<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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In Brazil: Fabio Mesquita & Regina Bueno Exonerated

U.S. Embassy's Dirty War vs. Drug Policy Reformers Fails Again


By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

February 22, 2004

Hot off the presses! The AIDS News Agency of Brazil (Agência de Notícias da Aids) has just reported that the Special Commission of the of the City of São Paulo Brazil, last night, exonerated drug policy reform leader – and the city’s anti-AIDS coordinator – Fábio Mesquita, and subcontractor Regina Carvalho Bueno, of accusations of wrongdoing.

The latest development comes (in fact, the dubious and false accusations arrived just three weeks ago) at the precise hour when the Drug Users Decriminalization Bill moves toward increasingly certain approval by the full Congress and the signature of Brazilian President Lula da Silva, of the Workers Party (PT, in its Portuguese initials), and this victory is likely to put the legislation back on the fast track.

Mesquita – who voluntarily stepped down from his post earlier this month pending the results of an investigation into the legal complaint filed by the daily Folha de São Paulo (he was not “removed” as some have maliciously charged) – will, sources tell Narco News, soon be back at work coordinating one of the largest Harm Reduction programs in the world. Among the programs he founded is one that distributes 27,000 clean syringes a month to injected drug users in order to prevent the spread of AIDS and other illnesses through the sharing of dirty needles.

Mesquita is widely regarded as the father of the Latin American Harm Reduction movement, the popular cause in Brazil and elsewhere to limit the harms associated with drug use under prohibition. Narco News readers are already familiar with the victories already won by Dr. Fábio Mesquita (see Fabio Mesquita at the Threshold of Victory: Brazil’s Prognosis for a Speedy Recovery Due to “Dr. Harm Reduction’s” Cure, Narco News, May 12, 2003), and with those of Regina Bueno, who, as that story reported, was prosecuted in 1995 for distributing clean needles to addicts in Santos, Brazil.

The Commission additionally exonerated Regina Bueno of an accusation that Harm Reduction work she did as a subcontractor of a program sponsored by Unesco and the city anti-AIDS department constituted “nepotism” supposedly because she is the ex-wife of Mesquita.

According to the AIDS news agency story filed today, the official ruling by the Commission declares:

“Considering the good results achieved by the Municipal Program of STD/AIDS, the professional resume of Regina Carvalho Bueno, and the fact that there is no actual family relation between her and the program coordinator, means that there shall be no impediment to the maintenance of her contract.”

The witch hunt against Mesquita and Bueno – echoed in recent days including by some misguided aspirants to their high moral authority within the drug policy reform movement – stemmed from two payments amounting to a total of $2,169 dollars and 41 cents for work that the experienced Harm Reduction professional Regina Bueno did on behalf of the anti-AIDS program.

Let’s get one thing clear: these were contracts that were part of the record, all duly filed with the city treasurer, with no attempt to hide or cover up the facts: Why? Because there was nothing “corrupt” nor illegal about them.

The accusations against Mesquita (it is important to note: these were charges made by a newspaper with an historic adversarial campaign against the Workers Party mayor of São Paulo, and an historic close, and ad nauseam puff-piece generating, relationship with U.S. Ambassador Donna Hrinak) also involved the fact that one of the city’s anti-AIDS programs had hired Mesquita’s daughter, Juliana, for a grand total payment of… $932 dollars and 17 cents.

After the Folha de São Paulo story hit on January 31st, Mesquita told the newspaper that, “Calmly, on my part, I would not change a thing about any of these situations: Except for the one regarding Juliana (his daughter), who, although she did her work in a completely punctual manner, I would change that because it was naiveté on my part.”

The “naiveté” stemmed from the following fact: While Brazilian and city law do not prohibit those contracts, Folha de São Paulo raised a little-known regulation by Unesco, the United Nations agency that has given funding toward various anti-AIDS programs in the city, against the hiring of “immediate family members.” As the City Auditor’s Commission made clear, an ex-wife is not an immediate family member, so the entire accusation against Mesquita came down to $932 dollars in work done by his daughter.

Is the daughter qualified to work in the program? Narco News has learned that she is an attorney at law. It seems, if anything, that she was underbilling.

A Mountain of Lies out of a Molehill

Despite the obvious absurdity of the media circus surrounding this now (thankfully) resolved case, there is some clean-up left to be done of the cruel and unfair distortions that have yet to be corrected by those who promulgated them regarding the accusations.

To wit: a report last Friday by the Washington DC organization DRCNet unfairly characterized the accusations as involving “corruption.” The unsigned accusation in the DRCNet activist newsletter (the newsletter itself is signed by director David Borden and editor Phil Smith, but individual articles do not disclose which of them wrote each article) did contain one disclaimer that, in a court of law, would be solid evidence of “malice” in any libel proceeding: “[(DRCNet) Editor’s Note: In fairness to Batista, Mesquita, and the Simon Bolivar list, we must note that because of deadline pressures, we could offer only a very short time for them to respond to the substantive charges leveled against them, and we had not heard further from them by press time late Thursday night.]”

That “editor’s note,” legally speaking, shows malice even as it speaks of supposed “fairness” (the law defines malice as “reckless disregard of the truth”) because it reveals that the author knew that the charge of “corruption” was probably bogus (he certainly didn’t know it was true, and acknowledges, there, that he knew exactly how to find out that it was not true), but published it anyway.

The author is obviously not as experienced or aware of the ethics of journalism or the particulars of Libel Law as he should be. An authentic journalist would not have rushed to publish the story before giving the accused time to respond. (And a story as petty as that could have waited an eternity without being missed: it had zero news value to begin with, certainly no immediate news value.) An authentic journalist would not have published an accusation of “corruption,” not even in quotation marks, without having provided the details being alleged (it was especially unethical in this matter, when the details, as have been provided above, never did merit the use of such an unfortunate, defamatory, word as “corruption.”)

This is the first time that I have publicly criticized, via Narco News, the work of that Washington DC organization by name. Many people who are privy to my private opinions know that, based on direct experience, I find that organization’s work, in general, to be non-credible: filled with inaccuracies and prejudices regarding Latin Americans, and lacking the basic context to help the reader understand the real stories that occur down here. This time they went too far: they cynically chose to drag the good name of Fabio Mesquita through undeserved mud. They owe him, and their readers, a correction and the most sincere, coherent, unmitigated apology that they are capable of offering.

(Monday morning update: Narco News has now identified Phil Smith as the author of the libelous text. Without offering any correction or apology to those who it unfairly defamed, the DRCNet link has now been updated and changed to remove the libelous material, and to reverse the order of its reports, now leading with the real news story, and scrubbing the rest of it of the “corruption” libel. Mr. Smith should have done that in the first place, because thousands of copies of the libelous text were sent out on Friday via email, which is why if he were an authentic journalist, or an honest person, he would have, in this situation, already published and emailed his organization’s list with an honest correction, admitting the wrong, directly clearing the name of the persons he smeared. But I already told you: he and his boss have no ethics, no commitment to the truth or the facts. Now they’re simply in “damage control,” trying to save their own tarnished reputations by pretending they never committed the crime. Narco News has received copies of email correspondence between Mr. Phil Smith of DRCNet and Latin American activists written last Wednesday and Thursday which demonstrate that he knew certain statements were defamatory before he published them, but he published them anyway. Again, that is called malice. Why doesn’t he simply correct, apologize, and move on? Instead, he’s being downright Nixonian, trying to cover-up rather than shed light. I’ll show you his “private” emails, which he sent by accident to a public mailing list, then later claimed they were “private,” over on the Narcosphere later today… because the truth does not sleep… it only dreams.)

Beyond matters of ethics and libel law, I also have to question their political and strategic judgment, since they claim to run an organization that favors reform of drug policy: What in the world were they thinking? Instead of highlighting the paradigm good news victory about the Brazilian Congressional vote in favor of decriminalizing drug users, they chose to lead with the sour milk of an internal struggle within one organization in that region (power struggles are hardly “hard news” in political organizations: give it rest). Amazingly, they devoted more words and column inches to that circus sideshow than to the victory itself. The victory was mentioned as a mere afterthought, in the second part of their “article,” and even then they sought out the voice of one isolated complainer who whined that it “doesn’t go far enough.”

That’s the kind of behavior we expect from opponents of reform, not from those who ask you for money to supposedly forward the cause of reform. The fact remains: had they repeated that kind of smear of “corruption” against any United States reform leaders or organizations at the exact hour that the leader or organization’s particular reform was moving through Congress, they would have been justifiably pilloried in the public square. Since their funding comes mainly from North Americans, they would never do the same up there: they dance only for the piper that pays them, and not for the greater good (another factor that makes what they do something less than journalism).

That they feel they can do to the Brazilian leaders and movement what they would never do to U.S. organizations or leaders under similar circumstances strongly suggests they ought to, as individuals, look in the mirror to confront their own prejudices against Latin America and its peoples, and their double standards when Latin Americans are involved. In almost Freudian poetry – as often occurs, we noted on Friday regarding the State Department and Haiti, inside the beltway – they ended their screed by lecturing a Brazilian organization, as Washington too often does, saying that the group’s “first challenge is to fix its own house.” Pretty ironic – isn’t it? – considering how the facts of this story have now played out to conclusion. And, gee: I thought the first challenge of all these groups was to defeat the US-imposed drug prohibition.

But, for now, in the name of “harm reduction,” although I’d like to pile on with much, much, more, I’ll leave it at that, and give everyone a chance to take a deep breath and consider the precipice from which, thankfully, we are all returned now that the good names of Fábio Mesquita and Regina Bueno have been cleared. The Harm Reduction work of the City of São Paulo will now be allowed to continue after a three-week stall: 27,000 more clean needles will hit the streets over the next month, among other important tasks. And the historic Drug Users Decriminalization bill will, with this “scandal” deflated, now coast to becoming the law of Brazil… and the next countries that follow it.

And I’ll remind, as I did yesterday: The real enemy behind the smear campaign against Brazilian drug policy reform leaders is not the small mindedness of petty “activists” who unwisely repeated the smear (although they certainly didn’t help, or shine light on, the situation). It is, rather, the U.S. Embassy’s dirty war against Brazilian and other Latin American reformers, as we documented in The Narcosphere, earlier today. Let’s hope that the next time that the Embassy PR machines start churning out dirt, that supposed allies of reform will exercise more caution, and less obvious glee, in restraining themselves from joining the defamatory campaign.

Narco News sends strong hugs of Authentic Solidarity and joyful congratulations to Dr. Fabio Mesquita and Regina Carvalho Bueno for their grace and dignity under unfair pressures, for their exoneration last night, and wishes them both a speedy return to the good work for which their true and accurate reputations are held in high esteem in Brazil and throughout the world.

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