The Culture and Development of Drug Trafficking in Brazil
By Dialogo December 17, 2015Excellent social analysis of this sad world. Thank you
When I was serving as the commanding officer of the Sampaio Task Force occupying and pacifying favela complexes in Alemão and Penha in 2011, in Rio de Janeiro, I saw that from a tender age children are recruited and become involved in organized crime, climbing the hierarchy. Living under institutionalized rules and actively participating in criminal activities gives the “recruits” an active share in the organization’s results and a feeling that they are part of “something bigger”. The receipt and transmission of modus operandi
ensure the continuity of the process. As time passes, the new members climb the ranks, and they bring the adaptations from the institution to society, leading to evolution and modification of the organizational culture.
The culture of a criminal faction is the set of customs and lifestyle that have evolved from the creation of the organization. In this context, there are funk parties (playing songs by apologists for organized crime and explicit sex, along with the promotion of erotic dances, and the consumption of alcohol and drugs), executions of disaffected members or rivals, styles of dress with golden bracelets and chains, designer clothes, jargon, codes of laws, aesthetics with specific hair styles, tattoos with specific symbolism, and the use of weapons to demonstrate social status.
The culture developed by one faction of organized crime makes gang members earn an income by selling weapons and drugs, guaranteeing food, survival, support and improvement in conditions in the comforts of home or their lifestyles. They referred to this as “serious work.”
The gang’s enemies could be identified initially as other, rival criminal factions, and then the militias and, finally, Public Security Agencies (OSP). This encourages gang members to construct home-made explosive devices, barriers for police vehicles, containment walls (for shelter from projectiles), install complex surveillance systems, personal security teams for leaders and sources of financing, elaborate escape routes, payments to informants, and acquisition of large-caliber weapons and ammunition. The integrated functions of these systems occur within the context of the faction’s code.
Cultural evolution occurs in the interactions with society. Often, modifications and adjustments occur in imitation of the very institutions that threaten the faction’s survival. This is why new technologies are incorporated into the organization’s operations:
- With the advent of cell phones, the surveillance system was perfected, and it became feasible to spread a group over a long distance, send text messages and images, and even make international calls, all of which gave leaders a great deal of flexibility;
-Smartphones, with their apps, made it possible to send images, emails, messages and chats over the internet in real time anywhere on the planet (Skype, WhatsApp, Messenger, IMO, among others);
-The use of “talk-about” radios made it cheaper to have a surveillance system and make it more agile and incremental with the use of pre-established messages or code words.
- The internet, through social networks, became widely used in marketing the organizations’ activities, provoking OSP and rival factions with degrading photos and videos specifically edited for that purpose, or to serve as a deterrent. These activities usually occur in real time.
Members of a criminal organization interact with the organization and are strongly influenced by the transformations occurring in Western society at different periods, as the following table demonstrates (ASSMAN, 2006, UFSC)
This shows that criminal factions are affected by the influences of the time in which they exist; however, we see that it is impossible to place the society of criminal organizations completely in the post-industrial column.
The familial organization is frequently patriarchal and tribal; polygamy is not rare among faction leaders. In this context, there are real disputes among women over who is most preferred, or the “trustworthy woman,” in the personal lingo.
It is more than normal to encounter criminals with ties to a syncretic religion. They mix tarot card readers, fortune tellers and Catholic saints with Candomble. This religious “ethos” has its particularities and is normally subordinate to the organization’s codes and rules. It is very common to make appeals in jobs or issues related to Candomble, even though Christian symbols are used in the tattoos or charms.
As far as values are concerned, the predominant one is sexual pleasure, consumption, prestige and the feeling of power. Self-actualization occurs in seeing the “firm” (the faction) doing well.
Keeping in mind their nature, the members of criminal factions normally ignore ecology. Their focus rests on producing raw materials (drugs) to be sold and earn profits.
The relationship between the body and sex is characteristic of the third column in the table, with focus on hedonism and genitalia, as evidenced by the erotic music and dance of the funk parties.
The culture mixes
aspects from different eras. If on the one hand it is traditional, with deep roots, and chauvinist in collections, it also often presents a consumerist side.
Art is also a point of intersection between different eras. They produce apologist music and videos for crime in clandestine and rudimentary studios. They also use computers in this process; by the same token, they use graffiti on walls in designs that promote the faction or the local leader.
The most important geographical location in the controlled territory is linked directly to survival, and as such the organization is extremely territorial and prioritizes property, weapons and merchandise (drugs). The sector of the dominant activity mixes the “bourgeoisie” into the acquisition and resale of drugs and “security” services to guarantee survival.
Regarding employment, there is enough manual labor for persons to carry drugs back and forth, for day workers (who package the drugs for sale) and those who work in the security system (armed and surveillance), in addition to those who produce the apologist videos and music about the crimes.
The use of technology permeates the various stages of the drug business. A rudimentary process is used in preparing and packaging the drugs. On the other hand, with their financial resources, the criminals purchase sophisticated weapons, smartphones and computers.
The predominant mentality fits within the post-industrial column, as evidenced by the hedonistic and consumerist side. Their philosophy is predominantly irrationalism or nihilism, that is, an absence of questioning actions related to the depreciation of traditional values.
Even though some environments may tend to seduce persons into a life of crime, we shall always have free will in finally deciding which road we choose.
*Fernando Montenegro – Coronel R/1 Brazilian Army Special Forces – Former commanding officer of the Sampaio Task Force that occupied and pacified the complexes of Alemão and Penha in 2011.