<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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The State is to Blame

At Rio Forum, Officials Agree with Civil Society: We Need A New Drug Policy


By Adriana Veloso
Reporting from Rio de Janeiro

May 19, 2003

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: MAY 16, 2003: In times of buses burning in the streets, Molotov cocktails tossed into chic hotels of Copacabana, and government buildings under machine gunfire, everyone seeks to understand how to resolve the problem of public safety.


Congressman Fernando Gabeira
Photo D.R. 2003 Al Giordano
The auditorium, modeled like a courtroom, receives its special guests with anticipation, along with more than 100 people who are present, in the Philosophy and Social Sciences building of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFJR, in its Portuguese initials), in the center of the city. The public forum debates an intrinsic question for Carioca daily life: “Democracy, Human Rights, War and Narco-Trafficking.”

The retired Judge Maria Lúcia Karam makes the central point: “The state made the consumption of some substances illegal. Now, we have prohibition as a form of intervention against the freedom of the individual.” Her words set the tone of the hearing.

A professor in the Masters Program of Penal Sciences at Cândido Mendes University, the judge explains that today, “the worst publicity trick is played in advertising and selling the penal system as a product-service that sells protection and security,” and places the State in the seat of the accused. And the accusations are strong ones.

The warning is shot: The more State repression, the more violence.

Public Insecurity

The forum takes place inside a Carioca reality, where, on television, the message is a lesson of fear, or “distorted reasoning,” as Judge Karam states. “The responsibility for the violence is the state that made the drug market illegal,” she clarifies.


Luiz Eduardo Soares
D.R. 2003 Al Giordano

Luiz Eduardo Soares, who was interviewed here by reporters from Globo TV and Folha de São Paulo, gave the official word from Brasília from a president’s man. Today he is National Public Safety Secretary. His job is to “assure the right of the citizenry to liberty.” Soares finds that “Civil Society must be protected from an authoritarian guardian.”

“The State has a de-educating role,” Karam affirms, explaining that “the worst danger of criminality is that it serves as a pretext that leads to totalitarianism.”

In this way, the hearing makes it clear to its leading defendant that the errors of the past have caused the injustices of the present.

Soares explains, briefly, that his role in the administration of President Lula da Silva is “to apply the national security plan in a manner that defends rights and liberties.”

“Organized crime becomes an invisible network that permeates public institutions, infiltrating the system,” he observes.

In counterpoint, Karam says, “by making certain goods and services illegal, the penal system functions as the true creator of criminality and violence.”

O contraponto parte de Karam que afirma; “ao tornar ilegais determinados bens e serviços, o sistema penal funciona como o real criador da criminalidade e da violência”.

The demand for a “radical change,” as stated by Soares, must be applied in many spheres so that the state “manipulating the fear and insecurity provoked by real or imaginary actions,” as stated by Karam, must be impeded from “widening punitive power and intensifying control over the lives of individuals.”

The government strategy arrives at its crucial moment: “The public officials that today include the 550,000 police who work for the State, must be given political training because they are armed. They will either be a force for barbarism or for human rights,” says Soares.

For him, the mission, and this generates laughter in the audience, “is the make the police come out of the closet: they deserve attention and not fear, but they must work with dignity and with a peaceful orientation.”

Violence in Rio


Itamar Silva
D.R. 2003 Al Giordano
“The perception of the favela slums as a place of evil is fed by the media,” notes Itamar Silva of the Bento Rubião Foundation, that works with Carioca communities. “The absence of human rights in the favela makes that clear in the case of the girl shot at Estácio de Sá and that of the eight youths killed on Turano Hill.” The names of the eight youths, all under 17 years of age, who were executed by police in a plan of “shoot first, ask questions later” were not divulged by the newspapers nor mentioned on television.

“In the case of Luciana Novaes,” the girl killed at Estacío de Sá, “the majority of the population felt comfortable with the resulting repression in the favela,” notes Silva.

“Look at the fact that young people use drugs, that they want to experiment with drugs,” explained Célia Szterenfeld, representing the Brazilian Harm Reduction Association (ABORDA, in its Portuguese initials) at the forum. The youths have constant access to them. And “the government’s discourse is made on two levels: that of abstinence, as portrayed by anti-drug campaigns, and that of chemical dependence in extreme cases,” she said as the forum’s voice for Harm Reduction. This strategy, that has recently been embraced by public policy, dialogues with the majority that is found between those two extremes, whether it’s a public official drinking a draft beer on a Friday night, or the tobacco smoker, or the user of marijuana or other drugs. Szterenfeld outlined the “need for honest drug education.”

The State denies that drugs exist and says they must be treated only with repression. “This false image impedes the truth that public health is being harmed. Prohibition causes more damage to users than the use or abuse of the drugs,” concluded Karam.

The Individual and the State

Federal Congressman Fernando Gabeira criticizes the new publicity campaign in Rio de Janeiro and other states that says “he who buys drugs is financing the violence.”


Judge Maria Lúcia Karam
D.R. 2003 Al Giordano
“No!” says this pioneer of the fight to decriminalize drug users, “the violence is produced by the repression!” During his presentation, Gabeira recited the history of disaster in the governmental campaigns, causing laughter in the audience. “The first one said ‘Drugs equal death.’ What a heavy concept! It’s better to live using drugs than to die!” Then, he recalls the sad “I’m straight, but I’m happy” campaign, “it seemed as if this person needs to use drugs to feel pleasure!”

“Taking advantage of the mystery and fantasy that surround substances made illegal… the maximum State, vigilant and omnipresent, assigns to drugs qualified as illicit as part of the post-modern necessity of the creation of new enemies and ghosts,” Karam explained.

The loser in all this manipulation is the people. “This conduct disturbs the liberty and choices of the individual,” said Karam.

Szterenfeld concluded that, “to blame the user is irresponsible and goes against human rights.” When the government doesn’t comply with the duties designated by its power, it exercises coercion to “install a pedagogy of fear,” she added.

The Challenge of Thinking About Production


Eraldo José de Souza
D.R. 2003 Al Giordano
The reality of urban violence is headed to “Rural Brasil.” The drugged society of the TV news returns to the agricultural base of the country. Eraldo José de Souza, of the rural workers union of São Francisco, spoke of the price of onions and yucca root, “plants that today yield 10 or 12 reals (three or four dollars) per week, while a plantation of marijuana gives the rural worker 50 to 150 reals per week (fifteen to fifty dollars).” A reality uncommon in the Southeast occurs in the Northeast where there are indications of a poppy crop, which could bring consequences in the form of a heroin market in Brazil. De Souza asks, “If the rural worker in the United States can plant tobacco, why can’t the Northeastern Brazilian plant cannabis?”

It can’t even be grown for medicinal use, as in the case of hemp with the substance THC, the active drug in marijuana, which serves as a treatment for chemotherapy patients. “Are we condemned to buy medicines made in the United States where they permit the planting of cannabis to make them?” asked Congressman Gabeira.

“The State cannot permit the creation of excessive laws,” adds Judge Karam, who says that, “there has been an ineffective attempt at control by policing.” With the other participants in this hearing, she arrives at the verdict: “We need to make public safety policies with the people in the communities.”

The discussion of drug policy continues for another day of public debate. Gabeira, one of the founders of the movement, says that, “I feel very happy to see that people are finally discussing the issue of drugs more honestly.”

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