the Right of Getting High in Brazil
drug consumption be made legal in Brazil? Many Brazilian
leaders, including judges, are in favor of such legalization.
They believe that the more repression against drugs there is,
the more Brazilians will be subject to violence and crime. According
to them, the blame for narcotrafficking should be put on the law.
The auditorium, modeled
like a courtroom, receives its special guests with anticipation, along
with more than 100 people who are present, in the Philosophy and Social
Sciences building of the UFJR (Universidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroFederal
University of Rio de Janeiro) in downtown Rio. It's mid-May and the public
forum will discuss a fundamental question for Carioca daily life: "Democracy,
Human Rights, War and Narco-Trafficking."
Retired Judge Maria
Lúcia Karam makes the central point: "The state made consumption
of some substances illegal. Now, we have prohibition as a form of intervention
against the freedom of the individual." Her words set the tone of
A professor in the
Masters Program of Penal Sciences at Cândido Mendes University,
the judge explains that today, "the worst publicity trick is played
in advertising and selling the penal system as a product-service that
sells protection and security," and places the State in the seat
of the accused. And the accusations are strong ones.
The warning is shot:
The more State repression, the more violence.
The forum takes place
inside a Carioca reality, where, on television, the message is a lesson
of fear, or "distorted reasoning," as Judge Karam states. "The
state should be blamed for the violence because it was the state that
made illegal the drug market," she clarifies.
Luiz Eduardo Soares,
who was interviewed here by reporters from Globo TV and daily Folha
de S. Paulo, brought the official word from Brasília. Soares
is the National Public Safety Secretary. He believes that his job is to
"assure the right of the citizenry to liberty." The Secretary
also ponders that "Civil Society must be protected from an authoritarian
"The State has
a de-educating role," Karam affirms, explaining that "the worst
danger of criminality is that it serves as a pretext that leads to totalitarianism."
This way the hearing
makes it clear to its leading defendant that the errors of the past have
caused the injustices of the present.
Soares explains, briefly,
that his role in the administration of President Lula da Silva is "to
apply the national security plan in a manner that defends rights and liberties."
becomes an invisible network that permeates public institutions, infiltrating
the system," he observes.
In counterpoint, Karam
says, "by making certain goods and services illegal, the penal system
functions as the true creator of criminality and violence."
The demand for a "radical
change," as stated by Soares, must be applied in many spheres so
that the state "manipulating the fear and insecurity provoked by
real or imaginary actions," as stated by Karam, must be impeded from
"widening punitive power and intensifying control over the lives
The government strategy
arrives at its crucial moment: "The public officials that today include
the 550,000 police who work for the State, must be given political training
because they are armed. They will either be a force for barbarism or for
human rights," says Soares.
For him, the mission,
and this generates laughter in the audience, "is to make the police
come out of the closet: they deserve attention and not fear, but they
must work with dignity and with a peaceful orientation."
Violence in Rio
of the favela (shantytown) as a place of evil is fed by the media,"
notes Itamar Silva of the Bento Rubião Foundation, which works
with Carioca communities. "The absence of human rights in the favela
is quite clear in the case of the girl shot at Estácio de Sá
college and that of the eight youths killed on Turano Hill." The
names of the eight youths, all under 17 years of age, who were executed
by police in a clear case of "shoot first, ask questions later"
were not divulged by the newspapers nor mentioned on television.
"In the case
of Luciana Novaes," the girl killed at Estácio de Sá,
"the majority of the population felt comfortable with the resulting
repression in the favela," notes Silva.
"Look at the
fact that young people use drugs, that they want to experiment with drugs,"
explained Célia Szterenfeld, representing the Aborda (Associação
Brasileira de Redução de DanosBrazilian Harm Reduction
Association) at the forum. The youths have constant access to them. And
"the government's discourse is made on two levels: that of abstinence,
as portrayed by anti-drug campaigns, and that of chemical dependence in
extreme cases," she said as the forum's voice for Harm Reduction.
This strategy, which
has recently been embraced by public policy, dialogues with the majority
that is found between those two extremes, whether it's a public official
drinking a draft beer on a Friday night, or the tobacco smoker, or the
user of marijuana or other drugs. Szterenfeld outlined the "need
for honest drug education."
The State denies that
drugs exist and says they must be treated only with repression. "This
false image impedes the truth that public health is being harmed. Prohibition
causes more damage to users than the use or abuse of the drugs,"
and the State
Fernando Gabeira criticizes the new advertising campaign being shown in
Rio de Janeiro and other states that says "he who buys drugs is financing
this pioneer of the fight to decriminalize drug users, "the violence
is produced by the repression!" During his presentation, Gabeira
recited the history of disaster in the governmental campaigns, causing
laughter in the audience. "The first one said `Drugs? Not even dead!'
What a heavy concept! It's better to live using drugs than to die!"
Then, he recalls the sad "I'm straight, but I'm happy" campaign.
"It seems that this person needs to use drugs to feel pleasure!"
For judge Karam, "Taking
advantage of the mystery and fantasy that surround substances that were
the maximum State, vigilant and omnipresent, with drugs
qualified as illicit tends to the post-modern needs of creating new enemies
"The loser in
all this manipulation is the people. This conduct disturbs the liberty
and choices of the individual," says Karam.
that, "to blame the user is irresponsible and goes against human
rights." When the government doesn't comply with the duties designated
by its power, it exercises coercion to "install a pedagogy of fear,"
The reality of urban
violence is headed to "Rural Brazil." Eraldo José de
Souza, of the rural workers union of São Francisco, spoke of the
price of onions and yucca root, "plants that today yield 10 or 12
reals (three or four dollars) per week, while a plantation of marijuana
gives the rural worker 50 to 150 reals per week (fifteen to fifty dollars)."
What's rare in the Southeast is becoming quite common in the Northeast
where there are indications of a poppy crop, which could be the start
of a heroin market in Brazil. De Souza asks, "If the rural worker
in the United States can plant tobacco, why can't the Northeastern Brazilian
It should be grown
at least for medicinal use, as in the case of hemp with the substance
THC, the active drug in marijuana, which serves as a treatment for chemotherapy
patients. "Are we condemned to buy medicines made in the United States
where they permit the planting of cannabis to make them?" asked Congressman
"The State cannot
allow the creation of excessive laws," says Judge Karam, who adds
that, "there has been an ineffective attempt at control by policing."
With the other participants in this hearing, she arrives at the verdict:
"We need to make public safety policies with the people in the communities."
The discussion of
drug policy continues for another day of public debate. Gabeira, one of
the founders of the movement, says that, "I feel very happy to see
that people are finally discussing the issue of drugs more honestly."
is a journalist living in São Paulo. She runs a personal weblog
called "Body Without Organs" (http://www.drica.tk
). You can contact her at email@example.com
This article was
originally published in Narco News - www.narconews.com