As Facções Cariocas em Perspectiva Comparativa Novos estudos CEBRAP
Benjamin Lessing  |  March 2008

Conventional wisdom has it that Rio de Janeiro’s drug war is unique within Brazil: while drugs, violence, and corruption can be observed in most Brazilian cities, nothing like Rio’s facções (syndicates) exists elsewhere. This is not accurate: drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) that in many respects resemble Rio’s syndicates do exist in other urban contexts. What differentiates them is less the ability to establish a local monopoly on drug retailing than the resilience of their internal structure, and consequently the extent and duration of their existence and domination. During field research in nine peripheral communities in three cities, I observed not only high variation in the degree of concentration among local drug markets, but also over time within single communities. Based on interviews with traffickers, favela residents, and police and government officials, I present a framework for conceptualizing and measuring the degree of concentration of local drug markets based on drug trafficking organizations’ internal structure and observable behavior. This framework brings to light two opposing sets of forces: those that drive the agglomeration, expansion, and consolidation of drug firms, and those that lead to fragmentation of local markets. The stability of Rio’s highly concentrated drug markets, I argue, should be understood as an equilibrium in which the fragmentary forces at work in other cities are neutralized by specific traits of Rio’s syndicates—in particular, their prison-gang origin and continued domination of the carceral system.