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While on a tour to San Theodoros, Bianca Castafiore, her troupe and the Thom(p)sons are imprisoned by General Tapioca on the false charges of being involved in a conspiracy to overthrow him along with Tintin, Haddock and Calculus. Haddock and Calculus decide to travel to San Theodoros to clear their names, while Tintin initially refuses, correctly suspecting it to be a trap. Not wanting to leave his friends alone, Tintin does follow them after a few days.
In San Theodoros they discover that Castafiore's imprisonment was orchistrated by their old enemy Colonel Sponsz, who used his influence to help Tapioca rise to power, as an elaborate trap. They find that the only way to save their friends from imprisonment and execution is to help General Alcazar and his rebels, the titular Picaros, overthrow Tapioca once more.
- Always a Bigger Fish: An anaconda saves Haddock from a crocodile at one point.
- Beard of Evil: Sponsz has grown an evil-looking goatee since The Calculus Affair.
- The Chessmaster: Sponsz prepares both a perfect trap for Tintin and tries to arrange his deaths in such a manner that no one will be able to pin it on him.
- Damsel in Distress: Castafiore and her maid Irma, though Castafiore doesn't exactly act too "distressed".
- Dragon-in-Chief: Sponsz.
- Distressed Dude: Thomson, Thompson and Igor Wagner the pianist.
- Easy Amnesia: Haddock briefly loses his memory.
- Egopolis: Tapioca has renamed the capital of San Theodoros "Tapiocopolis". When Alcazar takes over, he changes the name again, to "Alcazarpolis".
- Famous Last Words: The last words ever spoken in a finished Tintin story? "Me too, but with a little mustard if you please."
- Face Heel Turn: Pablo has gone back to being evil since The Broken Ear.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Tapioca regards being exiled instead of executed as this.
- Full-Circle Revolution: It's subtly implied that the living conditions in San Theodoros under Alcazar's rule are just as bad as under Tapioca.
- Gilded Cage: Sponsz keeps Haddock and Calculus in one.
- La Résistance: The Picaros.
- The Man Behind the Man: Sponsz to Tapioca.
- Nailed to the Wagon: Haddock finds that all alcohol has taken on an absolutely repulsive flavour to him only at the beginning of the story. The reason is that Calculus slipped him a drug he invented to cure alcoholism that makes alcohol taste disgusting. The same drug is later used to sober up all the members of Alcazar's resistance movement.
- Not So Different: Alcazar and Tapioca.
- Jumped At the Call: Averted! Tintin initially refuses to accompany Haddock and Calculus to San Theodoros, rightly suspecting it to be a trap.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified / The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Hard to tell which trope this falls into. Though the Picaros are on Tintin's side, they're not portrayed as much more that drunk mercenaries. The protagonists mostly just assist Alcazar in order to save their friends, not because they particularly care about San Theodoros and the final panel of the book implies that in the end nothing has changed except the uniform of the soldiers.
- Snap Back: One of the newspaper clipping seen at the end of The Red Sea Sharks stated that Alcazar was back in power in San Theodoros. Appearantly, Tapioca overthrew Alcazar again between albums, though since we saw them commit multiple coups against each other in The Broken Ear in just one day, this isn't really all that surprising.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: Tintin only agrees to present Alcazar with his plan of overthrowing Tapioca on the condition that he doesn't have anyone executed. Both Alcazar and Tapioca himself find this idea repulsive.