Rio de Janeiro’s Pacification Police Units (UPP) are celebrating their fifth year in 2013. They do so with generally positive approval ratings from the media and society as a whole. A recent study by Instituto Data Favela indicates that 75% of favelas inhabitants approve of the UPPs. Notwithstanding major crises and criticism, the UPP constitute the single most important public security initiative in the state. And yet the persistent informality of the UPP may eventually undermine its sustainability. (See also: Rio slum pacification police accused of torture, murder)
Illicit cannabis factory farmers are arming themselves with sawn-off shotguns, CS sprays and machetes and even setting booby traps to protect their crops from rival gangs, according to a police study published today. The report for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) reveals there has been a boom in cannabis production across Britain in the last two years, with nearly 7,000 illegal farms and factories uncovered in 2009/10 alone.
Penalties for growing and selling cannabis must be toughened because a surge in the trade is driving up shootings and gang-related violence, a senior police officer has warned. According to Assistant Chief Constable Andy Ward of Merseyside police, an "explosion" in cannabis production has resulted in bitter struggles between rival gangs keen to exploit the ease by which cannabis can be manufactured and what they regard as easy money.
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.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday turned up pressure on the United States to curb demand for illicit drugs, hinting that legalization of narcotics may be needed to weaken the drug cartels. Mexico, which has been racked by a bloody conflict between the government and drug cartels, is paying the price for its proximity to the United States, Calderon said in a speech to the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 police blitzes in this Olympic city’s biggest slums are meant to show the world that Rio is winning the fight against violent drug gangs that have ruled the shantytowns for decades. With this weekend’s occupation of the Rocinha slum, home to 100,000 people, authorities secured key areas near athletic events planned for the 2016 Games. Since the security program began three years ago, 19 permanent “police pacification units,” or UPPs, have been created. The problem is of such scale that even the main architect of the program acknowledges that policing alone will not halt the drug trade. Instead, the goal of the invasions is to win back strategic territory and take guns away from the gangs.
Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala face the need to modify their approach to the fight against drug trafficking and are urging the world to do the same. But Mexico and Colombia’s willingness to make the necessary changes is unclear. The three countries are connected by a powerful circuit of trafficking of drugs – whose main market is the United States – weapons and money from illegal activities. But the extent of the problem and the way drug organisations operate in each one of these countries vary.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is advocating the international legalization of drugs even as he is moving to fight narcotics cartels with the biggest military buildup in the Central American country since its long and bloody civil war. The president said the traditional war on drugs had failed over the past half century, and that the United States' inability to deal with its drug consumption problem left Central America with no option but to promote legalizing drugs in some way.
Dan Werb, Greg Rowell, Gordon Guyatt, Thomas Kerr, Julio Montaner, Evan Wood
01 April 2010
This report consists of a scientific review that illustrates the relationship between drug law enforcement and drug-related violence. Violence is among the primary concerns of communities around the world, and research from many settings has demonstrated clear links between violence and the illicit drug trade, particularly in urban settings. While violence has traditionally been framed as resulting from the effects of drugs on individual users (e.g., drug-induced psychosis), violence in drug markets and in drug-producing areas such as Mexico is increasingly understood as a means for drug gangs to gain or maintain a share of the lucrative illicit drug market.
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.
Ioan Grillo, journalist, author of “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency”
01 November 2012
We have to face up to the hard reasons why thousands of young men (and some women) with full mental faculties have become serial killers. These reasons should be taken into account by residents of Colorado, Washington state and Oregon when they vote on referendums to legalize marijuana. The painful truth is that the monster of Mexican cartels has been pumped up by decades of Americans buying illegal drugs under the policies of prohibition. If voters do choose to legalize marijuana it would be a historic decision, but it would also open up a can of worms. The U.S. federal government and even the United Nations would be forced to react to a state’s resolution to break from the path.
Despite efforts by governments in Latin America, illicit drugs continue to provide one of the largest incomes for criminal organizations, enabling them to penetrate and corrupt political and social institutions.
Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programs of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Yet two parallel trends have resulted in a dramatic change in course: the emergence of left-wing governments that have challenged Washington’s historic patterns of unilateralism and interventionism and growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government.