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.
Latin American countries are turning to Europe for lessons on fighting drugs after souring on the prohibition-style approach of the violent and costly U.S.-led war on drugs. Until recently, most Latin American countries had zero-tolerance rules on drugs inspired by the United States. But now countries from Brazil to Guatemala are exploring relaxing penalties for personal use of narcotics, following examples such as Spain and Portugal that have channeled resources to prevention rather than clogging jails.
Four decades after Washington declared its "war on drugs" and began to spread the doctrine south of the U.S. border, the government of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro decided to shift away from that approach towards a strategy focused on community policing. The new focus has already produced results in some of the city’s favelas or shanty towns, which were long off-limits to outsiders, including police. The process began in 2009 with the installation of "Police Pacification Units" (UPPs) in the favelas.
The city of Copenhagen should be growing its own weed, said its mayor. According to Social Democrat Frank Jensen, the Danish capital can only get a grip on its huge trade in Cannabis if the state itself muscles in and displaces the pushers. Aware that a municipal government peddling its own grass might sound a little crunchy, Jensen is emphasizing the proposal's seriousness. "This isn’t a hippie proposal," he told newspaper Berlingske. "It's being discussed by people in suits and ties." (Editorial: Legalize marijuana on a trial basis)
Latin American leaders have joined together to condemn the U.S. government for soaring drug violence in their countries, blaming the United States for the transnational cartels that have grown rich and powerful smuggling dope north and guns south. Alongside official declarations, Latin American governments have expressed growing disgust for U.S. drug consumers — both the addict and the weekend recreational user heedless to the misery and destruction paid for their pleasures.
Homicides have fallen 65 percent in the Rio de Janeiro favelas where Police Pacification Units have been installed during four years of the flagship scheme -- an impressive figure, but one that could just indicate a displacement of violence to other regions. A study by Rio's Public Security Institute (ISP) looked at 22 Rio neighborhoods where Police Pacification Units (UPPs) have been in operation for more than a year.
Latin American leaders are increasingly speaking out against prohibition. And public opinion in America, especially when it comes to legalizing pot, is shifting very rapidly. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has wrapped up a trip to Mexico and Honduras, where he held talks with Central American leaders on regional security efforts and drug trafficking. Biden’s visit comes amid an emerging rift between the Obama administration and its Central American allies on the drug war. There is a growing belief among Central American leaders that decriminalization and legalization of some drugs could help reduce the power of drug cartels and reduce the bloodshed connected to the drug war.
Ending the consumption and the trafficking of illegal drugs is “impossible”, according to Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s outgoing president. In an interview with The Economist Mr Calderón, whose battle with organised crime has come to define his six years in office, said that countries whose citizens consume drugs should find "market mechanisms" to prevent their money from getting into the hands of criminals in Latin America.
Faced with this soiled wedge between state legislation and federal law within the United States, Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his advisors have already concluded there will have to be a significant change in their anti-narcotics policy. Weeding out the marijuana issue was prudently left to behind closed door discussions.
Relationships with countries racked by drug violence and organized crime should focus more on economic development and less on the endless battles against drug traffickers and organized crime capos that have left few clear victors. The countries, Mexico in particular, need to set their own course on security, with the United States playing more of a backing role. That approach runs the risk of being seen as kowtowing to governments more concerned about their public image than the underlying problems tarnishing it.
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.
Colombia's chief public prosecutor has called for a referendum on whether to legalise drug consumption, in response to plans to set up a network of public centres where users can consume illicit drugs under supervision. The so-called “controlled consumption centres” are part of a drive by Gustavo Petro, the mayor of the capital, Bogotá, to reduce drug-related crime in the city.
The "take-over" of Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, by heavily armed police and military units was seen by some as a media spectacle and by others as part of a successful strategy of regaining state control over an area ruled by armed drug gangs. Less than three hours after 3,000 police and soldiers occupied the favela or in the south of the city, Rio de Janeiro state Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame announced the "recovery of the territory" by the state.
An average of five people were killed by police every day in Brazil last year, according to an annual security report, revealing an entrenched culture of violence within the country's security forces. Brazil's Forum of Public Security joined forces with US non-governmental organization (NGO) Open Society Foundations to conduct an in-depth study of police killings as part of its annual report, concluding that the country's security forces are beset by a "culture of violence."
A study released by a respected Mexican think tank asserts that proposals to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, Oregon and Washington could cut Mexican drug cartels' earnings from traffic to the U.S. by as much as 30 percent. Opponents questioned some of the study's assumptions, saying the proposals could also offer new opportunities for cartels to operate inside the U.S. and replace any profit lost to a drop in international smuggling.
Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will vote on whether to legalise marijuana. Polls suggest that the initiatives have a decent chance of passing in Washington and Colorado (Oregon is a longer shot).The impact on Mexico could be profound. Between 40% and 70% of American pot is reckoned to be grown in Mexico. According to a recent study by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), a think-tank in Mexico City, the American marijuana business brings in about $2 billion a year to Mexico’s drug traffickers.
Part of the solution to end drug violence in Mexico should include legalizing drugs like marijuana for personal use, according to former President Vicente Fox. "In order to get out of this trap (of drug violence caused by organized crime), I'm specifically proposing the legalization of the drug," Fox said. He also said the Mexican government should "retire the army from the task of combating criminal gangs."
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.
War, as I came to report it, was something fought between people with causes, however crazy or honourable: like between the American and British occupiers of Iraq and the insurgents who opposed them. Then I stumbled across Mexico's drug war – which has claimed nearly 40,000 lives, mostly civilians – and all the rules changed. This is warfare for the 21st century, and another creature altogether.
The police, who used to shoot first and ask questions later in Santa Marta, a Rio de Janeiro shantytown, are now getting on well with the local community – the result of a state government plan that nevertheless has drawn criticism. Out of long habit, many local residents in the Santa Marta "favela" do not dare talk openly about the police who have been permanently posted in their neighbourhood for the past six months, as part of what the Rio de Janeiro state government describes as a plan to "pacify" the slums.