<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Brazil Countdown

Part II


By Luis A Gómez
Narco News Andean Bureau Chief

October 26, 2002

Rio de JaneiroOn the horizon, things haven’t changed much… a poll published by la Folha de Sao Paulo on Thursday confirmed that Lula could be elected with 66 (or more) of the vote, and there are only hours left in the second round…

Meanwhile, Narco News has been in Rio de Janeiro, a beautiful city, capital of the senses, where the Workers Party (PT, in its Portuguese initials) is also strong, and where a special personality, Congressman Fernando Gabeira, is located. We talked with him about drug legalization and related issues.

“Many are tired of running in circles to obtain their family’s tomorrow. Many to whom life comes spend it submitting, afflicted by humilations. To those whom tension, anemia, stomach ulcers and premature aging comes charging without remission. They sleep, without radio or telephone, to know the news. And it’s for them, more than the others, that my heart beats at this moment. The hour of liberation is near. And it is for those that that woman on the balcony on Santa Amelia street shouted her cry of love and pronouncement: Brazilians! Wake up, Brazilians!”

-Vinicius de Moraes, poet from Rio de Janeiro, in 1944

7. The Three Fates of Ipanema

This Sunday in Rio de Janeiro and the people throughout the city flood the beaches to pass the day. This day, in a bathing suit, is for talking, getting a little wet, and strolling the city. The day marks seven days to the elections and a PT caravan, festive and musical, parades down the coastal avenue from beach to beach, singing and bringing the message that we already know: Now, it’s Lula.

Drums and afoxés are resonating between water and land, they are batucando… Marking the happy rhythm of what draws near, in Flamengo, in Botafogo, in Copacabana and ending the march in Ipanema… one of the most famous beaches in the world. And it’s here where we find them, to listen to an ancient rhythm of Northern Brazil: the Maracatú.

I’ll describe it to you to a little, kind readers, how this march went…

Forward, with skirts of colors, various women dance and sing with a smile on their lips. They spin and twirl their bright skirts to the rhythm of the Maracatú. In the center of the group, a young woman of long hair waves an enormous red banner with a white star and in the middle it says PT. Behind her come various musicians making different percussion sounds, fundamentally afoxés, that turn in the hands and produce a tickling rumor in the ears and the eardrums… Next comes the drum corops, they shout and shake the air with their ancestral voice. At the end, behind the group, the people dance, shaking banners and campaign posters with the face of the future president of Brazil.

A Brazilian afoxé.

And at some moment the traditional music of this people mixes with the cheers, with the dance. And many, many people abandon the sand to surround the march and shout, sing and dance with it. This campaign, at least on this waning afternoon, is also a party…

At the end of the parade, the people chat, compare opinions about current events. A group of youths discuss the campaign of fear that the governing party has unleashed, trying to intimidate the voters… And it’s gone so badly that the director of Datafolha (a polling company) says that it has had no affect whatsoever, that instead it has taken points away from José Serra. Seated on the sidewalk, the musicians rest…

Narco News enjoys this moment to find more words from people in the street. There appear then the Three Fates of Ipanema: Helena, Ana Paula and a Fate (a virtue) as old and as young as history, doña Fé…

Helena plays the tarola, her large black hair undulates in curls when in action… “I like the Maracatú a lot, it’s part of our culture. In our group we try to spread it and preserve it. It’s a particular enjoyment. But doing it for Lula is a duty, because Brazil must change, the people can’t take any more of this situation of crisis, of so many corrupt police and a government so far from the people…” After saying goodbye, Helena goes home, where she has something to do…

Ana Paula, short and blond, with clear, green eyes, smiles widely as she explains her motives for being here. “It’s that the Maracatú is a spiritual force, it is our past that feeds us… I am very happy playing, singing and dancing; I feel complete. This spiritual force, that sings and dances through the streets of Brazil… It can’t ever be better than it is right now, for Lula and the other PT candidates. If something has to change in this country it has to begin inside of the people… Our people have been robbed and mistreated too much… They deserve justice and happiness, and will have to win it in these elections all by themselves… Definitively, growing from inside.” And that wide smile of Ana Paula, so young, so fresh, grows as if to cover the deep of the sea…

Finally, when almost nobody is left on the beach of Ipanema, your correspondent draws near to a woman whose dark skin is ripened by time. During the march, it was her manner of dancing, almost jumping, and her enormous smile that called my attention… And certainly her age, because the caravan was composed almost exclusively of young people. Doña Fé (who, in reality, has another name) turns her face toward the past and her pupils shine. “Why vote for Lula? Look, I’m from the favela. I’m a poor person… I’ve known Lula almost 18 years and have always voted for him… My daughter would have soon turned 53 – I’m 73 – but she died in resistance to the dictatorship… If she were still alive, she would be here with me… We all remember how in 1968 a tank came up the hill to our house… Some kids went out to block its path… I still remember the first campaign by Lula and the PT… They’ve always fought for the people… And now I think that finally we will see this change we’ve waited for… Yes, there is hope… of course! And I think I will keep voting for him until I’m 90… And will dance with even more happiness when Brazil is transformed… Yes.”

That’s how it was in Ipanema, a beach that is completely silent on some summer moments (because the people admire the sun over the waves), we find the Fates: Duty, Mysticism and Hope… dancing festively behind a red banner with a star in the middle, together with their people…

6. Culture and Nation

On Monday, October 21, in the Com o Canecao Center of Rio de Janeiro, a document was presented: “Imagination in the service of Brazil: A Public Works and Culture Program.” Accompanied by many artists and intellectuals throughout Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made it clear that the only party that thinks in this nation, in Brazil as a great nation, is the PT. The result of many seminars and consultations, principally in the municipalities governed by the Workers Party, an emotional Lula said that the program “should be seen as a walking metamorphosis… a direction, a compass that we want to put to work.”

“We are irredeemably of mixed blood, the logic of homogenization harms us… It is urgent and necessary to take down the walls of social and cultural apartheid that cracks Brazilian society: to recognize that culture is a basic social right, a condition for the plain exercise of republican and democratic government… because a country that values itself doesn’t deliver the formation of its youth and the transmission of its ethical values, learned over the length of history, to the marketplace… The construction of a democratic Brazil is necessary, one that points to social inclusion, to rescue the values of integrity and solidarity – so dear to our people – and for the abolition of distrust and fear as motors of social relations,” the platform says, among many things.

With the participation of almost a hundred people throughout Brazil in its authorship, this document contains ideas such as “a culture for the development of democracy,” and “democratic cultural growth,” and “the right to memory.” It is probably one of the most advanced cultural proposals in the continent. And the Brazilian people will enjoy it in the schools, in the home, on TV and radio… in the space that the PT wants to open so that, finally, neither the media nor massive consumption will continue at war with the human spirit. And who is going to guarantee this?

Well, last Monday in Rio, together with Lula and the leadership of the PT, stood some of the most important creators of Brazil. Among the most outstanding, we can mention the filmmaker Nelson Pereira dos Santos, the actors of the film City of God, Roberta Rodrigues and Lenadro Firmino da Hora, the 90-year-old actress Lélia Abramo, Oscar Niemeyer – the architect that designed Brasilia, the known liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and two of the top musical stars: Gilberto Gil and Chico Buarque de Hollanda.

Chico, by nature quiet, has been, together with his late parents, an example of political consequences. His father, the historian Sergio Buarque de Hollanda (author of the classic “Races of Brazil”), always dreamed that Lula would rise to govern. His mother, known in Rio as “the beautiful teacher,” was a woman who added her qualities as a poet to her beauty, and stood together with the PT and its historic leader in various campaigns, speaking and writing, fighting for what is right and just. Of the son, Chico, there’s not much to say… He is, without a doubt, the most respected musician in Brazil. His songs against the dictatorships, his sambas that speak of the dreams of the common people, his songs of drama and hope have come to almost every corner of the planet… and he’s always been with Lula and with the PT, playing for them in the campaigns, speaking in the media… With guides like this, kind readers, a mixed-blood planet called Brazil not only has and will have hope; it will have culture, education and will see its most basic necessities met… It awaits an immense labor.

Chico Buarque with Lula

5: Gabeira and the maconha

Journalist and writer, former guerrilla fighter, and founder of Brazil’s Green Party, Congressman Fernando Gabeira is one of these tranquil personalities, with a beautiful and deep voice. His thin figure and his gentile manners seem more like those of a timid man than those of the intense politician who has fought for more than 35 years from many trenches for freedom, equality and dignity.

Born in 1944 in Minas Gerais, in the Southeast of the country, Gabeira adopted Rio as his city in 1963, the year when he began work as a journalist with Jornal do Brasil, in which he became famous for his friendly and direct style. At the end of that decade, like many youths of the world, he participated in the armed struggle and was a member of the commando that, during the height of the military dictatorship, kidnapped the U.S. Ambassador Charles Elbrick. He was wounded and jailed. Later, in a trade of 70 political prisoners for the also kidnapped German ambassador, Gabeira came to know Cuba, Algiers and Chile, a country then governed by Salvador Allende, with whom he collaborated.

In 1973, with the military coup by Pinochet and his henchmen, Fernando Gabeira had to leave and landed in Sweden, where he worked as a reporter, a train conductor and in other jobs. He returned to Brazil in 1979, thanks to a general amnesty, and dedicated himself then to revitalizing the morale of the Left, causing more than a few qualms among the older leaders, who came to refer to him as “that brown-skinned faggot.” He has published novels, poetry, an already classic memoir about the Brazilian guerrilla movement, and a brief but clarifying essay about maconha (marijuana).

Narco News spoke with him a while about drugs, legalization, and immediate history…

Congressman Fernando Gabeira

Narco News: You are a symbol over in Section 9 of the beach in Ipanema (a public bathroom)... It seems that in this place, marijuana is smoked… And according to my sources, you began the custom of announcing, with whistles, the presence of the police…

Fernando Gabeira: No, I didn’t start that. I’ve supported that. It was a spontaneous demonstration by the people who smoke, because they had to protect themselves from the police, in order to have time to put out the joint…

Narco News: How did you get involved in the issue of drug policy?

Fernando Gabeira: In the founding of the Green Party, the platform included the necessity of a new drug policy that, in the first place, fought against prison for users and proposed, in the second place, a clear strategic solution, that must end with legalization. I have worked on many issues in Brazil. I have published a book on marijuana, a style of information, and I have participated in many debates in the media, always defending legalization and demonstrating the negative effects of the current policy in this country.

Narco News: Has this caused you any problems?

Fernando Gabeira: They charged me with importing cannabis seeds from Hungary. I wanted to start a cannabis plantation in Brazil for industrial hemp use, and the importation led me to court.

Narco News: How did this experience of industrial hemp go?

Fernando Gabeira: Nothing happened. It stayed in the intention phase. I have contacts with the Brazilian institution of agricultural research, EMBRACO, that has a lot of researchers, biologists and agronomists. Our investigation was aimed at determining if cannabis seeds with a low level of THC could be grown… We wanted to know if these seeds, planted in tropical soil, would recuperate their level of THC or if they would stay like that of hemp, and would not become marijuana… But the police didn’t let us do the investigation. They seized the seeds and sent them to the United States, to the DEA. The problem was… the Brazilian government didn’t have the ability to determine if there was a low THC content in them, as I said they had… so they sent them to the DEA

Narco News: And?

Fernando Gabeira: They never responded. (He laughs.)

Narco News: Speaking again of legalization… Should it be for all drugs?

Fernando Gabeira: Yes. The principal of legalization is valid for all drugs. What I believe is that beginning with marijuana would be best, because we have the possibility of control, of making periodic exams and knowing then if the policy is correct or not. There, it begins with marijuana and later could move forward with other drugs. The case of marijuana is better also because it is the only drug that could end the trafficking of drugs, since it grows wild in any part of the world.

Narco News: And the Workers Party? Is your vision shared by the PT?

Fernando Gabeira: The Green Party has entered into a stage of deep decadence. I couldn’t control a party that had lost contact with its roots. And the PT has an environmental sector… I am, thus, a species of guest within that party. I work with my ideas. I am tolerated and, what’s more, I comply with my obligations in the party. Although it’s clear that not all my ideas are adopted by the party…

Narco News: Then, how do you see the drug and narco-trafficking policies going in Lula’s government?

Fernando Gabeira: The first and decisive perspective will be to strengthen the mechanisms of education and discussion, ad weaken the mechanisms that lead to the so-called War on Drugs. I believe that it would be difficult, in the first days, that the PT government would be able to legalize because to make the necessary social and material changes, the PT has made a series of alliances with more conservative sectors, such as the evangelical churches, who prohibit almost everything that is progressive. Then, we have a great resistance to discussion of legalization. On the other hand, repression as a policy has no defenders either, it is losing its popularity. I believe that what will be possible will be to continue the slow and gradual process of the previous government.

Narco News: How?

Fernando Gabeira: The first step will be to decide, what for us is already a national consensus: The drug user will no longer be imprisoned… This is going to be very important. The second will be to free the policies of needle exchange for users of injected drugs, because that is also part of our combat against AIDS and there is already wide social support. The third step is exactly the theme of my book, the liberation of the medical use of marijuana. Until now we have not been able to make Marinol (THC pills) in Brazil, it has to be imported from the United States for sale, but the government of this country that doesn’t allow us to manufacture it, although we have the technical conditions and the raw materials… I don’t see any obstacle for producing Marinol.

Narco News: Finally, do you feel attacked by the campaign of fear against the radicals in the PT that has occurred these days in the media?

Fernando Gabeira: No, because the truth is that there are two levels of critique. One is the criticism of the radicals from the point of view of social policy, that leaves aside a bit the question of cultural policy… Thus, at this moment, it’s not about the basic question, but very soon it will be… In these days, there is a grand campaign for the rights of homosexuals to legally marry… And I believe that soon there will be a huge conflict between the evangelicals and the progressives.

Read Part I of this Series
Read Part III of this Series

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