<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
 English | Español November 23, 2017 | Issue #29


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A Drug Policy from Below

From a Salon in Rio de Janeiro, the Future is Being Born


By Al Giordano
Part I in a series from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

March 27, 2003

MARCH 25, 2003; RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: Thirty-five people gather from distant corners of this giant country in a hotel in Copacabana; twenty-three of them are women, the faces shine an authentic prism of hues, some of them pale but not pallid, and most of them, mulatto to black.

In a sharp contrast with the seats of power in this and other American nations, there is not a suit or tie to be seen in the room, nor a power skirt, nor a Rolex watch. This room reflects a more accurate photo of the majority.


Authentic Drug Policy Experts Gather in Rio
DR 2003 Al Giordano

Kind reader, do not let yourself be fooled by preconceptions: here, today, in this salon, the future drug policy of a nation – one that will shake the drug policies of other nations in América, and probably your country, too – is being constructed.

The drug policy under discussion here is not imposed from above. It raises itself from below, from the direct knowledge of the true experts, including addicts, former addicts, street organizers, mothers, fathers, health technicians, people – including but not limited to those of us who have survived on the margins of economic society during at least part of our lives – human beings who have lived, really lived, people who have unmediated experience, on a human level, with the subject they are discussing: Drugs, drug users, drug addicts, prisoners, repression, and practical efforts to reduce and end the harms done by the current system.


Simone Bastos de Menezes
DR 2003 Al Giordano
Simone Bastos de Menezes, originally from Bahia in the Northeast, studied law and although she did not finish law school she is today widely considered to be one of the leading lay experts in prisoners’ rights in her nation (REad related story: The Narco News interview with Barros Menezes, by authentic journalist Adriana Veloso).


Celia Szterenfeld
DR 2003 Al Giordano
Celia Szterenfeld, a carioca (the word commonly used to describe someone who is from Rio de Janeiro), graduated Columbia University in New York in 1986 and then spent two years teaching at the University of Jerusalem (see related interview by your correspondent in Part II of this series). Today she works with drug addicts and users, with sex workers, with marginalized clusters of human beings who have begun the road to self-management and mutual aid.

I think I have met maybe a dozen trained and licensed psychologists here, not one of which seems at all like so many who use that title as a power-trip in my own land (public education is still, despite the efforts by the International Monetary Fund, alive and well in Brazil; I get the feeling that Condescension 101, Snobbery 201, Power Over Patients 301, and Billing by the Hour 401, were not required courses to obtain their degrees here). “Really?” pleasantly surprised, I say to them. “You’re a professional psychologist? Well, that’s quite the coincidence, because I feel like a professional patient.” But, ah, I digress…

Ana Paula Almeida Rocha, from Ponta Grossa, along the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, is in the corner of this salon, typing onto a laptop, marking the revisions, changes, amendments, the words added and subtracted, for the brief and bold policy statement these Authentic Experts are constructing.

The wisdom of the words being spoken here, though, did not come from a university degree, a fancy title, a suit, a tie, a power skirt, a desk, a phone, a fortress known as a government building, a pharmaceutical company headquarters, an organizational office, or a TV control room…

The path to this agreement that grows, here, in this room, left tracks on the arms of some of the authors, led others to visit prisons, and others still to be dragged handcuffed and beaten in the cells behind the bars, it followed funeral processions to the cemeteries where the martyrs were laid to rest after falling to AIDS, to overdose, to a gunshot wound in the head, to a curable illness but without access to doctors or basic medicines… it is the path of the tears of the mourners… the route to this convergence has a name: Your Street, My Street, Any Old Street, All Streets…

Paula Daniele Martins, 26, grew up, she volunteers, in extreme poverty. Today she works with crack addicts. I don’t get the impression that Paula is one of them: She is a picture of strength and health; the goalie for her local soccer team in Cachoeirinha, fast hands, broad shoulders, bright eyes… She learned some Spanish in Uruguay being trained as a tourism guide, which she is kind enough to utilize to communicate with your linguistically impaired correspondent… Paula sits on the Hotel Copacabana Sol balcony ledge, 11 stories above sea level, both feet atop the ledge, nothing, not a leg, not hand, to counterbalance her atop that ledge, to keep her from tumbling down the abyss that your writer avoids gazing at for its vertigo-inducing powers… There is nothing but air for Paula to grab onto except for everything, or all that seems to count right now in Brazil: internal balance, the gravitas that comes with knowing life, not just seeing it on TV or being explained it in a classroom.

“I’m self-educated,” she beams.

The drug warriors, I can already see, are going to have a most difficult time if they try to get their undemocratic ball past this goalie, and the others like her…

The invisible clock of history that hangs over this nation takes the form of a circle like the sun that was not seen on the wall called the Brazilian sky for a long, long, time… The military dictatorship of 1964 and all the atrocities and troubles since then, all the weak reformists and technocrats of the market who tried entered politics from above, all the cowardly suit-and-tied imitators of United States “values” and policy, they all failed to seduce the sun to rise again.

But last October, as Narco News Andean Bureau Chief Luis Gómez reported from this and other Brazilian cities during the historic elections as they were happening, both the preliminary vote of October 6th and the final election of October 27th. Agora é Lula, the people spoke: Now, it’s Lula.

The new president of Brazil, Lula da Silva, a metal worker who lost a finger in the factory, and gained a presidency at the ballot box, would feel at home in this room today, more at rest, probably, than he feels in his own presidential cabinet. In fact, he sent two officials from the Ministry of Health to speak with, and listen to, these 35 Authentic Experts on Tuesday morning.

As we have reported to you before, Lula once signed a letter stating that, “the prohibition on drugs has caused more damage than the drugs themselves.” One of his drug policy advisors, a former national drug czar of the previous administration, Walter Maierovitch, recently made a public call upon Lula to make good on his stated principles and change this nation’s policy.

The drug policy of Brazil is going to change.

Everybody agrees. Nobody doubts that.

The questions are: How rapidly will it change? And: how much? Kind reader, can you keep a secret? The Commercial Media is not going to report the truth until the battle is over: The next drug policy of this country stands a grand chance to be the first in any American nation that will not be declared, by undemocratic fiat, from above.

While the bureaucrats and politicians leave a vacuum, the next drug policy for South America’s largest nation will be articulated, pushed, and fueled, from below, from the people who have little and therefore have gained the authentic wealth – immediate knowledge – to know what drug policy needs, what Brazil needs, what all América needs… They know, as individuals and members of communities, what they need… what you need… what I need… what we need… A policy guided by experience, by direct experience, by those with a direct human stake in those policies, by the self-management and self-valorization by the ones who know the drugs, the ones who know the users, who know the addicts, who know the harms, but who also know human nature, better than any bureaucrat or media “expert” when it comes to drug and drug use.

These 35 Authentic Experts made their statement short and to the point: Why cut down acres of Amazon rainforest trees when you can say the same thing in a paragraph. Here it is; the collective wisdom, the articulation of the “Vox Populi,” boiled down to 95 words on a page:

Motion in Support of Revising the National Anti-Drug Policy

“The State Harm Reduction Associations of Brazil and other Non-Governmental Organizations, representing approximately 200 Harm Reduction projects in 18 states that are characterized by the defense of the health and human rights of licit and illicit drug users, meeting for the Pedagogical Training held by the Brazil Harm Reduction Association (ABORDA, in its Portuguese initials), in the City of Rio de Janeiro from March 24 to 28 of 2003, state our support for the Movement to Revise the National Anti-Drug Policy, as we can testify to the ineffectiveness of the current policy that is dedicated to the exclusion and marginalization of drug users.”


That’s it, kind readers: Ninety-five words from the front-line organizers who frequent 200 locations throughout Brazil. At each of those locations exists a virtual army of drug users and others who are taking back their basic human rights from a cruel and unusual system.

The group then sent Celia Szterenfeld to São Paulo on Wednesday’s airplane to deliver that support to the aforementioned Movement to Revise the National Anti-Drug Policy. Authentic Journalist Karine Muller was on the scene in São Paulo to report to you that story, here, on the pages of Narco News. Stay tuned… This story is only beginning to unfold…

It was a short statement; short enough for a small note of the proper size to be wrapped around a brick and thrown through Power’s window…. A statement for a “Movement to Revise the National Anti-Drug Policy,” and against “the current policy that is dedicated to the exclusion and marginalization of drug users.”

Over the sound of the Atlantic waves crashing down on Copacabana Beach, your writer hears another sound: that of a window… Or, more accurately, of a glass ceiling that has been used for decades to keep drug users down… I can hear it, from hundreds of miles away… shattering into a hundred million shards.

Pay attention, kind readers, rejoice and send solidarity; listen to that sound and watch out for the broken glass: The road to change in drug policy, to the end of prohibition, paved with the sweat and tears and suffering of the masses under an undemocratic and unjust policy, is under construction, like any sound edifice, from the foundation… from the bottom up… from below.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America