<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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Narco News is supported by:
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The trademarks "Narco News," "The Narco News Bulletin," "School of Authentic Journalism," "Narco News TV" and NNTV © 2000-2011 Al Giordano


Lula: The Drug War is a Class War

Brazil's President Opens the "Black Box" of Narco-Corruption

By Al Giordano
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

April 29, 2003

On a Tuesday Morning, April 22nd, 2003, somewhere in a country called América…

Day One: The Black Box Opens

The democratically elected president of Brazil issued a declaration of war last Tuesday… or so his words were received in some powerful quarters.

“The real narco-traffickers,” President Lula da Silva pointed the finger, are not found in the neighborhoods where poor people are “pressured and induced into crime in order to earn their daily bread.”

The kingpins of narco-trafficking are to be found, Lula dared to say, “in the large centers of capital.”

The president is now assembling a posse, he says, to hunt them down.

During his first major speech on public safety and crime, Lula spoke previously forbidden words, in public, about a “black box” (a “caixa-preta,” in which the word “caixa” enjoys common use both as “box” and “cash register”) that exists in the Judicial branch of the Brazilian government… A Judicial branch that, in less than a decade, has almost doubled the nation’s prison population (from 126,152 inmates in 1993 to 240,107 in May 2002… overwhelmingly, of course, consisting of poor folks)… and yet organized crime and violence is today considered, according to public opinion surveys, the number one problem in the nation.

Something is terribly wrong with the Brazilian Justice system, said the president.

And Lula gave orders, he gave very clear instructions, there can be no doubt as to the meaning of his words, in full public view, with the press taking notes, with the tape recorders turned on, with the video cameras rolling, to his Attorney General, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, and to his Public Safety Secretary, Luiz Eduardo Soares:

Open that box, the commander-in-chief ordered.

Open it wide.

Open it now.

Kind readers, if Lula is serious, if Bastos is serious, if Soares is serious, they have just placed the drug war in check, and set an historic checkmate in motion.

Because if the “black box” that contains the secrets about who really does benefit from narco-trafficking under drug prohibition is opened, there will be only one exit door left for the owning class: To bring about full legalization of drugs, amnesty for drug war prisoners and defendants, and to usher in the corresponding public amnesia of the sort that came in the United States, in 1933, with a legal beer gulped down to the tune of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

Lula’s use of those two words – “Black Box” – has drawn the battle lines.

“Perplexing,” “strange,” and “a disservice to society,” cried Marco Aurélio de Melio, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to various Media organizations, in response to the President’s most important speech, so far, in his young presidency.

The Black Box of Judicial Power in Brazil, that “untouchable” black box, as Lula described it, must be opened, said the president in his fourth month in office… It was the moment when the gloves came off:

“Many times,” declared the President, “Justice is not done. Justice doesn’t comply with the Constitution, which says that everyone is equal under the law. Many times, some people are more equal than others. And this is called ‘Class Justice,’ a Justice that favors one class….”

Lula continued:

Lula: Open the “Black Box”
“Brazilian society is conscious that we are not dealing any more with chicken thieves; the citizen who robbed a chicken was put in jail, and then he was freed. On the next day, maybe he robbed another chicken, a rooster, and some eggs. But he wasn’t such a violent figure, so brutal with society. Today, however, we must confront an industry of organized crime, one that is multinational. It counts with a political arm, it counts with a police arm, it counts with an arm in the Judicial branch, it counts with a business arm, and it has its international arm, too…

“They only combat organized crime when they want to hit the middlemen, those who buy or sell, who many times are poor people pressured and induced into crime in order to earn their daily bread. At times the people turn on the TV and hear the following speech: ‘Is there violence? There is. Let’s go surround the favela. Are there drugs? There are. Let’s go occupy the favela…’”

The “favelas,” kind reader, are the poorest neighborhoods in Brazil’s gigantic cities (two of the cities here, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, are more populous than New York), where, in the nightly Spectacle of the Commercial Media, the cops do battle with “traffickers,” usually with a TV crew in tow.

The Commercial Media always says “traffickers.” It is just assumed: If someone is shooting back at an invading police force, defending himself, his home, or his family, from a brutal attack that comes wearing a badge, he is, before any reporting is done, said to be a drug trafficker. No evidence is ever offered. It’s simply a mythology, asserted and repeated enough times that nobody considers that something distinct might be happening: On TV, everyone who lives in a “favela” is considered to be a druggie, or at least an accomplice… “Class Justice” can be found in the Black Box of the Media, too. (For a deeper exploration of this concept of “favelas,” see Luis Gómez’s October 2002 Narco News report from Rio de Janeiro, “It’s not a ‘Favela’ …It’s a Community.”)

Lula: End “Class Justice”
And then Lula ripped down the Video Curtain:

“Possibly, on a day when the Police intelligence is greater and stronger, the people won’t want them to invade a favela, but, rather, who knows…? They will go, instead, to the large centers of capital of this country and arrest the real narco-traffickers.”

Turning to his Justice Minister – the job that is akin to that of Attorney General – Márcio Thomaz Bastos, the man who, on Wednesday, in public, was given full command of directing the nation’s public safety reforms, Lula said:

Lula: The poor are pushed into crime “to earn their daily bread.”
“And that is why we have fought for so long, Dr. Márcio, for external control of the Judiciary. Not to interfere with the decisions of a Judge, but rather to at least know how the Black Box of the Judicial Branch, that is often untouchable, functions.”

Lula’s first major speech on crime, drugs, and public safety was the subject of banner headlines in all the national dailies the following day:

“Lula Wants to Open the ‘Black Box’ of the Judiciary,” shouted Folha de São Paulo.

“Lula Criticizes the Judiciary and Accuses: Crime Is Winning the War,” echoed Jornal do Brasil.

“Lula Says that the Judiciary Considers Itself ‘Untouchable’ and Demands External Control,” added O Estado de São Paulo.

“Combat Against Trafficking Provokes Crisis Between Lula and the Judiciary,” was the 84-point type headline in O Globo out of Rio de Janeiro: “President Wants to Open the Black-Box and the Courts React Strongly.”

As columnist Adriano Ceolin of the daily Corrieo Braziliense penned in the following morning’s newspaper: “The ‘Peace and Love Lula’ phase of the Presidency, in practical terms, is over.”

President Lula had just put the following major points onto the public agenda:

  • That the small-time drug dealer, pushed into crime “to earn his daily bread,” is not the cause of the crime and violence in the country.
  • That the real kingpins count with the protection of politicians, police, members of the Judiciary, and international big business, and can be found in the “great financial capitals” of the country.
  • That the shroud around the Judicial branch must be opened and placed under external auditing and control.
  • That “Class Justice” must end.
  • And that the man he is putting in charge of this process is his Attorney General, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, (an advocate of drug decriminalization as is already familiar to Narco News readers), who has been Lula’s personal defense attorney for the past three decades.

Everybody Knows

Lula: The real narcos are “in the great financial centers.”
Who knows where the real narco-traffickers are?

Lula made it very clear he believes that Bastos knows:

“Márcio Thomaz Bastos knows where they are… the Justice Minister is making plans. He is a man who has dedicated a large part of his life advocating for public safety in Brazil, and now he has four years to accomplish it.”

He’s the man, said Lula, the one in charge, the one who will remain in charge, no matter who screams or how loudly, for the next four years. In describing the job to be done by Bastos and by Public Safety Secretary Luiz Eduardo Soares (who also, as known by Narco News readers, is an advocate of drug decriminalization), Lula said:

Lula: The Attorney General’s job is no longer “to get on TV.”
“That is why, compañero Márcio, the role of the Justice Ministry is not to get on TV, as the Justice Ministry used to do, in order to talk about putting heavier firepower in the route of crime. Today, we have to work with intelligence…

“I am optimistic about your role as maestro. You are not a police specialist. What I need you to be is the conductor, to take command, to put the best people in each place. I always say that the maestro is not obligated to play the violin and the cymbals at the same time. He doesn’t need to know how to play them, but, rather, he knows how to govern. And your role, Márcio (Thomaz Bastos), together with Luiz Eduardo (Soares), is to govern this orchestra of public safety in Brazil, to put each player in his place. One can play first violin and another can play second violin, another can be a drummer, and make the team play in harmony. This is the most effective way to do it.”

Meanwhile, on “second violin,” Soares’ role is not inconsequential. He has visited foreign capitals in recent weeks and shaken down four billion dollars to modernize and train the Brazilian police agencies: “We ended the dictatorship,” he told Jornal do Brazil this week, “but with the same police corps.”

Luiz Eduardo Soares: Lula’s Top Cop heads into battle.
The orchestra, described by Lula, would open two days later, on Thursday, April 24th, in the capital city of Brasilia, when Márcio Thomaz Bastos returned to the halls of the National Congress.

Weeks earlier, Bastos had told a Congressional Committee: “I favor the decriminalization of drug use.”

Last Thursday, Bastos addressed the entire Senate, decried the fact that the prison system has become “an assembly line for crime,” and outlined his extensive plans to go after the white-collar narco-traffickers, the ones who “launder” the illicit profits from drug trafficking.

But first, kind readers, came a very bizarre response to Lula’s speech from another major political faction in the country, that which currently governs the state of Rio de Janeiro…

On a Wednesday afternoon, April 23rd, 2003, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, somewhere in a country called América…

Day Two: The Empire Freaks Out

The Judicial Class was not the only faction noticeably upset about the president’s Class War on Crime.

In the afternoon of April 23rd, Rio de Janeiro Governor Rosinha Matheus, who has been at odds with the Lula Administration particularly over public safety issues, and heavily criticized in recent weeks for the divisions within her ineffective police agencies, held her own press conference and dropped a media bombshell:

First, she announced that she was firing her state public safety secretary.

This week’s Istoe magazine: “Garotinho will destroy the bandits, or the bandits will destroy Garotinho.
Second, she announced that she was hiring, in his place, her husband, the former governor and unsuccessful 2002 presidential candidate Anthony Garotinho, as the new anti-crime czar.

On the scale of Commercial Media Spectacle, this political maneuver marked 11 on a scale of 10. It smacked of what many columnists and pundits would call “a desperation move” and a “political gamble” for Rio de Janeiro’s First Couple and their joint political futures. It was a play to the cameras, with all the drama of a TV soap opera… The governor admits defeat in the war on crime and fires her top cop… And she brings in her hubbie, a professional politician without a post, to restore order to her (according to the media) “violence-torn” capital city….

The gamble worked in one sense: It grabbed the microphone from Lula and his conflict with the Judges, and rendered unto the bosses of the real “Parallel Power” in this country what is theirs…

The Real “Parallel Power”

In Brazil, when speaking of the narco, a term is often used in the media and among academics: “Parallel Power.”

The concept is that there exists a State that is not elected, but that is “parallel,” or even more powerful, than the elected State. And that is said to be the parallel State… run by narco-traffickers.

It is no secret to readers of this Bulletin that we, too, see a hidden State, a State that was never elected, a State that appointed itself… And we see this in every land, from the United States to Venezuela to Italy… But it is not, in our analysis, a disorganized collection of “organized” criminals who are targeted by the War on Drugs who run this imposed State…

The true parallel power, the superior power, is that of the Commercial Media.

In Brazil, the seat of government power might be the capital of the country, Brasília. The seat of economic power might be in the capital of capital, São Paulo. But it is striking how, although Rio de Janeiro ceased, years ago, to be the governmental capital of the nation, it remains as the Media Capital; the seat of the fourth largest TV network on earth – O Globo – and its holdings in daily newspapers, radio stations, the Internet, and even over the quasi-state apparatus that licenses other private sector companies that use the public TV and radio airwaves. (See Narco News Director of Strategy Adriana Veloso’s recent report, “The Marketing of Drug War Myths: Brazil’s Southeastern Media Empires Need to be More Honest.”)

No sooner had Lula rocked the nation with his declarations, including that interesting statement that said, “the role of the Justice Ministry is not to get on TV, as the Justice Ministry used to do,” when someone sought to fill that televised vacuum.

The Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro… an embattled governor, as new at being governor as Lula is at being president… Governor Rosinha Matheus… ran to the TV cameras like a junky to a crack pipe.

She called her press conference late on Wednesday afternoon.

This, kind readers, was Power’s attempt at taking the microphone back from Lula who had the entire media going nuts over questions of Black Boxes and the “real” narco-traffickers…

Imagine the scenario that has dominated the media coverage of this city since late February: Rio de Janeiro’s most important tourist season, a major source of income, “Carnaval,” in the first four days of March 2003, faced entire business districts shut down on the reported orders of narco-traffickers… A wave of international bad press hit the city much harder, economically speaking, than anything the narco did… (For a less sensationalist, more honest, report on what really did happen, see Authentic Journalist Karine Muller’s March report, “Rio de Janeiro Erupts: The Drug War Turns Rio into a Scene from Film Noir.”)

But the craziness did not just begin or end during Carnaval… Last month, a Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown into the lobby of the prestigious Meridian Hotel… Two weeks ago, one of the two most famous old hotels in Rio, the Hotel Glória, the sort of place where Frank Sinatra and Greta Garbo would probably just “want to be alone,” was riddled with bullet holes in the wee, wee, hours of the morning of April 14th…

To add injury to insult, some United Nations bureaucrats, shopping for better prices, sometime between the shots fired shortly after 12 midnight and the hour of one a.m. when the local newspapers went to bed, announced it was therefore pulling out of Rio de Janeiro for a major international meeting this summer and moving its economic largesse to São Paulo…

Police in Rio surrounded the world-famous Hotel Copacabana on Avenida Atlantica… and braced for the worst…

Rosinha and Garotinho: Playing “the Drug War Video Game” in Rio de Janeiro.
It has not been, to say the least, a banner month for Rio de Janeiro Governor Rosinha Matheus’ autobiography.

So when Lula declared that the anti-crime minister’s job was no longer “to get on TV,” Rosinha perceived a vacuum.

Taking another hit off the media pipe, Rosinha assembled the press, and appoints her new top cop… her husband, Antonio Garotinho, a former governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro and defeated presidential candidate of 2002 (he received 18 percent in the preliminary election last October 6th, compared with Lula’s 47 percent)… and Antonio, the First Husband, is now on the cover of national newspapers and magazines going down with the sinking ship of public safety in Rio de Janeiro…

It is like a gang war among politicians, each trying to set the terms of the spectacular issues of drugs, crime, and violence, in Brazil.

Rosinha and Garotinho have an old-style discourse, the one that Lula described the day before, and his words that worth repeating in the context of Rosinha’s press conference:

“At times the people turn on the TV and hear the following speech: ‘Is there violence? There is. Let’s go surround the favela. Are there drugs? There are. Let’s go occupy the favela…’”

Rosinha and Garotinho made exactly that speech, and immediately set to work invading favelas

This strategy can be called “video game justice,” in which maps are drawn of the city and published in the newspapers, and broadcast on TV, attack plans against the residents of the favelas, portrayed as invading hordes that threaten the calm and safety of the “decent” people… the ones with nice cars, who live in nice neighborhoods… the ones who are gullible enough to believe this fantasy-world permanent “Cops” show will ever make anything safer for anyone.

In this scenario, Commercial TV reporters are practically “embedded,” traveling with the cops to videotape the predictable shootouts with neighborhood residents…

Thus, with Rosinha and Garotinho’s play to the cameras, the battle lines were drawn in the political gang war, the dispute over which faction will dominate the “Parallel Power” of media coverage on the crime and drugs issue and thus control the terms of the debate.

The next day, though, the ball went back to the Lula team.

On a Thursday afternoon of April 24th, 2003, somewhere in the capital city of Brasília in a country called América…

Day Three: Bastos Takes Charge

Justice Minister Márcio Thomas Bastos’ appearance before the full Senate had been scheduled prior to Lula’s Tuesday speech. Like pieces moved on a political chess board, the Lula camp’s timing can be described as methodical, carefully plotted, each move meant to set up the next.

This, too, contrasts with the bombastic shoot-em-up cops-and-robbers Spaghetti Western script coming from the Rosinha and Garotinho show in Rio, and to the visibly upset reactions to Lula’s Tuesday speech from inside the Black Box of Judicial Power.

Meanwhile, like clockwork, on that same afternoon of Thursday, April 24th, at 3:30 p.m., another piece moved on the chessboard, also timed to plant panic into the minds of certain powerful interests.

While Bastos testified on the Senate side, on the House side, a Congressman from Lula’s governing Workers Party (PT, in its Portuguese initials), Deputy Chico Alencar from Rio de Janeiro, called for “public hearings” to investigate accusations of connections between politicians and narco-traffickers. “Some drug and arms traffickers in Brazil want to be included in political life, financing campaigns, supporting candidates, or even becoming candidates,” he told the BSB news agency.

This, while the soft-spoken Attorney General, Bastos, sharpened his sword on the floor of the Senate, outlining a very different plan of attack than the Video Game that is endlessly repeated on TV out of Rio de Janeiro.

The Justice Minister began by lambasting the existence of an “assembly line of crime” within Brazil’s justice system: “From the Minors’ Well-Being Foundation (Febem, the government agency charged with imprisoning under-aged convicts), to the civil and military police agencies, to the Judicial Branch and the penitentiary system, Brazil has a true Crime School, where the boy enters as a minor, almost innocent, and leaves, after each of these steps, as a post-graduate in very dangerous forms of crime.”

During his five-hour marathon session with the Senators, in which he answered all questions, Bastos took aim at the very top of crime’s class pyramid, explaining:

“Money laundering is the final cause of organized crime. The criminal needs to have certainty that he can succeed at making his money look like it was legally earned… Organized crime would not exist if it did not have a Laundromat.”

Bastos outlined his plan to create a National Registry of Bank Accounts so that law enforcement can track every transaction made in the country. (The foundation stone of the Narco-State in Mexico, for example, is the “bank secrecy law,” which prohibits the government and the people from having access to information about the flows of money in its own banking system… Bastos clearly wants to move more toward the kind of system that the Swiss government has instituted in recent years, in which it can halt bank transactions from occurring if there are grounds to suspect they involve money that was illegally made.)

Attorney General Márcio Thomaz Bastos: “Organized crime would not exist if it did not have a Laundromat.”
When asked about the Judicial Branch, Bastos reiterated what his boss, President Lula, had said two days prior: “We don’t know how the Judiciary works today. We don’t have a diagnosis and we don’t know where the bottleneck is occurring.”

But what should really bother the white-collar criminal class is the way that Bastos and other members of the Lula administration have learned to apply, indeed co-opt, the “tough on crime” language traditionally used against the poor, against the proverbial “chicken thieves” and small-time drug dealers and users, now, to the real big shots. Speaking of his proposals to tackle money laundering, Bastos said: “What diminishes crime is the certainly and size of the punishment.”

And he predicted that the Lula administration would have its anti-money laundering death star fully operational by the end of the year.

This gives Power just eight months to figure out how to escape the net being thrown into its waters of impunity.

Whereas the privileged elite of Brazil, previously, only had to worry about the drug laws when their sons or daughters were arrested with a joint or a gram, now the tables will turn: They will have to worry about their sons and daughters reading about their own kingpin activities as the money-launderers for the narco… Not to mention, the usual scofflaw activities involved in hiding wealth to evade payment of taxes, which Bastos’ new bank transaction monitoring system is likely to detect in many cases… After all, isn’t that how, in Chicago during alcohol prohibition, they finally apprehended the crime boss Al Capone?

Meanwhile, Bastos also told the Senators that one of the priorities of the administration would now be to “diminish prison sentences” for “non-dangerous” crime and increase “alternative sentencing.”

What the Press Left Out

Interestingly, five hours before Bastos’ long testimony in the Senate was to begin, the Agência Brasil news agency previewed his scheduled appearance with these words:

“Justice Minister Márcio Thomaz Bastos will participate at 2:30 p.m. in a public hearing before the full Senate. The increase in urban violence and the proposal to decriminalize drugs will be the principle issues under discussion.”

The only mention anywhere in the Media of “decriminalization” was a brief, one sentence, update during Bastos’ testimony on the “up to the minute” wire of the Senate Journal’s website, which noted that Senator Sergio Cabral had spoken in favor of Bastos’ stated advocacy of drug decriminalization during the Attorney General’s testimony.

Thus, there is, so far, no careful media analysis of what the “one-two punch” thrown by Lula and Bastos in recent days really means for the political life and future of the country.

The two strategies – criminalize the money launderer and decriminalize the drug user – will, if instituted, turn the Class War that is the Drug War on its head.

For those capable of reading between the lines, these two trains were set on a collision course from the moment that Lula was elected last October… Then, when he appointed known legalization advocates like Bastos and Soares to his top law enforcement positions, a signal was sent… Now his Health Ministry has also jumped into the fray, with its carefully constructed proposal to decriminalize the drug users and addicts and institute “harm reduction” programs to diminish the damages associated with drug use under prohibition…

It could be seen last February 7th, when Judge Walter Maierovitch, the nation’s first drug czar, penned a column for the daily Corrieo Braziliense titled “Attention, Lula!” (see the original in Portuguese).

“In June of 1998, Lula da Silva, now president of Brazil, signed a document that protested against the policies regarding illicit drugs,” reminded Maierovitch.

That letter, kind readers, appears at:

It says:

“We believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself…”

The letter, signed by Lula and many other world leaders, referred to the prohibitionist drug war as the sire of an entire “industry” that harms society:

“This industry has empowered organized criminals, corrupted governments at all levels, eroded international security, stimulated violence, and distorted both economic markets and moral values. These are the consequences not of drug use per se, but of decades of failed and futile drug war policies…

“In many parts of the world, drug war politics impede public health efforts to stem the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other infectious diseases. Human rights are violated, environmental assaults perpetrated and prisons inundated with hundreds of thousands of drug law violators…

“Persisting in our current policies will only result in more drug abuse, more empowerment of drug markets and criminals, and more disease and suffering…”

Maierovitch (see his October 2002 Narco News interview by Luis Gómez), a month into Lula’s presidency, reminded Lula of his prior words.

“As President,” Maierovitch wrote, “Lula still has not addressed a change in the drug policy of the previous government… It may be that he was influenced by the United States and that has made him less coherent on the issue. In the event that this has occurred, Lula… will have already conformed to the old policy, and one cannot serve two masters.”

It was a wake-up call, a shot across the bow from the former drug czar: Lula, keep your word!

“A Mirror of the 1920s”

Then, in late February, came the sensationally reported wave of 1920s-invoking gang-war violence prior to Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro.

On February 25th, one man stood up on the Senate floor to say “enough!”

Senator Jefferson Péres, of the Democratic Labor Party (PDT, in its Portuguese initials) rose from his seat:

Senator Jefferson Péres: Legalization means “the extinction of narco-trafficking.”
“Mister President, I am not going to use adjectives. It is useless to exaggerate what happened yesterday in Rio de Janeiro, and what keeps happening: City Hall was sprayed with bullets; the Government Palace, or Guanabara Palace, too; streets of Rio de Janeiro are used as shopping centers on orders of narco-traffickers. And yesterday, we experienced urban guerrilla war, terrorism, and grenades, on Vieira Souto Avenue.

“All adjectives are useless. We will see, in short time, over the next week, speeches filled with rhetoric in this Senate, and articles in the newspapers that later, after all this, will fall silent…

“We are losing the capacity to be indignant to what is intolerable, Mister President…

“Mister President… why don’t we – and I have the courage to say this, challenging even public opinion – discuss the legalization of drugs? Narco-trafficking is a cancer that cannot be eradicated. As long as there are consumers of drugs – and there always will be – there will be producers, sellers, and narco-trafficking….

“With the extinction of the its underground nature, narco-trafficking will die. He who defends this is not in favor of narco-trafficking, he is in favor of its death. It is a question of doing a cost-benefit analysis. The cost of legalization of drug will be, maybe, a rise in consumption, but the benefit will be the extinction of narco-trafficking…

“What is happening in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo seems a perfect mirror of the United States in the 1920s; the prohibition of drinks; the spread of underground territories in the entire American country, even in the rural areas; the proliferation of gangs, of whom Al Capone was emblematic; the Parallel State in Chicago and other large American cities. This only disappeared with the end of the Dry Laws.”

Senator Péres then called for a Congressional Commission “to discuss this very serious problem… without fear, with courage… the possible legalization of drugs…”

At that point in the Senate proceedings, another Senator, from Rio de Janeiro, a conservative Senator who is viewed as more closely allied with the state government of Rosinha Matheus and Anthony Garotinho in his region than to the Lula administration and its Workers Party… Senator Sergio Cabral rose from his seat.

Cabral followed:

Senator Sérgio Cabral: Drug Prohibition is a “hypocritical policy.”
“Rio de Janeiro, like all the large cities of Brazil, lives this drama of violence, and narco-trafficking, as Senator Jefferson Péres well knows, is the principal cause. And, without a doubt, narco-trafficking is the major guilty party, today, for the high indexes of violence in the large urban centers, especially in Rio de Janeiro.

“The Civil Police, and the Military Police, of the State of Rio de Janeiro, spend 80 percent of their energies in their efforts to combat this federal crime, this crime that is not governed by state law. Your honorable Senator was very happy that Senator Péres addressed this national issue that doesn’t only concern Governor Rosinha Garotinho and the State Public Safety Secretary. Now is the hour that the Federal government should begin to be concerned with this question…

“From the point of view of this battle against violence, Senator Jefferson Péres was very courageous, very truthful… in relation to a new analysis of drug policy, of the prohibition, of what generates the violence… The honorable Senator remembers the 1920s in the United States. And we remember that this policy, from my point of view hypocritical, commanded by the United States in relation to the fight against drugs, generates a much higher price, and much more violence, than if we were to confront the issue of decriminalization of the drug user with seriousness. In this sense, Europe has advanced greatly.

“In fact, this policy is a failed model, a model, as the Honorable Senator knows, that primarily attacks the poor, and also the middle class, because the violence knows no race, no color, no social class, in relation to the large cities…

“That is why, Mister President, I believe that what Rio de Janeiro experienced yesterday is what, absolutely, Brazil experiences every day in its large urban centers. The Federal Government needs to establish a public safety policy… And, at the same time – because one thing must occur parallel to the other – somebody… the Federal Government, the National Congress, the Senate… must begin the debate about drugs: To legalize or not, and the costs to Brazilian society, to the Brazilian family, caused by their illegality.”

Senator Cabral, the author of those words, is a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB, in its Portuguese initials) and his political career, although a relatively young man, and also a journalist and author, has been long. In 1989 he campaigned for presidential candidate Mário Covas, and then endorsed Lula’s unsuccessful campaign that year in the second round when his own candidate didn’t make it. In 1994 and 1998, Cabral supported the victorious campaigns of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. And last year he supported José Serra, the official candidate defeated in the final round by Lula. But as he said on the Senate floor, whatever matters divide the politicians, the issue of drug legalization is too important to get bogged down in partisan politics… What matters, says Cabral, is what is good for the country.

So, last Thursday, on the Senate floor, Cabral returned yet again to the meat of the matter. He said to Attorney General Bastos:

“One of the issues that has not yet come to its conclusion in this Senate is urban violence and the decriminalization of drugs… The drug user in Brazil is treated like a trafficker. Time, police, intelligence, money, are spent to combat the drug user, when he should be receiving treatment…”

Bastos replied:

“The decriminalization of drugs is an important issue. I say we should walk in this direction.”

And so, kind reader, you can see, that the statements last week by President Lula and by Attorney General Bastos, the statements in recent weeks by Bastos, by Soares, by the Health Ministry, have not occurred in a vacuum. For months, the pressure has been building, not just from significant sectors of Civil Society, but also from leaders of competing political parties…

A Consensus Within a Plurality

This process can’t be called a consensus; as Maierovitch warned, it has its opponents in Washington… and as Lula warned, the drug war has its powerful constituencies in “the large capitals of finance” and “international business” as well as the “black box” of the Judiciary…

And there is still the problem of a Commercial Media that sucks on the crack-pipe of “the Video Game Drug War,” and the weak-willed politicians who partake daily of that pipe… This mirrors the same political problem inside the United States…

This can be called, however, the birth of a consensus within a significant plurality of true leaders and Civil Society in Brazil… a consensus within a plurality that includes the president of the nation, his attorney general, his top cop, his health department, his political party and conscientious leaders of competing political parties…

These statements come after careful thought and strategizing. These are not the knee-jerk hits on the crack-pipe of Media Spectacle that have characterized the drug war circus in Brazil to date… This is an orchestrated, step-by-step, attempt to break a harmful cycle…

The Commercial Media still doesn’t see it… Or maybe its bosses do see it and the order has come down to look the other way… But not even they expected Lula and Bastos to play a trump card…

A warning was sent this week in Brazil… A warning, to the real narcos, to those who wear a suit and tie, to those who wear robes, to those who wear badges, to those who carry diplomatic pouches, and including to those who wear press passes… To those who claim to be fighting a “war on drugs” even as it is they who profit most from its violence and prohibition-caused crime… And to those in “the large capitals of finance” to whom they all answer:

If the Drug War is a Class War, well, Lula and Bastos have declared: That war is going to be fought from the bottom-up now.

Bastos was very specific on the timeline: His crackdown on drug money laundering will be fully operational by the end of 2003.

It is not enough to appeal to the powerful to listen to reason. A sledgehammer, or perhaps a sword, must be raised over Power’s head.

The clock is ticking in a country called América. The real narcos, the “respectable” ones, the ones who pretend to fight the drug war that benefits them and them only, have eight months to figure it out – to get out of the way of drug legalization – before the Black Box, with its first names, it last names, its documents, its numbers and paper trails, opens wide: “The benefit,” said Senator Jefferson Péres, “will be the extinction of narco-trafficking.” The law of evolution kicks in: Evolve… or die.

And it no longer matters whether the Commercial Media wakes up and reports the truth or not. After all, kind reader, reflect on this: the news still got to you.

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