<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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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
¡Bienvenidos en Español!
Bem Vindos em Português!

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The Marketing of Drug War Myths

Brazil's Southeastern media empires need to be more honest

By Adriana Veloso
Part VIII of a series, reported from Brazil

April 23, 2003

According to what is shown in TV, the southeast region concentrates in the axis of Rio and São Paulo, the two largest cities of the country, the center of Brazil.

This axis, according to the Commercial Media emanating from those cities, is where Brazil begins and ends: Reading such words can scare many people. They do not tell the truth! Brazil is a country of continental size, with many cultures, many traditions and people from across the entire world. But do those who live in the south know what is happening in Pará (a state in the North of Brazil)? Or do those who live in Rondônia (a state in the north of the country) have any idea of that it happens in the mountains of Minas Gerais (in the southeast)? Why does the National Journal (“Jornal Nacional,” a popular TV news program in Brazil) only talk about the north when there is a Boi Bumbá party (a typical folk party in the north and northeast region)?

The tradition of the Brazilian is the soap opera at eight. Once the National Journal ends with the good news given by the smiling couple, William Bonner and Fátima Bernardes, it is time for another love story. The soap operas became an addiction and a reference to people from all classes of the country.

Better than the TV show, “Malhação” (a program somewhat like Baywatch, but it does not take place on a beach… it takes place in an academy), a reference to some teenagers, that shows rich kids that are keen on using anabolic steroids because what matters to them is how their bodies look. These actors – beautiful and famous – portray the opposite of the people – “weak, with no teeth and ugly”, as Caetano Veloso sings in “Partido Alto” – that beg for money of food in the streets.

Adriano Mosimann and Neide “Lola” Santos
Photo D.R. 2003 Adriana Veloso
The Globo Network is “a very powerful media organization” says Adriano Mosimann of the Santa Catarina Association of Harm Reduction Workers, ACORDA in its Portuguese initials. Globo has created a culture that views five soap operas a day, and it has spent decades accomplishing this task.

But what does this have to do with drugs and this series about Harm Reduction?

To talk about the southeast where are located the state capitals of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Vitória – some of the wealthiest, most populous violent cities of the country – without speaking about the influence of Globo TV in the collective imagination of the Brazilian people, would be like speaking about Brazil and not mentioning soccer…

The society of the spectacle in Ipanema is the model for media portrayals of the remaining portion of the country. Their artists, restaurants and the beautiful bodies that walk around are the show in the soap operas that are the TV show after the National Journal (Jornal Nacional). The screen shows sometimes the Italian immigrants in São Paulo, like in the soap operas “Our Land” (Terra Nostra) or “Hope” (Esperança), and sometimes the caiocas (people from Rio) as in the actual soap opera “Women in Love” (Mulheres Apaixonadas). The axis of Rio and São Paulo alternates in the primetime.

The message of those soap operas is the ideal world, the happiness and the perfection of the rich and famous people, as the family in the butter adds. The cultural industry that produces films in Hollywood reproduces itself in the Globo screen.

But there is a contradiction in Rio. That one sung by Fernanda Abreu: “ Rio at 40 degrees, purgatory of beauty and evil.” At the same time that there is the beautiful – the Marvelous City (as Rio is known) and their beautiful bodies – there is also ugliness; the poverty and exclusion. The first one is shown in the soap opera at eight, called, “Women in Love.” The second, the violence, is shown on the National Journal.

What happens in Rio is bigger news on Globo and other southeast-based media organizations than the violence in any another city of the country. Even the Carioca (a term referring to someone from Rio) Governor Rosinha Matheus, married to the 2002 candidate for the presidency, Anthony Garotinho – who was appearing all the time in the state government, even though he had no official job, until yesterday afternoon, April 23, when his wife appointed him as the new Security Secretary for the state government- told the press that she noticed, “looking at the São Paulo newspapers on the Internet, that they contained more news of the violence in Rio than news of the violence that occurs near them,” as she declared last week to the Jornal do Brasil (“The Brazil Journal”).

And the soap operas of Globo TV are a favorite subject during dinner in many homes. Those who watch soap operas remember the one called “Torre de Babel” (Tower of Babel) that aired during primetime in 1998. “Nothing like eliminating all the marginalized people”, Marcelo Araújo, president of the Brazilian Association of Harm Reduction Workers (ABORDA in its Portuguese initials), says with irony. Who doesn’t remember the so adequate explosion of a shopping mall on that soap opera? That one where two rich, pretty, and chic lesbians – played by actresses Christiane Torloni and Sílvia Pfeifer – together with the problematic-charming-drug user interpreted by Marcelo Anthony were the only characters that died…

By that time, only a few people understood the choice made by the programmers at Globo TV. To eliminate the lesbians that were happy and the beautiful and the happy drug user from the dinner table conversations. Thus the conservatives that supported this brainwash since the beginning of the dictatorship did not have to deal even with televised images of those who were different, those who bothers them, the privileged, so much. And the intolerance kills in real life also, as the Indian Galdino –the indigenous Brasilian that was burned alive by rich kids in Brasília – knows.

The kind of behavior considered “profane” by society, as in the case of use of illicit drug use or a different sexual option, did not please Brazilian society – which includes the TV advertisers’ class, of course – that could not face the marginalized – the drug user, the transsexual, etc., not even on soap operas. These attitudes are considered “transgressions” – prohibited because they are considered impure – and so by the time the soap opera “Tower of Babel” was shown the decision was very clear:

“Let’s blow up all the taboos!”

The Media and the drug user

Mosimann, the harm reduction worker, finds that “the media has that to stop being hypocritical. There are many people speaking in the media, including TV show hosts and journalists, who are drugs users and do not have courage to say it.” And when some of them declare that they are users of illicit drugs, as it was the case of the newscaster known as Soninha, “they are severely punished by for admitting it.”

In 2001, the TV Cultura show host Sonia Francine, known as Soninha, told Época magazine that, from time to time, she smoked marijuana. She had hosted a program for teenagers, and was fired by the network with the allegation that they “could not allow the public manifestation, by its employees and collaborators, of practices that are offensive to the laws of the country”.

Last year, the eight o’clock soap opera, “O Clone” (The Clone) caused many repercussions by bringing to the screens the real testimonies of drug users and their families. Mosimann remembers that, “the soap opera was constructed from the perspective of recovery from addiction, of treatment for the chemically dependent, as if that is what works for everybody.” According to him they omitted the fact that “treatment succeeds for only 30% of the people who complete it.” And, he asks: What can be done for the 70-percent of the people who do not complete the treatment programs, or who do not have access to treatment for chemical dependence?”

Marcelo Araújo, president of ABORDA, says that, “there are only a few spaces in the media that have a critical attitude and do not fall into the common view.” He remembers that the author of the “O Clone” soap opera, Gloria Perez, “sent e-mails to everybody that works with harm reduction and treatment asking for opinions.”

The perspective of the harm reduction approach – an effort to lessen the damages caused by the use of some drugs that works on the kind of use that a citizen makes of drugs, both the licit ones, like alcohol and cigarettes, or the illicit ones, like marijuana and cocaine – did not appear in the air. “One of our harm reduction workers suggested that they should also portray the use of the alcohol, since one of the scenes of the soap opera occurs at a boteco, a neighborhood bar, where everybody drinks that drug.” The people who watched the soap opera realized that, the issue of alcohol abuse was not approached, “to the contrary, its use was stimulated,” remembers Araújo.

Mosimann finds that the media “should to try to better understand the issue of drug use, of what is harm reduction work, and not keep multiplying the hysteria, the taboos and the fear. Our great battle,” he says, “is against ignorance.”

Portraying the use of drugs

Marcelo Araújo – President of ABORDA
The Harm Reduction Movement organizes as a network that conducts training sessions and interstate meetings by the Brazilian Harm Reduction Association (ABORDA). “Our work is not only to execute the needle exchange and other harm reduction actions. It is to mobilize the public so that society recognizes the rights of drug users,” explains Araújo.

According to Araújo, “there is a trend today to blame the drug user as if he is an accomplice to drug trafficking,” he says. In a country where the spectacle of violence occupies the pages of daily newspapers, “this is a very curious example of how the reality is distorted.” The current president of ABORDA uses the example of “the consumer society” – the capitalist society based on consumption of products – to clarify the manipulation that is being done to the users of drugs. “Society demands the position of a responsible and solitary consumer from people whose consumption is not given as option. Which means that, if you to opt plant your own marijuana in your backyard, the penalty will be greater than if you to buy your marijuana from the dealer,” he explains.

The issue that surrounds the oppression suffered by the drug user, as much as the drug dealer, is the law that governs drug trafficking. Araújo thinks that, “the distinction between the drug user and the various levels of the drug traffickers will only be possible when questions begin to be asked about the nature of the trafficking. We will have to recognize that some people should have the right to engage in the commerce of drugs.” Just as the middle class has already acquired the right to have its drugs of happiness – the psychoactive ones, the anti-depressive drugs – that are acquired by means of medical prescription, the same way that the alcohol consumer can by beer in the bars, each person should have the right of choice.

However Brazil has “a public that demands rigorous action against the commerce of drugs,” remembers Araújo. All the exploitation of the violence and the anti-drug campaigns has created the “myth of the marijuana users.” Just as the people were told that the 1964 dictatorship was a “revolution,” they have also been offered a brainwashing that says that “communists eat children” and that “drugs kill.”

Is time for the media to play its role by questioning, and clarifying, which are the drugs that kill, and the reasons for making some drugs legal and others illegal, until these myths, that impede a clear vision of the consequences of the production, commerce and consumption of drugs in the contemporary society, come down.

“There is no way to argue the rights of the drug users without arguing which commerce will be tolerated. Because even those people that really make money with this are not considered drug dealers. They are the owners of the banks, of the great financial corporations, the powerful judges and politicians, etc. These people are not seen as drug dealers, because they are on the level of the financial market,” says Araújo.

And until this consciousness passes to the pages of newspapers and in the TVs and all the spectacular media that misinforms, the public will continue to listen to the bullshit from Rosinha Matheus – the Governor of Rio de Janeiro – such as when she said to Jornal do Brasil that, “marginalized individuals don’t have rights; they should remain locked in jail,” and other such nonsense.

“When the system puts the small drug dealer in jail, the demand for more drug dealers increases,” clarifies Mosimann, from the regional harm reduction group ACORDA. Thus, “each time this happens, the labor market of cocaine grows, since the police are always arresting the middleman.”

The vicious circle causes damage for civil society and for the state. The penitentiaries that are already overcrowded do not have room for more people condemned for smalltime drug dealing, and at the same time, Mosimann concludes, “as more consumers of illicit drugs are punished, the fear and the taboos increase.”

Araújo concludes, “We have to show how this intolerant attitude is fomenting the state of violence that we have today.”

It is necessary to discuss the subject of drugs in channels where “a more objective, clear, and cultured vision on this issue is possible,” Mosimann stresses. But when the Commercial Media discusses this issue, the conservative elements just cry out for more repression.

On the other hand, the harm reduction movement is building a bridge by giving voice to the users so that their personal experiences become known to society and their direct experiences can teach a different approach from the prohibitionist model that, we already see, is not working.

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