Small Wars Journal

Troubled Succession: what leadership decapitation means for Rio’s militias 

Thu, 08/05/2021 - 4:55pm

Troubled Succession: what leadership decapitation means for Rio’s militias 

Andrea Varsori

When it comes to urban violence in the Brazilian megacity of Rio de Janeiro, drug dealing gangs are usually the champions at grabbing international headlines. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, they have managed to do so once again through their alleged enforcement of night curfews[1]—a successful PR move,[2] although the extent to which it actually occurred is disputable. The police forces themselves compete for global attention in this respect, as some of their operations are marked by their lethality—a raid in May resulted in 28 casualties.[3] If we look more closely at Rio’s landscape of violence, however, we can spot a third protagonist: paramilitary groups, known in Portuguese as milícias.[4]According to a study[5] conducted by a joint partnership of Brazilian Universities (Universidade de São Paulo–USP, Universidade Federal Fluminense–UFF) and NGOs (Disque-Denúncia, Fogo Cruzado), as of 2019 paramilitary groups controlled 25.5% of the city’s neighbourhoods, amounting to 33.1% of its population (2.178.620 people) and 57.5% of its territory.[6] This predominance has already been analysed in this Journal,[7] and it is indeed an urgent reason to look more closely at these groups.


Weapons recovered during arrest of four members of the militia led by Wellington da Silva Braga, known as Ecko.

Source: Polícia Militar do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (PMERJ). 28 January 2021,

Over the past year, Rio’s public prosecution and investigative or Civil Police (Polícia Civil do Estado do Rio de Janeiro–PCERJ) have carried out several operations against paramilitary groups. The most consequential took place on 12 June and resulted in the capture and killing of Wellington da Silva Braga, aka “Ecko.”[8] Ecko was leading Rio’s largest paramilitary group, so his death is in itself an important event for the city’s underworld. In addition, his criminal trajectory and power are telling of the changes and influence of militias. Moreover, the fall of such an important boss has usually large consequences—and, sometimes, unintended ones as well. The academic literature has highlighted the effects that ‘leadership decapitations’ such as this one can have on armed groups, be they terrorist or criminal in nature.[9] The killing of Ecko has almost instantly led to a reorganisation of Rio’s criminal landscape, while some state forces continue to conduct operations to weaken paramilitary groups.

This piece will take Ecko’s death as the basis for an evaluation of the current and future state of the militias operating in Rio de Janeiro. The piece will first explain why this event matters by outlining the power of Ecko’s group and the importance of his criminal career. It will then assess the strength of the link between this paramilitary group and state forces. The article will then describe the events that occurred since the killing of Ecko. In the conclusion, it will advance an assessment of the likely impact of this event and of the subsequent reorganization on Rio’s paramilitary groups. The article will argue that the recent consistent track record of anti-militia operations is a positive development, but only deeper structural changes would be able to persistently reverse militia dominance in Rio’s Metropolitan Region.


Wanted Posters for “ECKO” Wellington da Silva Braga

Source: Portal Procurados,

Who was Ecko and why he mattered

When he was killed, Ecko was the most wanted militia leader in Rio. What made Ecko so important was the economic and military power he wielded. Ecko’s group (Bonde do Ecko in Portuguese) is indeed Rio’s most powerful paramilitary group. A notebook seized in his house after his death revealed the size of the arsenal that was in his militia’s possession. The notebook mentioned 137 firearms in total, including 98 AR-15 style rifles and six 7.62 mm FAL rifles. The 137 weapons correspond to a monetary value of around $1,476,000, based on estimates of black market values.[10] These firearms are just those that were directly controlled by Ecko himself and loaned to his lieutenants, so the militia’s total arsenal is likely to be much larger. With such firepower in their hands, Ecko militia members control at least 60 different areas in Greater Rio, mainly in the city’s West Zone and in the peripheral region of Baixada Fluminense.[11]

The economic power of Ecko’s group matches its military resources. The Investigative Police estimates the group’s monthly profits to amount to around R$10 million (equivalent to $1,922,000).[12] Until late 2020, the group also controlled illegal activities in the Baixada Fluminense region, where public prosecutors estimate that militias extract more than R$10 million.[13] Of these, a monthly inflow of R$1 million is due exclusively to the running of illegal public transport, enforced through militia members who actively discourage residents from taking legal means of transport.[14] In his core areas in Rio’s West Zone, Ecko was extracting R$560,000 monthly (around $107,000) with extortion alone.[15] Federal public housing projects are particularly exposed to this kind of exploitation.[16] Ecko’s group however does not earn money solely through extortion rackets; it also imposes monopolies on goods such as gas and gasoline, as well as services such as the illegal provision of cable TV, internet, and public transport. Local militia ‘franchises’ may also profit from different activities, such as illegal construction,[17] usury,[18] and the sale of counterfeit clothing[19] and smuggled cigarettes.[20] Correspondingly, Ecko’s group counts on a complex system of money laundering[21] that worked through pharmacies, firms in the construction sector, and purchases of luxury items such as apartments and race horses.[22]

Ecko’s career inside the militia is also notable. His story and that of his brother reveal a transformation that has occurred during the 2010s within several of Rio’s paramilitary groups. Originally born as groups of former and off-duty state agents (police officers, firemen, and sporadically armed forces officers), these armed groups found in the opposition to drug dealing gangs their main justification for taking over territorial control and imposing protection rackets.[23] This may never have amounted to anything more than an excuse for acquiring power and legitimacy. Even then, though, hostilities with gangs were indeed a staple of these groups’ activities during their diffusion in the late 2000s.

Since then, however, a rapprochement has occurred between gangs and some paramilitary groups, especially on the subject of drug dealing. The main form of settlement between gangs and militias consists in the latter ‘renting’ their territories to the former as far as drug dealing is concerned. In this way, gangs manage to resume drug sales by paying the local paramilitary group with a substantial share of profits. This form of inter-group settlement first emerged around 2014 in several favelas of Rio’s West Zone.[24] It had however already taken place a couple years earlier in the favela of Morro da Barão, also in the West Zone, with gangs resuming the sale of their usual products, cannabis and cocaine.[25] Another instance of a militia involved in drug trafficking was reported by the press in 2015:[26] its leader was a former Polícia Militar(Military Police) officer, once again highlighting the presence of (former) state agents in militias.

These instances of ‘renting’—arrendamentos—were first linked to the weakening of militias following the heavy repression that they suffered in the late 2000s. It is clear, however, that some militia leaders thought of them as just another way to make money through territorial control. Among them was Carlos Alexandre Silva Braga (aka “Carlinhos Três Pontes”), Ecko’s brother. Carlinhos was a former gang member who however managed to earn the trust of the former leaders of the Justice League militia, Rio’s most powerful paramilitary actor at that time and the predecessor to Ecko’s group.[27] He managed to do so by mediating between the militia and a local gang sometime before 2013.[28] As the former leaders were arrested in the early 2010s, Carlinhos assumed command of the Justice League.[29] He decided to expand to other cities within Greater Rio, such as Nova Iguaçu.[30] He also made cooperation with gangs a staple of his militia’s activity. This cooperation ranged from lending protection to gang-controlled territories[31] in exchange for a share of the profits to using gangs as proxies in conflicts with rival militia groups.[32] Carlinhos was killed by the police in 2017 and Ecko succeeded him, continuing his brother’s policy of militia-gang cooperation. Building on a decade-long friendship[33] with a powerful gang boss (Wallace Brito Trindade, aka “Lacoste”), Ecko agreed on an alliance with gangs to control the region of Praça Seca and establish a division of labor between them, with militias controlling extortion rackets and gangs controlling drug dealing. Ironically, this alliance proved to be more reliable than those with other militia groups, as this piece will show below.

What is the link between Ecko’s group and the state?

The emergence of gang-militia alliances —‘narcomilícias’—is also based on a change in the membership of paramilitary groups. Ever since the first wave of state repression in the late 2000s, militias have not only toned down their hostility towards gangs, but they even started recruiting former gang members. These were at first tasked with menial roles that exposed them to attention from the police, such as collecting extortion fees.[34] It is clear, however, that numerous former gang members have been able to climb to relatively high echelons of militia hierarchy—although the case of Ecko’s brother Carlinhos is notable in his criminal ascent.[35] It is also clear that Ecko has not hesitated to kill militia members with former links to the police: he has allegedly done so in multiple cases to fend off pretenders after he took over from his brother.[36]

Notwithstanding this change, the presence of state agents within militias is still significant, even within Ecko’s group specifically. A survey of legal and internal police documents conducted by the newspaper O Globoshowed that 80 state security agents have been investigated or prosecuted for being a member of Ecko’s group between 2015 and 2020.[37] Sixty-seven of them are or have been Polícia Militar officers; two of them were playing key roles[38] in the group as Ecko’s ‘lieutenants’ at one of the group’s territorial ‘franchises.’[39] The remaining 13 were either prison guards or detectives from the investigative police. These numbers are notable, especially considering that Ecko’s group is only one of the several militias operating in Rio—albeit arguably the largest. They are compounded by other ways through which state security forces are linked to paramilitary groups. For example, ammo seized from these groups on four occasions between 2015 and 2019 has been found to come from 15 batches of ammo purchases made by the Polícia Miltar.[40] This points to existing corruption within this police force, with connections allowing paramilitary groups to acquire police ammo for guns and rifles (9mm, .40, 5.56mm, 7.62mm calibers).

The link between paramilitaries and sections of the state forces is evident in the lack of day-to-day repression by the latter. This reportage by Record TV shows illegal vans managed by militias passing unchecked in front of police officers and state officials.[41] The physical presence of militias is sometimes quite apparent, especially where these groups’ territorial control is still relatively new. In Manguariba, residents have reported paramilitaries wearing police uniforms and patrolling the area with black vehicles, conducting searches on ‘suspicious’ cars and residents.[42] This same behaviour has been seen in Gardênia Azul. where police officers have even been able to map 62 places that are being victimised by the local militia’s extortion racket.[43] Both the militias’ everyday economic activities and physical presence should be easy targets for Polícia Militar patrols. They do not seem, however, to elicit a strong reaction—at least until the anti-militia task force and some specialised police units get involved. These units, rather than the local police battalions, have conducted the lion’s share of the recent anti-militia operations.[44]

The tight link with the police is an especially significant factor, considering that the militias’ main rivals (drug dealing gangs) cannot count on such an advantage. To establish a truce with the police, gangs have to engage in expensive bribing—militias can instead count on a wider set of options to avoid hostility with state security forces. This has been a crucial factor in allowing for their expansion over the past ten years.

What has happened since Ecko was killed

The death of such an important figure has almost instantaneously led to a series of reactions by criminal and state actors alike. The only exception, and a counterintuitive one, is the relative lack of reaction from gangs. This is surprising, considering the rivalry between some of them and Ecko’s group. This enmity was not due to the militia’s ideological hostility to drug dealing—as remarked above, Ecko’s group has long been involved in this activity itself. However, this militia had been in business with gangs from only one of Rio’s gang alliances—the Pure Third Command (Terceiro Comando Puro).[45] Gangs from the Red Command (Comando Vermelho), Rio’s other major alliance, had instead been long-standing rivals of Ecko. Red Command areas in the West Zone (such as Antares[46] and Rola[47]) were taken by Ecko’s group in 2018; moreover, Ecko’s group has co-operated with the Pure Third Command to wage war on the Red Command in the region of Praça Seca.[48] Unsurprisingly, as the news of the death of Ecko came up, Red Command gangs celebrated it by shooting in the air and by threatening to retake the favelas they used to dominate.[49] As of now, however, those gangs have yet to act on those threats.[50]

While the gangs’ reaction has been somewhat lackluster, other militia groups have acted quickly and decisively to make the most out of the power vacuum created by Ecko’s death. Their actions are the direct consequence of internal strife within the alliance of militia groups that Ecko had managed to assemble between 2017 and 2020. The most important development in this internal strife was the split that took place in December 2020 between the militia boss and Danilo Dias Lima, aka “Tandera.”[51] Tandera has been instrumental in expanding Ecko’s reach[52] to vast areas in Rio’s periphery, namely the city of Nova Iguaçu. His military contribution has been especially sizable: he has led several invasions, each of which involving up to a hundred heavily armed men in armored vehicles.[53] Tandera has once again used this same method to invade the Ecko-controlled neighbourhood of Manguariba on June 13—less than 24 hours after the death of Ecko.[54] The swiftness with which this boss has mobilised around 100 armed men is as notable as the lack of resistance that they faced when occupying the area.

The invasion of Manguariba was only the first of several acts of violence that have followed the death of Ecko. A few territories have changed hands, such as the favela Dois Irmãos,[55] in Rio’s West Zone, where hostilities are still ongoing.[56] The area was overtaken by Edmilson Gomes Menezes (aka “Macaquinho”), another former ally of Ecko, in the week following the latter’s killing, but Ecko loyalists are currently trying to retake it.[57] The favela of Terreirão has also been the focus of territorial conflict, with an ambush on 29 June leaving three people dead and five injured.[58] However, most of the violence that has taken place in the past weeks has consisted in assassinations, rather than full-scale invasions. Several of these murders have targeted police officers. On 23 June, a former Military Police officer known to be involved in the militia was killed in Campo Grande, in Rio’s West Zone;[59] in the same area, on 26 June, a Military Police officer with militia links was also killed.[60] On 30 June, two armed men entered a gym in Nova Iguaçu (Tandera’s core territory), killed a Military Police officer and injured a second one,[61] in a clearly premeditated attack.[62] Finally, on 8 July a former police officer was killed in the same city;[63] he had been sentenced to 12 years of prison for murder, torture, and kidnapping.[64] As of now, the significance of these assassinations is still unclear. The spike in violence is clearly visible, though, and Ecko’s former allies have managed to score a few territorial victories.

Tandera however is not the only potential successor to Ecko’s leadership. Several people loyal to the late boss are likely candidates to take his place. The two names[65] that are most often cited are those of Ecko’s brothers,[66] Luís Antônio da Silva Braga (aka “Zinho”) and Wallace da Silva Braga. The latter has been in prison since May[67] and prosecutors have requested for him to be transferred to a federal prison,[68] which would make it more difficult for him to communicate with the rest of the group. For this reason, Zinho seems to be in a better position to take over the group; his earlier role as the main manager of the militia’s money laundering scheme is also likely to work in his favor.[69] Other ‘loyalist’ candidates are Rodrigo dos Santos(aka “Latrell”),[70] who counted on Ecko’s personal trust and is credited as a potential ally of Zinho, and Francisco Anderson da Silva Costa (aka “PQD”),[71] who however has disappeared on 2 June.[72] He is said to have been killed on Ecko’s orders just before his death, but this claim is yet to be confirmed.[73]

It is difficult to understand the current situation within Ecko’s group. Some reports,[74] including from social media sources, [75] point to Zinho having taken over the command of the militia, thus marking the third member of the Braga family to do so. Another detail is notable: notwithstanding the violence that occurred over the past six weeks, there is apparently no sign of internal struggle among Ecko’s ‘loyalists’. Most of the episodes reported so far are to be attributed to the rivalry between loyalists and Tandera’s coalition. This fact may indicate that the succession has occurred, most likely in favour of Zinho. However, the visible violence is likely to be just the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and new reports may change our understanding of the situation.

As for state forces, after Ecko’s killing some of them were quick to claim, as usual in these cases of leadership decapitation, that the death of the militia leader meant the ‘disarticulation’ of his group.[76] On the other hand, Rio state governor Cláudio Castro admitted that ‘cutting a head’ is not enough to dismantle the group.[77] In general, state forces do not seem to have relented from targeting paramilitary groups. In subsequent operations across Greater Rio, the Polícia Civil (investigative police) anti-militia task force has continued to disrupt militia activities through arrests and seizures. Recently, the Polícia Civil ’s tactical unit (Coordenadoria de Recursos Especiais–CORE) has intervened in one of the areas that Tandera’s group had conquered just after Ecko’s death.[78] While the operation has not reversed the militia’s territorial control, it clearly shows that the police units that are most closely involved in anti-militia operations are aiming at Tandera’s group. This focus is proved by two other recent operations, both of which aimed at Tandera’s activities in the region of Baixada Fluminense. The first one ended with 16 people arrested and four gas canister deposits seized—gas canisters are one of the goods on which militias impose their monopoly.[79] The second and most recent one took place on 3 August and resulted in ten arrests and the seizure of two more gas canister deposits and shops selling pirate internet connections and counterfeit products.[80] Rio’s anti-militia task force seems thus involved in an act of balancing by harming Tandera’s group and finances.

A troubled succession does not spell the end for Rio’s militias

While the dust has yet to totally settle, there is enough information to advance an evaluation of the current state of Rio’s militia landscape. To a first look, Ecko’s death is seemingly leading to fragmentation within his former empire. This, however, is only partly correct. As we have seen, fragmentation started before Ecko’s killing, with two powerful bosses such as Tandera and Macaquinho splitting from the group between late 2020 and early 2021.[81] As a matter of fact, Ecko’s group was less a cohesive criminal actor and more an alliance of different militias, united by considerations of power and convenience. The former counted whenever Ecko dealt with a smaller group, such as in the case of the Gardênia Azul militia;[82] the latter instead played a role with more influential bosses such as Tandera himself. In this context, a degree of fragmentation and reorganization is inevitable, as Ecko’s ‘successor states’ fight over the spoils of the late boss and try to impose themselves as the ‘real’ pretender to the throne. In this context, the claim—advanced by the Polícia Civil—that Tandera is planning to take over the area of Três Pontes makes sense: Ecko grew up in that region, so conquering it would carry a high symbolic value.[83] The likelier scenario, however, is that Rio’s militia landscape will stabilize with Ecko loyalists on one side and, on the other, the alliance between Tandera, Macaquinho, and the powerful Crime Office group.[84] Territorial fights and assassinations are likely to go on for several months, unless Tandera manages to score a sizable military victory or police succeeds in apprehending the main bosses.

Concerning police activity, the importance of Ecko’s death within the fight between state security forces and paramilitary groups is perhaps the most important factor to assess. Considering the scale of the recent police operations against militias, it would be tempting to see Ecko’s killing as a turning point in favor of the Brazilian state. While these successes are undeniably important, it is essential to remember the overall context where they are taking place. To some extent, it is actually wrong to speak about a fight between state and militias because militias are inextricably linked with parts of the state security forces. Indeed, this strong link is militias’ greatest asset. Thus, the success of the recent police operations is likely to be based not only on the use of intelligence, but also—and perhaps most importantly—on the existence of a selected group within the Investigative Police that acts independently from the militias’ powerful police insiders. While having such an effective and autonomous group is a positive development in the fight against militias, it does not advance the larger and more consequential fight against corruption and police officers’ involvement in paramilitary groups.

Moreover, people-focused repression is not a guarantee of success in the fight against Rio’s urban armed groups—quite the contrary. After all, Rio’s gangs have survived four decades of this people-focused type of police repression. Militias are likely to withstand it as well. In October 2020, investigative police operations resulted in the deaths of 17 people who were suspected of being members of Ecko’s group.[85] Such a brutal blow to the militia does not seem however to have disrupted the group’s activities.

Territorial control is what enables militias to resist this kind of repression. The arrests of these groups’ leaders and members can do little to affect the tight control that militias exert on the residents. The financial blows that police forces have dealt to the paramilitaries—estimated by the police to amount to R$1.5 billion (around $288.2 million)[86]—are more likely to have an impact on these groups’ cohesion, but they will not change the situation on the ground, where militias essentially hold millions of people captive through terror, violence, and some measure of ‘social banditry’ (by giving away food or organising parties).[87][88] Through this territorial power, militias can weather the storm, just as they did when subjected to state repression in the late 2000s. They may be even more likely to survive now, as in the meantime they have expanded their economic reach to include drug dealing, illegal construction,[89] and even fuel theft[90] and the control and extortion of telecommunication towers,[91] as remarked in previous “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Notes” in this Journal.[92] New and old economic activities allow militias to extract the money they need. With extortion alone ensuring an estimated inflow of more than R$1 million monthly (around $192,000) in a single neighbourhood, militias are well-equipped to resist pressure.[93]

The truth is that only vaster structural measures can help to achieve the more ambitious goal of reversing militia control of Rio’s urban areas. The simplest of them would arguably be to make the current anti-militia task force a permanent part of Rio’s police forces. This task force clearly seems to be working; it is dangerous to allow it to continue to exist just as a temporary measure that can be dismantled by future governors or chiefs of police. Anti-militia repression needs to be a persistent effort, rather than the result of occasional political pressure. Other structural measures are much more difficult to implement and would be likely to encounter some resistance from sectors of the political system and of the security forces. Rio’s police needs to incorporate effective and transparent anti-corruption measures to rein in the links between them and militias; the territorial control of militias would need to be reversed by breaking these groups’ extortion rackets; and—last but not least—there is dire need for more control on the communications between jailed militia leaders and the groups operating outside, especially considering the high number of arrests conducted in the past few months.

Admittedly, the possibilities for most of such measures to be implemented in the short to medium term are quite scarce. However, this is not to say that the situation looks dim. The existence and effectiveness of the anti-militia task force is already a positive development. Also, on 3 July Rio’s governor has announced that the Military Police is planning to permanently occupy the favelas in the region of Praça Seca—a hotbed of militia conflict and activity—and expand the Bairro Seguro community policing programme there.[94] This is a counterintuitive development for those who have followed Rio’s history of community policing and the failure of its Pacifying Police Units (Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora–UPPs).[95] However, the UPPs failed for lack of political support rather than popular one—which was fairly strong.[96] The governor and the Military Police have yet to unveil the timeline for these initiatives to be rolled out. In the meantime, police presence has been increased, but residents claim that militia extortion rackets are still operating.[97]. Ecko may be dead and his alliance may have crumbled, but militias are not going anywhere.


[1] Sandrine Gagné-Acoulon, “Organized Crime Enforcing Quarantine in Brazilian Favelas.” OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project). 26 March 2020,

[2] Andrea Varsori, “Going Viral: Rio’s COVID-19 Gang Curfews as Seen from Twitter.” RUSI Blog (Royal United Services Institute). 3 June 2020,

[3] John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker, and José de Arimatéia da Cruz, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 36: High Casualty Civil Police Raid in Rio de Janeiro’s Jacarezinho Favela Raises Human Rights Concerns.” Small Wars Journal. 25 May 2021,

[4] This piece will use the terms ‘paramilitary groups’ and ‘militias’ to refer to these armed actors. The concept of ‘militia’ is however a complex one, that is often used with different meanings depending on the context. For a recent discussion of this term and an application to urban areas around the world, see Antônio Sampaio, “The Militia Challenge in Cities.” Word on the Street. 19 February 2021,

[5] Aiuri Rebello, “Milícias já dominam um quarto dos bairros do Rio de Janeiro, com quase 60% do território da cidade,” El País. 19 October 2020,

[6] “Apresentação ao mapa dos grupos armados do Rio de Janeiro.” Disque-Denúncia (Elaboração Fogo Cruzado, GENI-UFF, NEV-USP, Pista News). October 2020,

[7] John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 32: Militias (Milícias) Surpass Gangs (Gangues) in Territorial Control in Rio de Janeiro.” Small Wars Journal. 26 October 2020,

[8] “Suspected Brazil crime gang leader killed in police clash.” Associated Press via Yahoo News. 12 June 2021,

[9] The general consensus in the literature regarding terrorist and insurgent groups is that leadership decapitation is ineffective. See for example Jenna Jordan, “Attacking the Leader, Missing the Mark: Why Terrorist Groups Survive Decapitation Strikes.” Quarterly Journal: International Security. Vol. 38, no. 4: pp. 7-38. Spring 2014, For an opposite view, see instead Patrick B. Johnston, “Does decapitation work? Assessing the effectiveness of leadership targeting in counterinsurgency campaigns.” Quarterly Journal: International Security. Vol. 36, no. 4: pp. 47-79. Spring 2014, In criminal groups, leadership decapitation has been linked to flares of violence in the case of Mexico: Brian J. Phillips, “How does leadership decapitation affect violence? The case of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.” The Journal of Politics. Vol  77, no. 2: pp.324-336. February 2015,

[10] Paolla Serra, “Armas citadas em cadernos de contabilidade de Ecko valem quase R$ 8 milhões, estima Polícia Civil.” Extra (Globo). 15 June 2021,

[11] “Exclusivo: caderno de anotações de "Ecko" mostra detalhes de milícia.” Cidade Alerta. 15 June 2021,

[12] Carolina Heringer, “Miliciano Ecko usava empresas, farmácias e compra de cavalos para 'lavar' dinheiro que lucrava com crime.” Extra (Globo). 20 June 2021, Already in 2018, the Investigative Police estimated that Ecko’s militia was earning around R$15 million from its illegal activities; see “Milícia de Ecko: investigações mostram a sofisticação e a ousadia do bando de criminosos.” Extra (Globo). 14 June 2021,

[13] Herculano Barreto Filho, “Sucessão de Ecko: Polícia prevê disputa por principal milícia do Rio.” UOL Notícias.16 June 2021,

[14] “Vans ilegais sustentam milícia comandada por Tandera em Nova Iguaçu.” Balanço Geral RJ (R7). 13 July 2021,

[15] Tatiana Campbell, “Quadrilha de Ecko lucrava R$ 140 mil por semana com extorsões, diz polícia.” UOL Notícias. 15 June 2021,

[16] Herculano Barreto Filho and Eduardo Militão, “Ecko matou ex-policiais para comandar milícia e se uniu ao tráfico no Rio.” UOL Notícias. 12 June 2021,

[17] ”Saiba quem é Tandera, homem de confiança de Ecko, miliciano mais procurado do Rio.” Extra (Globo).16 October 2020,

[18] Op. cit., note 13.

[19] Rafael Nascimento de Souza, “Polícia Civil prende 18 suspeitos em megaoperação contra braço financeiro de milícia chefiada por Ecko.” Extra (Globo).16 October 2020,

[20] “Saiba quem é Tandera, homem de confiança de Ecko, miliciano mais procurado do Rio.” Extra (Globo).16 October 2020,

[21] Carolina Heringer, “Miliciano Ecko usava empresas, farmácias e compra de cavalos para 'lavar' dinheiro que lucrava com crime.” Extra (Globo). 20 June 2021,

[22] Op. cit., note 20.

[23] See Ignacio Cano, “Violence and organized crime in Brazil: The case of ‘militias’ in Rio de Janeiro,” Chapter 7.1 Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Regine Schönenberg, Regine Schönenberg and Annette von Schönfeld, Editors. Transnational Organized Crime: Analyses of a Global Challenge to Democracy. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag: 2013, pp. 179-188,

[24] Elenilce Bottari and Sérgio Ramalho. “Inquéritos revelam aliança entre traficantes e milicias.” O Globo.16 September 2014,

[25] Sergio Torres, “Morro da Barão e Controlado pelo Comando Vermelho.” Estadão. 28 May 2016,,morro-da-barao-e-controlado-pelo-comando-vermelho,10000053862.

[26] Adriano Araújo, “Draco prende dois acusados de comandar milícias no Rio.” O Dia. 20 August 2015,

[27] “Ex-traficantes e milicianos atuam juntos em favelas do Rio.” Estado de Minas. 14 August 2014,,678434/ex-traficantes-e-milicianos-atuam-juntos-em-favelas-do-rio.shtml.

[28] Felipe Martins, “Operação policial no 'Minha Casa' ataca base do suspeito mais procurado do Rio.” O Dia. 15 August 2015,

[29] Ana Cláudia Costa, “Quatro presos em operação contra a milícia em 39 condomínios do programa Minha Casa Minha Vida.” O Globo. 14 August 2015.

[30] Gabriela Mattos, “Milícia explorava até vendedores de frutas na Estrada.” O Dia. 23 September 2016,

[31] Op. Cit., note 27.

[32] Leslie Leitão, “Polícia mata o homem que uniu milícia e tráfico no Rio.” Veja. 21 April 2017,

[33] Fred Justo and Leslie Leitão, “Relatório da polícia aponta que já houve parceria entre milícia e tráfico para controlar a Praça Seca.” G1 (Globo). 8 July 2020,

[34] These militia members, and in general all those who come from non-police backgrounds, are colloquially called ‘pés inchados,’ ‘swollen feet.’ Ignacio Cano and Thais Duarte, No sapatinho. A evolução das milícias no Rio de Janeiro [20082011]. Rio De Janeiro: Fundação Heinrich Böll, 2012: p. 102,

[35] Another example of former gang member attaining a major role within Ecko’s group is Felipe Ferreira Carolino, aka “Zulu.” The latter had turned to the militia after the latter had conquered his favela from his gang; he went on to become the militia’s local manager until he was arrested, in 2019. Zulu has actively co-opted former gang members and instead killed those who would oppose militia rule. See Marcos Nunes, “Preso Zulu, miliciano ligado a Ecko e acusado de recrutar integrantes para quadrilha da Zona Oeste.” Extra (Globo). 21 May 2019,; “Polícia Civil prende suspeito de expandir a milícia em Nova Iguaçu.” Notícias R7. 28 May 2019,; and Rafael Soares, “Milícia de Santa Cruz alicia ex-traficantes para atrair e executar rivais.” Extra (Globo). 1 December 2019,

[36] Op. cit., note 16.

[37] Carolina Heringer and Rafael Soares, “Tropa do 'Capitão Braga': levantamento revela ligação de 80 agentes egressos de forças de segurança com a milícia de Ecko.” O Globo. 27 June 2021,           

[38] Carolina Heringer and Rafael Soares, “Levantamento revela ligação de 80 agentes egressos de forças de segurança com a milícia de Ecko.” Extra (Globo). 27 June 2021,

[39] One of them, for example, was Ecko’s main lieutenant in Itaguaí, a city within Rio’s larger metropolitan area. Another Military Police officer was instead working as the security guard of one of Ecko’s brothers in 2015. See Rafael Nascimento de Souza, “Apontado como chefe da milícia de Itaguaí é um dos 12 mortos em confronto com força-tarefa da Polícia Civil e da PRF.” Extra (Globo). 16 October 2020, and Rafael Nascimento de Souza and Rodrigo  de Souza,  “Morte de Ecko pode provocar disputa por territórios de milicia.” O Globo. 13 June 2021,

[40] Rafael Soares, “Desvio de munição da PM deu mais poder à milícia de Ecko.” Extra (Globo). 14 June 2021,

[41] Op. Cit., note 14.

[42] Yuri Eiras, “Rondas, carros pretos e homens fardados: mudança na milícia gera medo em Manguariba.” O Dia. 7 July 2021,

[43] Thuany Dossares, “Mapa: veja onde a milícia lucra R$ 1 milhão por mês na Gardênia Azul.” O Dia. 12 June 2021,

[44] Arguably, the police unit that has been the most active in militia repression is the Investigative Police’s Unit for the Repression of Organized Criminal Activity and Special Inquiries (Delegacia de Repressão às Ações Criminosas Organizadas e Inquéritos Especiais–DRACO-IE).

[45] Bruna Fantti, “Milícia comandada por Ecko usa proibidões para disputas de territórios e ameaças.” Meia Hora. 17 August 2020,

[46] Henrique Coelho, “Milícia domina Antares e lucra com tráfico de drogas em Santa Cruz, diz MP.” G1 (Globo). 24 November 2018,

[47] Luã Marinatto, “Traição de bandido que trocou tráfico por milícia pode ter motivado guerra no Rola.” Extra (Globo). 1 August 2018,

[48] Herculano Barreto Filho, “Milícia do Rio se une ao tráfico em guerra contra o Comando Vermelho.” UOL Notícias. 1 November 2019,

[49] “Bandidos de quadrilha rival comemoram morte de Ecko, que chefiava a maior milícia do Rio.” Extra (Globo). 13 June 2021,

[50] A few episodes involving gangs and Ecko’s group are either relatively marginal or yet to be officially confirmed. The latter category includes the claim that the Red Command gang from Cidade de Deus is allying with militia members expelled from the favela of Dois Irmãos. The alleged assassination of a militia member from Ecko’s group by gang members belongs to both categories at the moment. See Disque Denúncia Rio (@DDalertaRio). Twitter. 15 July 2021,; and Milícia RJ News (@RjMilicia). Twitter. 20 July 2021,

[51] There are two versions on why the split took place. According to the first one, it occurred due to Ecko's approximation to drug dealing gangs. There is reason to be sceptical of this explanation, as Ecko has been cooperating with gangs since much earlier than Autumn 2020, but it is to be noted that Tandera does not seem to be involved in drug dealing himself. According to the second version, the rivalry started for a simpler reason: Tandera allegedly refused to give back to Ecko 38 rifles that the latter had lent him. See “Liga da Justiça pode ressurgir e por fim ao temido Bonde do Ecko.” Meia Hora. 15 June 2021,; and Carolina Heringer, “Miliciano Ecko domina Gardênia Azul de olho em território de rivais no Campinho e Praça Seca.” Extra (Globo). 26 January 2021,

[52] Alberto Araújo, “Saiba quem é Tandera, criminoso mais procurado do RJ após morte de Ecko.” SBT News. 15 June 2021,

[53] Op cit., note 13.

[54] Thuany Dossares, “Tandera começa a invadir o território dominado por Ecko.” O Dia. 13 June 2021,

[55] Carolina Heringer and Rafael Soares, “Após morte de Ecko, disputa por poder na maior milícia do Rio já pode ter deixado ao menos sete mortos.” Extra (Globo). 11 July 2021,

[56] “Disputa entre milícias causa tiroteios em Curicica, na Zona Oeste do Rio.” G1 (Globo). 22 July 2021,

[57] “Antigos aliados do miliciano Ecko tentam retomar comunidade na Zona Oeste do Rio.” Extra (Globo).23 July 2021,

[58] Apparently, the victims were linked to Tandera’s group, which had just taken over the area and suffered the revenge of Ecko’s militia. See Bette Lucchesse, “Polícia Civil investiga se mortes no Terreirão, na Zona Oeste do Rio, têm relação com guerra de milícias.” G1 (Globo). 29 June 2021,

[59] Ibid.

[60] “PM é morto a tiros após emboscada em Campo Grande; polícia investiga o caso.” Extra (Globo). 26 June 2021,

[61] “RJ: ataque em academia deixa um morto e três feridos.” Notícias R7. 30 June 2021,

[62] Editors with Marcus Sadok, “Imagens mostram que assassinos de PM monitoravam academia antes do crime em Nova Iguaçu (RJ).” UOL Notícias. 15 July 2021,

[63] “Ex-policial acusado de tortura, sequestro e tráfico é assassinado o Rio.” Último Segundo. 9 July 2021,

[64] Op. Cit., note 55.

[65] Rafael Nascimento de Souza, “Grupo miliciano rival começa a ocupar território que era dominado por Ecko na Zona Oeste do Rio, relatam moradores.” Extra (Globo). 14 June 2021,

[66] Thuany Dossares, “Irmãos e comparsas podem ser os sucessores de Ecko na milícia.” O Dia. 12 June 2021,

[67] Gustavo Sleman, “Polícia Civil prende irmão do miliciano Ecko em Campo Grande.” Band. 11 May 2021,

[68] Carolina Heringer, “Secretaria vai pedir transferência de irmão do miliciano Ecko para presídio federal fora do Rio.” Extra (Globo). 12 June 2021,

[69] Carolina Heringer, “Miliciano Ecko usava empresas, farmácias e compra de cavalos para 'lavar' dinheiro que lucrava com crime.” Extra (Globo). 20 June 2021,

[70] Henrique Coelho, “Polícia investiga junção de forças para chefiar milícia após a morte de Ecko.” G1 (Globo). 20 June 2021,

[71] “Polícia apreende caderno de Ecko com menção a pelo menos 100 fuzis.” Band. 15 June 2021,

[72] op. cit., note 70.

[73] Portal dos Procurados (@PProcurados). Twitter. 7 June 2021,

[74] Thuany Dossares, “Miliciano Tandera se une ao Escritório do Crime para fazer frente a irmão de Ecko.” O Dia. 27 June 2021,; “Guerra violenta pela sucessão de Ecko.” TV Band News at YouTube. 14 July 2021,

[75] Milícia RJ News (@RjMilicia), “Mais um pouco da estrutura da Milícia do Zinho.” Twitter. 13 July 2021,

[76] Herculano Barreto Filho, “Morte de Ecko divide e enfraquece milícia, diz secretário da Polícia Civil.” UOL Notícias. 15 June 2021,

[77] Arthur Leal, “‘Quem dera fosse só tirar uma cabeça para desmontar tudo’, diz Castro sobre milícia de Ecko.” Extra (Globo). 14 June 2021,

[78] “Criminoso é morto e outro detido em operação contra milícia no Rio.” Balanço Geral RJ (R7). 19 July 2021,

[79] “Operação contra as milícias: 16 pessoas são presas.” TV Band News at YouTube. 21 July 2021,

[80] “Polícia prende dez pessoas em operação contra milícia no RJ.” Notícias R7. 3 August 2021,

[81] Carolina Heringer, “Miliciano Ecko domina Gardênia Azul de olho em território de rivais no Campinho e Praça Seca.” Extra (Globo). 26 January 2021,

[82] Ibid.

[83] Op. cit., note 52.

[84] Op. cit., note 74.

[85] Herculano Barreto Filho, “RJ: Polícia diz que matou líder da milícia; 17 suspeitos são mortos em 24 h.” UOL Notícias. 16 October 2020,

[86] Op. cit. note 77.

[87] “Ecko comprou R$ 100 mil em cestas básicas para monopolizar venda na Zona Oeste.” O Dia. 14 June 2021,

[88] Op. cit., note 45.

[89] Diego Haidar and Felipe Freire, “Polícia cumpre mandados contra milícia que explora imóveis na Muzema.” G1 (Globo). 10 May 2021,

[90] John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 20: Fuel Theft in Brazil—Gangs and Militias Target Petrobras.” Small Wars Journal. 16 October 2019,

[91] John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 37: Rio de Janeiro Gang and Militia Extortion and Control of Telecommunications Towers.” Small Wars Journal. 28 May 2021,

[92] See John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds. Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2020, for a curated collection of research notes on ‘Third Generation Gangs.’

[93] Op. cit., note 43.

[94] Vinícius Fernandes, “Cláudio Castro anuncia que Praça Seca vai receber Companhia Destacada da Polícia Militar.” Band. 3 July 2021,

[95] For two discussions of Rio’s attempts and failures at community policing, see Ignacio Cano and Eduardo Ribeiro, “Old strategies and new approaches towards policing drug markets in Rio de Janeiro.” Police Practice and Research. Vol. 17, no. 4. 2016: pp 368-371,; and Michael J. Wolff, “Sharing Authority: The Politics and Practice of Community Policing in the Brazilian Slum.” Politics & Policy. Vol. 47, no. 4. 2019: pp.754-759, For a view from the ground on how pacification actually worked, see Matthew A. Richmond, “Hostages to both sides”: Favela pacification as dual security assemblage. Geoforum. Vol.104. August 2019: pp. 71-80,

[96] See Ludmila Ribeiro and Márcio Grijó Vilarouca Vilarouca, “‘Bad with it, worse without it’: the will for continuity of the UPPs (pacifying police units) beyond the Olympics.” Revista de Administração Pública. Vol. 52, no. 6. November-December 2018: pp. 1155-1178,

[97] Mônica Teixeira, “Com ocupação policial, tiroteios na Praça Seca diminuem, mas cobranças da milícia continuam, dizem moradores.” G1 (Globo). 7 July 2021,


Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)


Dr. Andrea Varsori is a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield and a co-coordinator of the Urban Violence Research Network. He received  his PhD from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. His research seeks to explain the extraordinary resilience of Rio de Janeiro’s drug-dealing gangs by correlating changes over time with increased survival chances. You can follow him on Twitter at @Andrea_Varsori.



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