May 18, 2006

Sao Paulo governor says violence a warning to rich

By Angus MacSwan

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Sao Paulo's state governor
said gang violence that has rocked Brazil's business capital
Sao Paulo in the past week should serve as a warning to
Brazil's richer classes that the country's deep social
inequalities were tearing it apart.

Governor Claudio Lembo, in a full-page interview published
in leading newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, also denied police were
carrying out massacres to quell the violence, in which 152
people have been killed since last Friday.

"All this has been a big wake up for Brazil. The social
situation is the cancer for crime and it is bigger than we
imagined," he said.

Brazil's most powerful criminal gang, the First Command of
the Capital (PCC), unleashed a wave of bloodshed in Sao Paulo
city and state last Friday night in retaliation for the
transfer of jailed gang leaders and members to a remote
high-security prison.

Some 30 policeman were killed in attacks on police posts,
vehicles and off-duty officers. Dozens of buses were also set
ablaze. Related uprisings broke out in dozens of prisons across
the state to demand better conditions.

The attacks caused panic and chaos in Sao Paulo, the
world's third largest metropolis with a population of 20
million. The attacks had largely subsided by midweek after
tough police response. Police have killed 107 suspected
gangsters in operations through poor districts of the city.

Human rights groups, while condemning the gangsters, have
expressed concern the police are resorting to extra-judicial
executions to stamp out the violence.

Lembo, asked if the police were carrying out revenge
attacks in which innocent people may be killed, said the police
were under control.


"I spoke for a long time with Colonel Elizeu Eclair and I
am convinced that they are acting within the limits," Lembo
said. "There are clashes every night in the streets. The police
are acting to avoid the worst for society."

While crime and lawlessness is rampant in Brazil's cities
-- in March, army troops occupied slums in Rio de Janeiro in a
blitz against drug traffickers -- the scale of the Sao Paulo
gang offensive was unprecedented.

Lembo had candid words for Brazil's upper classes, saying
the crime problem was rooted in the desperate poverty and wide
gap between rich and poor in the nation of 185 million people.

"We have a white minority that is very perverse. The
bourgeoisie will have to open their pockets to lift the misery
so there are more jobs, more education," he said.

While leftist politicians and humanitarian organizations
have long linked crime to deprivation, Lembo's comments were
notable as he is member of the right-wing Liberal Front Party
and comes from a banking background.

Many of Brazil's upper classes endorse repressive police
tactics and show little concern for social problems.

"Brazil is disintegrating and losing its civic values,"
Lembo said. "Brazil only believes in the (national soccer) team
shirt, which is a symbol of victory."

Police kept up sweeps throughout the city on Thursday and
sporadic incidents were reported overnight. Fourteen suspected
gangsters were killed in the past 24 hours in what security
officials said were shoot-outs, although it was not certain if
the victims were directly linked to the PCC campaign.

Eight buses were burned, prompting two bus companies to
suspend night services.

A judge meanwhile ordered PCC chief Marcos Camacho,
nicknamed Marcola, be held for 90 days in solitary confinement
at the top-security Presidente Bernardes penitentiary to
prevent him from issuing more orders to his men.

Marcola is reported to have orchestrated the war using a
smuggled cell phone.