost always directed at young blacks of the periphery. This is, interestingly, the same profile of those who have no access to justice, cannot afford a lawyer and will depend on a public defender who, in São Paulo, is responsible for carrying out alone between 8 and 10,000 similar cases. The figure shows that not even the richest state of the Federation is free from prison ills. São Paulo has 80 new prisoners a day and even created the Mecanismo Estadual de Prevenção e Combate à Tortura (State Mechanism of Prevention and Combating Torture), which would provide effectiveness to the commitment the that had been taken by Brazil seven years ago at the UN.
The argument that we cannot build a society based on inhuman values is already in itself irrefutable. But even if there are sadists who support these horrors, we need to know how building a prison system like this will eventually up end because of constructing, in a short time, an increasingly brutal, inhumane and unforgiving society.