<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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Rio's Crossfire

Young Woman, 19, Shot During Drug War at a University in Rio de Janeiro


By Helena Klang
A Narco News Editorial

May 17, 2003

Her name is Luciana Gonçalves Novaes, a nursing student at the university named Estácio de Sá.

Her name could just as easily been Maria, Joana, Rita, Helena… Helena Klang: Me.


Helena Klang
I am a student in my final year of journalism at Estácio, a university located among large hillside favela slums in the Northern zone of Rio, controlled by drug trafficking. It’s been a long time that I have felt the fear of attending classes. There were moments when I was caught in crossfires between police and narco-traffickers: running, scared, confused. Thousands of students confront this situation as they struggle for a university diploma to find their places under the sun. All form part of a great mass, from the poor majority or the middle class. And when they get home they are loaded with more indignation by watching the news.

It’s overwhelming, the media coverage. More overwhelming for me, an aspiring journalist, as I am a person in this story, I am in the battlefield of this war.

The media classifies narco-traffickers as bandits against society without acknowledging that the same society feeds this situation.

He who lives in the hillside slums knows what it is to suffer social exclusion: People living in shacks earning the monthly minimum wage. The favela dweller knows what it is to face the prejudice every day by bumping up against fat men striking the poses of the powerful. Every day rusts in a feeling of rancor. Adolescents turn to drug trafficking in order to be able to buy imported sneakers. They are children of 12, 13, 15 years old who surrender to crime seeking respect. They see their fathers returning home after a hard day’s work earning in a month what the trafficker offers these kids in a week.

There are times when society knows this and simply ignores the living conditions of these people. How many times has the Carioca (someone in Rio) evaded taking responsibility for changing this situation? That’s how it always goes in Brazil, hoping it stops and thinking of an emergency solution. No long-term solutions are considered because that would mean leaving the glory of victory for the next government. That’s what the posture of the authorities has always been: We’re going to invade the favela and take control by arms.

Armed control… Corrupt police, poorly trained and with barely a basic education… Practically animals, armed, obeying the orders of superiors… They invade the hills where the workers live and kill supposed bandits. The grand media publish the numbers in their dailies and the dwellers of the Asphalt Society feel relieved.

The Asphalt Society… Yes, because, there are two parallel societies that do not live together. The one that lives on the hill lives in another time and is structured by a different system of laws. It is the traffickers who establish order. The kings of the hill take care of necessities ignored by the government. It is they who help buy medicines for the ill, and school materials for the children. The politicians only remember these needs when it is convenient, during an election season. It’s not that the traffickers are good guys, this is not an apology for crime, but, rather, the fact that there is not equal treatment for all. Our social abyss is shameful.

When the kings of the hill come down from the hills and challenge the authorities, demonstrating their control in the asphalt, too, the Carioca populace trembles! Putting on its most serious face it says that this situation is absurd… that it cannot continue, as if the violence on the hill and the indifference toward others, the strongest aggressions, did not already exist. Hypocrites begin to dole out blame for the size of the violence.

Someone says it’s the drug users: They are the great villains of this story. A great majority says that he who consumes finances the violence. We, on the asphalt, are the villains of this story. But I find that we are evolving, we voted for Lula and this is already a significant change.

But we must also look in the mirror. We must see that our society has always been filled with prejudice. It has always been elitist. We have to face this situation with a more human eye. We are all human beings; favela-dwellers, bandits, police officers, from the Southern zone and the Northern zone. We are all in this war together.

The best solution for all human beings who suffer the violence on all levels is to legalize drugs. That is the only thing that will fire the ones who make millions getting rich off our suffering. Only that is going to end the black market and extinguish the corruption among the police. Only that is going to lower the prison population and minimize the rebellions and massacres like those that occurred at the Carandiru and Bangu I prisons.

If we succeed in extinguishing so much moralism and seek a more ethical and legal manner for production, use, and sale of drugs, we will only then step forward to confront the social abyss that exists in our Brazil.

Helena Klang is a Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar.

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