The characters interviewed in this video, a priest in Portugal and two elder gentlemen; one respectable-looking and the other a bit rougher looking one, have an extraordinary story in common. They were the unwilling founders of organized crime in Rio, personified in the Red Command, or the Commando Vermelho.
The preist is the renown Padre Alipio: a Portuguese who in the late 1950’s served as a missionary in the Maranhao state and who in the early 1960’s became so angry at the poverty of the simple people and the insensitivity of the rich that he joined the “Ligas Camponesas”. The Peasant Leagues was a far left organization, and through it he became part of the armed resistance against the military regime.
The other two do not have such an ideological past, they were dangerous common prisoners who met him at the top security Ilha Grande. This penitentiary had been the destination of many political prisoners during the Vargas dictatorship in the 1930’s and the 1940’s and the military reactivated it as a sort of a political Devil’s Island when they came to power.
While sharing the same cells Padre Alipio and his colleagues taught the common prisoners, some of the most dangerous in Brazil, about socialism as well as organizational skills and the interchange gave birth to the infamous criminal organization. This is an explained in Lost Samba:
“…Brazilian organized crime was born at this time In the Ilha Grande prison, the Brazilian version of Papillon’s Devil’s Island where political prisoners who had received paramilitary training shared their cells with the country’s most dangerous criminals. The militants still possessed the germ of catechizing the masses but went further and taught their fellow inmates about the importance of being soldier-like and organized as well as for bank robberies and kidnappings.
The political prisoners ended up being either exchanged for VIP’s or receiving amnesty while the ordinary prisoners stayed on and gave their own interpretation to the lessons received. They created the Red Command that first took over the prison’s informal world and then Rio’s entire penal system. From inside the prisons’ walls they managed to influence and then control the city’s criminal world. They relied on the fact that the destiny of every criminal is to land in jail. If they did not belong to the organization, or didn’t pay a contribution, once behind bars they would have serious questions to answer.”