Remarkable drug policy developments are taking place in Latin America. This is not only at the level of political debate, but is also reflected in actual legislative changes in a number of countries. All in all there is an undeniable regional trend of moving away from the ‘war on drugs’. This briefing explains the background to the opening of the drug policy debate in the region, summarises the most relevant aspects of the ongoing drug law reforms in some countries, and makes a series of recommendations that could help to move the debate forward in a productive manner.
At the upcoming Summit of the Americas, President Dilma has an unprecedented opportunity to contribute to building a new architecture for global drug policy. She can make a decisive break with the past. A new approach would emphasize public health, social justice and cultures of peace rather than repression, enforcement and war. If Brazil is to consolidate its international legitimacy and position as promoter of human rights, it needs to adopt more humane policies back home.
Prison riots in Venezuela. Jailbreaks in Mexico. Prison fires in Honduras. Latin America is displaying violent cases of the ails of its prison systems. Overcrowded and rundown, many of the region’s jails are out of control and ready to burst. In this in-depth series, GlobalPost gets inside some of the most violent jailhouses of the Americas to figure out what’s gone horribly wrong.
A host of academic, legal, health, political and social figures are joining together to back a campaign to decriminalise drug use in Brazil, as tens of thousands of consumers uninvolved in the drug trade are currently jailed. The “Drug Law: It’s Time to Change” campaign is an initiative launched by the Brazilian Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which aims to gather one million signatures in support of a bill that will be introduced in congress during the second half of 2013.
Once crack was introduced about six years ago, Mandela and the surrounding complex of shantytowns became Rio's main outdoor drug market, a "cracolandia," or crackland, where users bought the rocks, smoked and lingered until the next hit. Hordes of addicts lived in cardboard shacks and filthy blankets, scrambling for cash and a fix. Dealers have stopped selling the drug in Mandela and nearby Jacarezinho in a move that traffickers and others say will spread citywide within the next two years. The drug bosses, often born and raised in the very slums they now lord over, say crack destabilizes their communities.
Brazil has been struggling with drug violence for years. The problem got so bad that the country passed a law in 2006 to distinguish between dealers and users in handing out sentences, meant to reduce the overwhelming pressure on the justice and jail systems and to better single out dealers. But since then, the number of Brazilians in prison for drug charges has more than doubled and its total prison population has grown by 37 percent.
A bill calling for tougher sentences for drug possession and mandatory internment of addicts in Brazil has drawn fire from ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a strong advocate of drug decriminalization. "Treating drug use as a police case is useless and disastrous," he said in an interview with the daily O Globo. "Mandatory internment (of addicts) has been internationally condemned as inefficient, stigmatizing and a violation of human rights," said Cardoso who was in office from 1995 to 2002.
With a boom in crack use over the past decade, Brazilian authorities are struggling to stop the drug's spread, sparking a debate over the legality and efficiency of forcibly interning users. Brazil today is the world's largest consumer of both cocaine and its crack derivative, according to the Federal University of Sao Paolo. Adults can't be forced to stay in treatment, and most leave the shelters within three days. But children are kept in treatment against their will or returned to parents if they have a family.
The "pacification" of the favelas in this Brazilian city, aimed at driving out armed groups and fighting drug trafficking, has not yet become a fully effective public policy, says Eliana Sousa Silva, who has lived in one of Rio’s shantytowns for nearly 30 years. The pacification process begins when elite military police battalions are sent in to crack down on drug trafficking gangs. Once the drug mafias have been run out of the favela, permanent "Police Pacification Units" (UPPs) are installed to carry out community policing.