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Military Police Massacre at Least 111 in Brazilian Prison

On the night of Oct. 2, just hours before nationwide municipal elections, the Military Police swept into Sao Paulo's Carandirú Prison, Latin America's largest, and killed a still unknown number of inmates. Officials originally put the death toll at 111; on Oct. 7 the federal Justice Ministry said about 200 had died; based on prisoner lists for the cell block, a surviving prisoner calculates that a total of 284 inmates are missing and should be presumed dead.

Prisoners and official sources agree that the incident started with a knife fight among inmates during the afternoon; the official version is that there was also a plan for a mass jailbreak. Sao Paulo State Security Secretary Pedro Franco de Campos says that guards attempted negotiations but gave up "because it was getting dark. We couldn't have a mass escape from that prison the day before elections." The Military Police claim the prisoners attacked them as they entered the cell block, but a prisoner reports that "[t]he soldiers shot each other [in the dark] and they became furious when they saw their companions wounded." Prisoners, lawyers, and religious human rights workers all describe a brutal massacre in which guards beat and knifed some prisoners, machine-gunned some others, and unleashed police dogs on the rest. Many prisoners were shot in the back of the head after surrendering; some were killed after being compelled to carry away the bodies of other prisoners. "The police said they couldn't leave witnesses. The ones who survived the shootings and knifings were murdered by the dogs," a prisoner said. The next day a police officer told a prisoner's mother that "the dogs had fresh meat last night."

"The brutality...surpasses the atrocities of the war between Serbs and Croats," says one lawyer associated with the PT. Sao Paulo State Governor Luiz Antônio Fleury Jr. dismissed security chief Campos on Oct. 8 and put the prisons under the control of a new prison affairs department. The Oct. 2 incident is the worst of a number of massacres in Brazilian prisons. Thirty-two prisoners died in a 1987 disturbance, also in Sao Paulo. Last year, guards in Rio de Janeiro used an incendiary bomb to murder 25 inmates of a subterranean prison. A police captain involved in the latest assault, Wanderley Mascarenhas de Souza, was already known in the local press as one of the city's "five biggest killers," with a total of 34 killings in supposed shoot-outs with criminals.
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