Brazil and Drugs overview

7 February 2007
TNI

Militarisation of the drug war, especially in poor neighbourhoods and rural areas, will backfire unless enforcement programmes are designed carefully in combination with comprehensive policies that address social segregation and the extreme levels of inequality in Brazil.

Brazil

The illicit drugs industry fuels Brazil's tremendous social and criminal violence problems. The levels of violence related to drug trafficking in urban centres are comparable to a war zone. Guns kill more young people below the age of 18 each year in Rio de Janeiro than in Colombia. Many inhabitants of favelas are, in fact, living in occupied territories dominated by self-appointed gang lords, while the state is largely absent in procuring security and adequate social and housing conditions. In the rural North-East of Brazil, in the socalled "marijuana polygon", the levels of violence are sometimes even higher due to brutal land disputes and conflicts related to the illicit cultivation of marijuana. There are 40,000 rural workers in marijuana plantations with limited options seek or are forced into the drug trade as a strategy for survival. Many are forced to work there by criminal gangs.

Adding to the problem is widespread police corruption and outright collaboration with drug gangs. The fight against violence in Brazil is characterised by an indiscriminate and abusive violence and disrespect for human rights on the part of police forces operating with impunity. The consequences of drug policies and the businesslike organisation of the productive chain of drugs have had negative effects on Brazilian society. Of immediate concern are the high levels of homicides - mostly among poor black men between 15 and 24 years of age. The 'war against crime' only results in an escalation of violence and the conclusion seems clear that it cannot be left to the security forces without a thoroughgoing reform of the police. Militarisation of the drug war, especially in poor neighbourhoods and rural areas, will backfire unless enforcement programmes are designed carefully in combination with comprehensive policies that address social segregation and the extreme levels of inequality in Brazil. In the region, Brazil will only be dragged more into a drug war that has failed to show any significant results.

TNI on Brazil

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