Left: Members of PCC crime gang on top of Junqueiropolis prison(Alex Silva/AP)
(Sao Paulo, Brazil) Members of criminal gangs set buses on fire and attacked banks in the Brazilian capital of Sao Paulo last night. The death toll in the current campaign of violence has now reached 70 people in the past three days.
Most of those dead are police officers, who have been targeted by the criminal organization First Capital Command (PCC) in protest of the prison transfer of some of its leaders.
The attacks and prison rebellions "were the most vicious and deadliest attacks on public security forces that have ever taken place in Brazil," said Enio Lucciola, spokesman for the Sao Paulo State Public Safety Department.
The attacks on the metropolitan transportaion system have crippled many businesses, according to London Times correspondent Tom Hennigan.
"It was absolute transport chaos in parts of the city, as it was the first back-to-work day since the attacks started," he said. "Sao Paulo is a city that suffers from transport chaos even on a good day. I think the PCC hope to coerce ordinary people to put pressure on the state government. But it is not working, as so many people are so disgusted by the sheer level of violence involved in the attacks that there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the victims."
Since Friday gunmen in Sao Paulo have targeted security forces in the city, using grenades, shotguns, homemade bombs, and automatic weapons to attack police in stations and on the street.
Sao Paulo, the world's third-largest city, has long been in the grip of violent crime and organized syndicates. The city has the reputation of being the "command and control center" for Brazilian drug trafficking, as well as a staging zone for cocaine destined for Africa and Europe.
One observer believes that the coordinated attacks are part of a larger strategy by the PCC to increase the group's influence.
"It's a power struggle," said Renato Simoes, a Sao Paulo congressman and member of the state's Human Rights Commission. "The PCC feels emboldened because it senses the government is weak."
The PCC was founded in 1993 by inmates at the Taubate Penitentiary in Sao Paulo. The group criminal activities include drugs, arms trafficking, kidnappings, bank robberies and extortion.
The PCC staged a notorious prison uprising in 2001 in which 19 inmates died, and the PCC attacked more than 50 police stations in November 2003. São Paulo