In Brazil, possession of drugs for personal consumption is punished with educational measures and community service, not prison. In this video, a young man tells of the disparity in sentencing between the wealthy and the poor.
The number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in Brazil has increased over the last 20 years, but this has not affected the availability or consumption of drugs, reveals a study by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The study also shows that those who are locked up for drug offenses are mainly small-scale dealers who represent the lowest links in drug distribution operations, and not the large-scale wholesale traffickers who dominate the country’s illicit drug trafficking trade.
The number of people imprisoned for drug offenses in Brazil has increased over the last 20 years, but this has not affected the availability or consumption of drugs. The study also shows that those who are locked up for drug offenses are mainly small-scale dealers who represent the lowest links in drug distribution operations, and not the large-scale wholesale traffickers who dominate the country’s illicit drug trafficking trade.
It was a moment that residents of Rio de Janeiro thought would never come. For decades many of the city’s favelas have been ruled by drug traffickers or militias. Sporadic flare-ups would see the police go in to these self-built settlements seeking revenge, only to pull back leaving bodies scattered and the gangs to return to business. But last month when the city’s two main drug gangs began hijacking and torching vehicles at gunpoint, this time the authorities’ response was different.
Reports of human rights abuses committed during the police and military occupation of several favelas in this Brazilian city are jeopardising local residents’ newfound support for the security forces and posing challenges within the police. "I have never felt so humiliated," a local woman who takes in people’s laundry for a living told IPS. Asking to be identified merely as "D", she talked about what happened during the massive joint police and armed forces incursion in the Complexo do Alemão, a series of favelas or shantytowns on the north side of Rio de Janeiro.
Last month the film Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2) was released in Brazil. It is a sequel to the very successful 2007 film Elite Squad, a semi-fictional account of the BOPE – special heavily armed police units that invade the slums in Rio de Janeiro going after the drug trafficking gangs. In the new sequel the BOPE have a new enemy: paramilitary groups known as 'milícias' in stead of the usual suspects, the drug gangs of Rio.
The massive concentration and growth of corporate power poses a major threat to what remains of public services, highlighting the ever-deepening crisis of democracy, and the urgent need for people to reclaim the state.
The policy of a saturation police presence in the favelas or shantytowns that are home to around 20 percent of the population of Rio de Jnaeiro is merely a means of criminalising poverty, because it does nothing to address the underlying question of social exclusion, which drives the violence, human rights groups complain. A year and a half ago, State Governor Sergio Cabral began to send Pacification Police Units (UPPs), made up of members of the military police, into the slums to wrest control from drug gangs. The UPPs "are just one more way to exercise control over the poor," said Patricia Oliveira, a member of the Community Network Against Violence.
Renewed U.S. efforts to bring sanctions against Iran are more backlash for being snubbed in favour of a tripartite deal with Turkey and Brazil than they are about nuclear proliferation. A UN Security Council coalition may be able to block U.S. pressure for sanctions that would only punish Iranian civilians.
Brazil will soon have a special police task force targeting crack-cocaine. Meanwhile, the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais proposes its own drug fighting alternatives to address crack on the domestic front. Crack is a risk factor in urban violence, contributing to homicides and robberies in Brazilian cities. However, it is not the chemistry involved in crack, but the crack market that is increasing the crime and violence. How can rising crack use effectively be addressed, other than through mere suppression?
Tom Blickman, Paulo Jorge Ribeiro, Rosane Oliveira
01 March 2010
An examination of the rise of militias – well-organised private vigilante groups made up of rogue, dismissed or retired police officers, firemen and prison guards - in the recurrent episodes of extreme urban violence in Rio de Janeiro, which represents developments in urban security that spread far beyond Brazil.