<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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Tragic Comedy

The Frustrations of one man’s attempt to change Brazil’s War on Drugs


By Andrea Wilkins y Martínez
2004 Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar

August 12, 2004


Wálter Maierovitch, at the legal coca market in Sacaba, Bolivia last week
Photo: Jeremy Bigwood D.R. 2004
If a shady fellow that doesn’t own an airline comes in and buys a fleet of airplanes, one might want to look into his background, says former Brazilian Anti-drug Secretary, Wálter Fanganiello Maierovitch. Any logical person would agree, but the United States and subsequently Brazil decided otherwise, he said. Contrary to Maierovitch’s suggestion of investigating suspicious plane purchases, the Brazilian government sanctioned a law to shoot down planes suspected of narcotrafficking about six years ago and will begin to implement the measure within the next three months, according to Jornal do Brasil. Maierovitch added that his suggestions of purchase investigations or, at the least, seizing the plane, the drugs, and the pilot upon landing, were disregarded. Instead, Maierovitch said the government decided to “kill the mule and not the narcotrafficker.”

Such are the inconsistencies that make the Drug War a tragic comedy in Wálter´s eyes.

During his one year term, which started in 1998 and lasted through1999, as Brazil’s first Anti-Drug Secretary, Maierovitch was the target of investigations, intimidation attempts and ultimately a plan to prompt his resignation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Brazilian Federal Police. According to a recent interview in Carta Capital – the Brazilian periodical that Maierovitch now edits – with Carlos Costa, the ex-chief of the FBI in Brazil, all these institutions worked to force Wálter´s resignation. His attempt to change Brazil’s approach to the war on drugs was to no avail.

Appointed as the first Brazilian Anti-drug Secretary by former President Fernando Hernrique Cardoso in 1998, Maierovitch tried to implement a number of new policies that were met with great opposition during his one year tenure.

One example is in regard to the planes used to traffic drugs.

If the government doesn’t want to investigate the purchased planes – the majority of which are bought and made in the USA, according to Maierovitch– then perhaps the government should let the planes land, he said. If they track the planes suspected of narcotrafficking, let them land, seize the drugs, the planes, and keep interrogate the pilot, the government would get much farther in their war against drugs, says Maierovitch. The government can sell the plane and use the money to begin rehabilitation programs for those using drugs, he adds.

Separating narcotrafficking from drug use is essential, Maierovitch says. “Drug trafficking is a criminal offense and drug use is a public health problem,” he says. Even before becoming Brazil´s Anti-drug Secretary, as early as 1971, Maierovitch worked to “humanize” anti-drug policies.

Before Cardosa appointed Maierovitch to his position, he worked as a judge focusing mostly on prosecuting crooked cops and narcotraffickers for 30 years. His experience in this field is so extensive that the United Nations often invited him to serve as a consultant or specialist when they organized conventions to target the drug problem. Maierovitch also worked closely with Italian organizations such as Narcomafie in investigating Italian Mafias suspected of operating in Brazil, which coincidently has no extradition treaty with Italy.

Why, you may ask? Who the hell knows?

All Maierovitch would say was that a wanted narcotrafficker such as Antonio Salamone can escape an Italian prison sentence by becoming a Brazilian citizen. In essence, narcotraffickers can launder their citizenship as easily as they launder their money, he said.

It seems like the world is a narcotrafficker´s oyster. Laundering money is as easy as taking one thousand bucks to the Cayman Islands, opening an account under the name “Mickey Mouse,” and getting an identification number without presenting proper identification, Maierovitch says. In fact, he estimates that about $200 billion a year is deposited in international banks by narcotraffickers. Maierovitch says if you want to get the big narcotraffickers, first go after their money. After all, most of them go into drug trafficking for the dough.

International banks think it’s perfectly normal for someone like Alfonso Caruana, a suspected narcotrafficker of Siculiana, Sicily and nephew to Giusepe Caruana to be a car washer and have millions of dollars in his bank account, he adds.

The complete impotency of Maierovitch’s former position is best seen with the case of Giusepe Caruana, he says.

Imagine knowing that a big-time narcotrafficker faked his own death. Not only do you know that he faked his death but also that he lives in your country. On top of all this, you know the exact avenue of his house on the beach in Copa Cabana. You know that he has a grave with a headstone that says “Giusepe Caruana” but that he is alive and well enjoying a wonderful view of the sea.

And you can do absolutely nothing about it.

Imagine knowing all this and more. Having had 30 years experience that is so well-recognized you have been invited to the United Nations as a specialist and consultant on drug policies time and time again. And no one in your government supports you.

You are threatened by strangers, people drive by your house to intimidate you. Your government supports a foreign government and works closely with them to oust you via a strike by the Federal Police. Step into Wálter Maierovitch’s world.

Listening to him recount story after story of inconsistency and illogic, one begins to feel bad that he had to put up with it for so long.

But Maierovitch says that the world is full of irony and that somewhere between his brain and his heart is a place where irony resides. He wishes he knew where that place was because sometimes, he’d like to shut the door on it.

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