Dozens of heavily armed men with rifles, bulletproof vests, armored cars and using people as human shields, star in cinematographic scenes of bank robberies in inner cities. Horror scenes, which often ended in deaths, became frequent in Brazil.
The last one was at dawn on Monday (30/08), in Araçatuba, in the interior of São Paulo. In the incident, which ended with at least three people dead – two residents and one suspected of participating in the crime – even had the installation of 40 explosives triggered by heat and movement detectors.
The action, which began around midnight and ended about two hours later, had the use of drones, to monitor the arrival of police, and vehicles set on fire on highways to make access to crime scenes difficult.
The bandits invaded two branches in Araçatuba. One of them, which works as a regional treasury, had its vault, underground, invaded by robbers. On Monday, criminals blew up ATMs. The amount taken by the gang was not informed by the police.
But how are these cities chosen by criminals?
Public Security specialists interviewed by BBC News Brasil explain that several factors are taken into account by the “Novo Cangaço” gangs.
Lots of money and little policing
The first is the effective and police structure of the city and region where the attack will take place. According to the specialists interviewed by the report, a robbery like this will hardly be carried out in a metropolis, such as São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
This is because large cities have elite battalions, prepared to act in situations like this, for example, the Tobias Aguiar Ostensive Rounds (Rota, in São Paulo) and the Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE, in Rio).
Burglars also look for places where large amounts of money are stored, such as money carriers or strategic agencies, such as the attack in Araraquara, which served as treasury for the entire region.
Criminal analyst and member of the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, Guaracy Mingardi said that this crime, known as “Novo Cangaço”, began in the Northeast, with bandits robbing regions with mining companies.
“They attacked the city, arrested the police and left. This happened in small towns, far from everything. Then, they came to attack money carriers in the Southeast and Paraguay. After a while, the cost-effectiveness of these assaults began to change. it is no longer worthwhile because companies have increased security,” said Mingardi.
Another point analyzed by the gangs to define the targets of attacks are the escape routes. They are usually medium-sized cities, with three or four major highways used as escape routes.
“The criminals arrive in 30 or 40 heavily armed people. They close some accesses with burning vehicles and, until the arrival of a reasonable police force to intervene, they have already ended the action and fled along some of these routes”, says Mingardi.
In the robbery in Araçatuba, criminals abandoned the armored cars used in the crime in a rural area of the city and continued their escape in other vehicles.
Ease of acting
For Mingardi, it is very difficult to prevent a robbery, but the performance of these criminals is made possible by the absence of an in-depth investigation that identifies and arrests criminals who plan and are experts in these attacks.
The criminal analyst explains that each gang has at least four people who have participated in other robberies of the type. Some learned how to make these robberies during the period they were incarcerated, but he stresses that, in order to learn, it is necessary to do.
“It’s impossible to avoid. If you put the police on one corner, on the other you’ll be without. There has to be a large contingent to counterattack, so it’s difficult. The police have to learn to investigate this crime, as happened with the old kidnapping in the US 1990s. The police created a network of informers and developed techniques to analyze and monitor suspects,” said Mingardi.
He said that identifying, tracking and arresting the main experts of each gang makes new actions unfeasible because it makes the robbery more expensive and reduces the chances of success. Mingardi says, for example, that there are few explosives specialists and monitoring them could stifle this type of assault.
When asked about the possible participation of the First Command of the Capital (PCC) faction in these crimes, Mingardi says that it should not be a direct action of the criminal group, but of some members or people linked to them.
According to him, the criminals who participate in these crimes are “brothers,” as the faction calls their baptized members, or “cousins”—when they have some connection but don’t belong. The analyst explains that heavy weapons are usually leased or lent by the CCP in exchange for a slice of the heist’s profit.
The Public Security Secretariat reported that in 2021 alone, 79 rifles were seized in São Paulo. In the entire year of 2020, there were 150.
The crimes committed by “Novo Cangaço” leave a trail of destruction in the cities where they occur. According to the police, one of the people killed in Araçatuba last night left home to broadcast the mega-robbery live on social networks.
But, in addition to the deaths and psychological trauma caused by the terror hours experienced by residents, the structure and services of the city are also affected.
After the crime in Araçatuba, classes and even public transport in the city were suspended. The police instructed that the entire population of the municipality remain at home until the places where the crimes occurred were inspected, and that the 40 explosives left by the bandits were detonated or deactivated.
In April 2021, an attack by the “Novo Cangaço” took place in Mococa, in the interior of São Paulo. In December, two agencies were attacked in Araraquara, also in the interior of São Paulo. At the time, two vehicles were set on fire.
In July 2020, three agencies were attacked in Botucatu, in the interior of São Paulo. At the time, two military police were injured and a suspect was killed.
Similar actions also took place in other states. In December 2020, around 40 heavily armed men attacked a bank branch in Criciúma, in the interior of Santa Catarina. At the time, there was an exchange of fire and a policeman was injured.
This type of robbery — when a criminal group takes control of a small town to rob — is not new in Brazil. At the beginning of the last century, Lampião and his band of cangaceiros made their living by practicing similar looting.
In the late 1990s, the so-called “Novo Cangaço” emerged, when groups of criminals began to invade towns in the northeastern hinterland (municipalities lacking police personnel) to loot banks and armored cars. The actions, quite violent, ended in shootings and killings of police officers and innocent civilians.
The main leader of the “Novo Cangaço” was José Valdetário Benevides Carneiro, who led dozens of cinematographic actions in Rio Grande do Norte ? he died in 2003 during a clash with the police.
In one of the robberies led by Valdetário, in the city of Macau, police chief Antonio Teixeira Jr. felt the violence of the group firsthand.
“We knew there was going to be an attack. Valdetário’s group robbed three banks. When we left the PM battalion, we heard the shots. I was shot three times: one in the arm, one in the leg and another grazed my face,” says Teixeira Jr, chief of police. 23 years ago? at the time he was the head of the Macau regional police station.
For Thadeu Brandão, coordinator of the Rio Grande do Norte Violence Observatory (Obvio) and sociology professor at the Federal Rural University of the Semi-Arid, there are similarities between the “Novo Cangaço” and the recent attacks on cities in the Southeast, although they are more about procedures than about the profile of criminals.
“Novo Cangaço was more linked to a cycle of revenge, family conflicts and justice in relation to the actions of the police. Valdetário even distributed money to some people. Today, despite the modus operandi of the robberies being similar, the type of criminal and the objectives of the robbery are very different from that time,” he explains.
“The criminal now thinks mainly about money, wants to steal to get rich and ride a luxury car. It’s different from Novo Cangaço (which originated), when there was even a kind of search for honor through crimes. Today, the killer is more professional: he kills more for the money.”
At the roots of the original cangaço, which consecrated figures such as Lampião in the country’s history, was also an element of revolt against coronelismo, the neglect of public authorities and social injustices in the Northeast. Despite having left a trail of death and terror in several cities, they were seen by the population as heroes.