Right before the United States brought ex-Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega to trial in Miami, in 1992, Carlos Lehder Rivas, the Medellín Cartel chief, in his anti-imperialistic laden deposition incriminating Noriega, mocked the US: "We, the poor people of Latin America," he said. "We have been exploited for years by Yankee imperialism. But the day of reckoning is coming. Your Honor, cocaine is our revenge, it is Latin America's atomic bomb."
He was referring to the widespread use of cocaine in the States. And Lehder was right. He only forgot one detail: the effects of the nuclear bomb he so competently had helped to unleash aren't confined to the American territory. The device is making victims throughout the exploited countries from which he contended to be an avenger. Among them, Brazil has become an important character in the drug scene as a middleman, a producer and a consumer of drugs.
Eloy Salino da Costa, 55, is in jail at the Cabo Frio (Rio) police station, after having called the police and confessed to having killed his young son Leandro Bocater da Costa. On November 25, Costa shot his drug-addicted son four times at the Costa family's bar. "How could a father raise a child for 23 years and then murder him?", he asked himself in a conversation with a reporter. The elder Costa says he is less worried about the 30 years in jail he can get for his crime than the misery that he has brought to his family. According to him, Leandro was addicted to cocaine for many years and he had already sold properties to provide for the son's addiction. The killing occurred when Leandro asked for more money to pay his debts to drug traffickers. Eloy took a baseball bat and then a revolver to force the son to leave. "Kill me," said the son, "or I'll kill you." "I had no choice," says Costa. "But now I want to kill myself."
Costa's problem with drugs is not that uncommon anymore. The use of cocaine and crack once limited to street kids is now widespread throughout Brazil. In 1995, 12 tons of marijuana were seized in the whole country, while the same amount was reached in July in 1996, according to the Federal Police. In 1995 the police have also seized 5.3 tons of cocaine, 25 lbs. of crack, 15 lbs. of hashish, a half ton of coca paste and destroyed 2.5 million marijuana plants. And despite not being reported in police statistics, heroin (which costs $280 a gram in São Paulo compared to $20 in the US) is making serious inroads among the well-to-do. Drug seizures have been increasing, and despite what the US would like us to believe, Brazil is one of the most aggressive countries when dealing with the problem of drugs, having no known high authority involved in drug trafficking.
Drug trafficking is a yearly $300-billion business in the world, which surpasses the $206 billion of the pharmaceutical industry. The United States, world leader in drug consumption, spends $30 billion a year to fight drugs and treat drug addicted people. It even offered Brazil $600,000 to help the country combat drugs, amount considered so laughable by the Brazilian authorities that they decided to pass up the offer. Brazilians still had another reason to reject the meager aid: they don't agree on how Americans want to control the traffic. While Brazil's Justice Ministry wants to concentrate its efforts at the main entrances of the drug in Brazil, the US would like a better control of the airports from where the drug is leaving the country to the States and Europe.
In the last two years, the so-called "white triangle," — an Amazon basin area comprising territories from Peru, Colombia and Brazil — has become the world's main producer and distributor of cocaine, responding for 60 percent of the Yankee cocaine trade. According to Rosendo Temoche Lara, from the Iquitos (Peru) Customs, cocaine is being produced along riverbanks in all three countries. Lara says that many boats in the Amazon river have been found carrying ether, acetone, and other chemicals needed to produce cocaine. Part of this load, he guarantees, is being delivered to labs along the Javari river, an Amazon tributary.
Commissioner Mauro Spósito, the Amazonas state Federal Police Superintendent and a member of the GAN (Grupo de Informação sobre o Narcotráfico - Group of Information on Narcotraffic), fears that these riverbank labs might soon be the base for a Brazilian Medellín. He denounces that the drug lords expelled from Peru and Colombia through the efforts of the American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are settling down in the Brazilian side. Thanks to bank accounts tracking and informers' help, GAN has prepared a list of 300 Brazilian politicians and businessmen involved in drug trafficking. According to Spósito in an interview with Rio's daily O Globo, the cocaine transportation is led by Antônio Mota Graça who is the brother of Floriano Ramos Graça, the mayor of Benjamin Constant in the Amazonas state.
Press reports indicate that the Manaus — the capital of Amazonas — Narcotics Department is also the headquarters for FIRMA, a group of drug traffickers and hit men formed by policemen and businessmen. FIRMA is allegedly behind more than 50 murders. Carlos Coelho, a Manaus prosecutor says he has proof that José Cavalcanti Filho and his deputy Antônio Chicre Neto, the men in charge of Narcotics in Manaus are also in the command of drug distribution. Says Coelho, "I cannot put this gang behind bars because the civilian police is not cooperating with the investigation nor helping with finding the victims' bodies."
Brazil has become the world's biggest corridor for cocaine transportation. Tricks to carry drugs across the country are varied and ingenuous. In the state of Rondônia, for example, cocaine is often hidden among coffee bags, a measure that prevents the loot to be whiffed by even the best sniff dogs. A careful inspection is always time consuming and would require an army of inspectors. Even in the US, according to the Departments of Justice's DEA, not more than 3 percent of all incoming containers is duly examined.
Brazil has been an important conduit for drugs since the 80s, but only recently its role has been adequately assessed. The country has been so neglected in the world drug economy that there was no Brazilian representative at the Antidrug Summit in Cartagena (Colombia) in 1990 and then again in San Antonio (Texas) in 1992.
The main Brazilian stops in the cocaine route on its way to Miami and Europe are towns located on the border with Bolivia as well as the ports of Itajaí in Santa Catarina and Santos in São Paulo and the cities of São Paulo and Rio. Some small municipalities without any important economic activity have become key-cities for the traffic. They are places like Ladário in Mato Grosso do Sul and Caracaraí in Roraima.
With the monetary stability brought by the Real, the domestic traffickers who work as middlemen between Bolivia and the US and Europe are getting their payment in kind. This has substituted the dollar which was the main currency for drug dealers in the region. For every ton of cocaine transported, the national courier gets between 100 to 200 kg.
The cocaine that arrives in Brazil is not always the powder ready for consumption. In the 90s, more and more Brazilians are being involved in producing cocaine from the coca paste. The labs in charge of this process are spread mainly in the states of Amazonas and Mato Grosso.
A HUGE EMPLOYER
Drugs guarantee jobs to at least a quarter of a million people. Around 100,000 workers are employed by the marijuana plantations in Pernambuco in the Brazilian Northeast and another 150,000 sell marijuana, crack and cocaine in the streets of Rio and São Paulo.
It's the drug trade that makes the Fourth-World poor and drought-stricken Polígono das Secas (Drought Polygon) in the Brazilian Northeast an island of prosperity encircled by abject poverty. The area comprising some 30 municipalities spreads over 256 small islands in the São Francisco river and includes towns such as Orocó, Ibó, and Cabrobó, which was once known as the Brazilian onion capital, but has now become the cannabis capital of Brazil.
Poverty hasn't disappeared in the area and 50 percent of the active population has no jobs, but there is no mendicancy in the streets and those who received a monthly $50 government check to work in the so-called frentes de combate à seca (drought fighting fronts) can now make $30 for a day's work in a marijuana plantation. For similar work at an onion field he can't make more than $3 a day.
For the land owner — even though many pot fields are on government land — the pot culture is also much more lucrative. While he gets $30 for a kg. of marijuana, he can't charge more than 50 cents for a kg. of beans. João Freire, mayor of Cabrobó, says that he understands the problem. Talking to weekly newsmagazine Isto É, he noted: "The government doesn't finance the production of food, neither guarantees a minimum price for the crops. The rural land owner has no choice but to plant marijuana."
The president of Cabrobó's Rural Workers' Union, João Neném, agrees with the mayor: "We are against it, but we cannot deny that marijuana has helped to solve social problems in the region. People here end up working in the maconhais (marijuana fields). The alternative would be to steal so they can feed their families. "
Cabrobó's military police seem resigned to their role of passive onlooker. To be able to do anything they would need a helicopter, a powerful boat and personnel. They have nothing of the sort. The little boat they got, has a broken engine and there's no prediction for when it will be fixed. Even with a powerful boat the MP soldiers wouldn't go out in the treacherous São Francisco water. Most of the two dozen soldiers don't know how to swim.
Many of the workers in the plantations live in a regime of semi-slavery, during the five months they spend working the cannabis fields. These men have a silence code and are armed, acting as their own security guard. According to Aécio Francisco Coelho, Cabrobós' police commissioner, every month a worker is murdered after leaving the
The Maconha Polygon should produce 1.5 million tons of marijuana in 1996. The Federal Police says that the production will be less than 1 million tons since they have destroyed 2.7 million cannabis plants in recent months. Inspired by the Paraguayan marijuana producers, Pernambuco has been pressing its pot before shipping it. Police has already apprehended 100 pound marijuana "bricks", but normally these packages don't weight more than eight lb. The marijuana leaves the fields for $50 the kg and increases more than 30 times in price when it gets to the final consumer, who pays $1,600 for a kg of the product.
Following the New York inner city lead, São Paulo's poor suburbs were the first to use the cheap and very addictive crack starting in 1988 and smoked it in improvised tubing pipes. In about two years the Yankee invention had spread throughout the city. Downtown, street kids used plastic cups and bottles. Yogurt cups seem to be the favorite pipe for the middle-class youngsters. Today, it seems that the cocaine stones are known all over the country. They can be found in every major city including Rio, Brasília, and Belo Horizonte (capital of Minas Gerais) and more and more in smaller towns across the nation.
São Paulo's Denarc (Departamento de Investigação sobre Narcóticos — Narcotics Investigation Department) estimates that there are 150,000 crack addicts in São Paulo city alone. Many of them are middle-class and upper middle-class people. The little stones — they are known by points and point 8 is considered a good size — can be bought in 5,000 spots around town for a price between $5 and $10 each. For $30, a person can use the disque-pedra (dial-stone) service calling a pager number and then choosing a spot where to receive the delivery. The crack-addicts spend $200 million only in São Paulo.
According to the Denarc, 61 percent of drug dependents in São Paulo have crack as their drug of choice. Cocaine comes in second with 10.3 percent. The Denarc has also found that ninety percent of crack addicts end up losing their jobs, leaving school and selling everything they have in order to buy the stones. In six months, people using crack start having hallucinations, show extreme aggressiveness and might start a life of crime. For cocaine users this deteriorating process might take three years. More than half of the minors caught by police for committing a crime in the first six months of 1996 confessed they acted under the influence of crack.
"Today in São Paulo, from every 100 people looking for drug addiction treatment, more than 90 are hooked on crack," says psychiatrist Ronaldo Laranjeira, coordinator of the Escola Paulista de Medicina's Alcohol and Drugs Research Department. He compares crack to fast food: "Crack has done for cocaine the same McDonald has done for the hamburger. It made the drug popular and turned it into a hit among the middle class." According to Laranjeira, 80 percent of those asking for help at the public health system are middle-class youngsters. In many São Paulo drug rehabilitation centers the profile of the patients has changed dramatically in the last year and a half. While before the majority of inmates were the poor and those addicted to several drugs, today crack monopolizes the attention of the centers and brings in people from all social classes.
For Alberto Corazza, one of Denarc's director, the problem with drugs in Brazil starts with the authorities: "We don't have a national policy for combating drug traffic," he says. "Our police cannot be trusted and our policemen are antidemocratic, overbearing and corrupted. Besides they are not worried with human rights and have a history of lawlessness."
São Paulo's crack problem seems much worse than in any other Brazilian city. In Rio, the drug is much less spread. Newspaperman Marco Uchôa in his book Crack, o Caminho das Pedras (Crack, the Road of Stones) contends that crack is not being sold in Rio following a decision of the area's drug Mafia. According to Uchôa, Rio's drug lords know how devastating the crack habit can be, something that would weaken their control over their subordinates.
In Rio, the sale spots for drugs are supplied by a vast and informal network of matutos (hillbillies). They work under the drug lords at Rio's North Zone favelas which sell drugs: Acari, Alemão, Mangueira, Parada de Lucas and Vigário Geral. The matuto — there are several of them in each of the big favelas — takes care of the entire process of getting the drug to the consumer starting with a trip to Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia where he goes in his own car. After paying for the product, he gets the merchandise (a maximum of 30 lb.) in Corumbá (Mato Grosso do Sul), already in the Brazilian side of the border. He divides the product into 3 lbs. bricks with truck drivers who are used to hide the cocaine inside their cargo and who charge from $2,000 to $3,000 for the service. Once in the favela one pound of pure cocaine is multiplied by five through the addition of talc or corn starch to the drug.
The Rio drug lords are doing very well. A recent estimate by the Federal Police, following a five-year investigation, tells that four of Rio's main drug gangs are worth $30 million. They own farms, purebred horses, mansions, apartment buildings and all kinds of businesses spread throughout several states. These gangs were led by Paul Lir Alexander, Américo Carlos Fuchs (Alemão - The German), Luiz Fernando da Costa (Fernando Beira-Mar) and Ernaldo Pinto Medeiros (Uê).
All of them are in jail after being condemned by the Justice for drug traffic. Alexander, 40, was the wealthiest, with an estimated $20 million in assets, most of it in real estate. He was caught after a combined operation by the American DEA and the Brazilian Federal Police. Born in Santa Catarina, Alexander was a DEA agent before becoming a ring leader. He created several export companies in Rio and for three years sent dozens of tons of cocaine to the US inside electric transformers.
The DEA has criticized Brazil for not paying attention to all the drug money being laundered in the country. At the beginning of 1996 the US State Department released a document complaining of the feeble participation of Brazil in fighting drugs. The report talked about the refusal of some Brazilian authorities to back the Yankee drug-fighting initiatives. The Drug Enforcement Administration calls São Paulo and Rio the two largest money laundries in South America. The country washes $20 billion of drug-tainted money a year, according to US estimates. "That's just a wild guess," says Getúlio Bezerra Santos, deputy director of the federal Police Narcotics Division.
The bicheiros (illegal animal lottery bosses from Rio), according to the US government, are one of the main go-betweens in this scheme, using ghost companies to clean drug money and charging around 15 percent of the money laundered to do the job. Brazil has no specific laws to punish money laundering even though Congress has been debating the subject. Justice Minister Nélson Jobim has been pushing for the new law.
The Brazilian drug law was written in 1976. According to it, any user caught by police even with a baseado (little joint) in his pocket can get up to two years in prison. Curiously, an anti-drug activist, congressman, doctor and chemist Elias Murad is the one championing a new legislation which would treat users much more kindly. "The drug-addict needs to be treated and not jailed by the police," says Murad, who has submitted ten bills about the subject.
The congressional special commission on drugs has put together a bill utilizing five different bills dealing with the same subject. The bill has received 35 amendments most of them suggested by Justice minister Nélson Jobim who has been open to the decriminalizing of marijuana. Sociologist Ruth Cardoso, Brazil's first lady has also added her two bits to the discussion indicating that she is also in favor of decriminalizing pot smoking.
Legislation approved in December by the lower house (Câmara dos Deputados) would eliminate any time on jail for drug-addicts. The new bill, which still needs to be approved by a reluctant Senate and then signed into law by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, doesn't make any difference between light drugs as marijuana or stronger like cocaine or heroine. For Fernando Gabeira, a congressman who has become a vocal defender of the legalization of marijuana, the bill still represents too little. His intention is to launch a national campaign as part of his strategy to legalize the use of cannabis in the country.
Mariana grew up on the streets of downtown São Paulo. Six years ago, when she was only 11, she started selling crack. For every 50 stones she sells for an average price of $10 she can keep 5 to use them the way she pleases. Mariana smokes them, "but only at night after I have finished my job," she told a reporter.
According to SOS Criança (SOS Child), Mariana is just one of the 3,000 homeless children who walk around São Paulo, 90 percent of which have a drug problem. Most of them are between the ages of 7 and 15. The Homicide Division of the São Paulo police stated that drug trafficking and the use of crack have caused the deaths of 97 street children — or children in a street situation as is the politically correct way to refer to them — (75 boys and 22 girls) between the ages of 11 and 17 in the first six months of 1996.
In Rio, the use of children for selling cocaine and marijuana has increased fourfold in the last four years. They account for roughly half of the gangs that control 200 favelas in the whole state. Minors have been sought actively because they cost much less for the drug bosses. They receive less to work and if they are caught by police or killed they don't leave a family that has to be taken care of. A manager of traffic in a favela, however can make as much as $2,000 a month.
Rio's police data reveals that up to 1992, 45 percent of crimes committed by children were thefts, compared to 29.7 percent of the holdups and 5.2 percent of the drug trafficking. Nowadays, more than 40 percent of the children's problems with police have to do with drugs. From January to October 1996, from the 2,756 children detained and taken to Rio's Segunda Vara da Infância e Adolescência (Child and Adolescence Second Court), 44 percent were dealing with drugs. They were olheiros (scouts), vapores and bocas-de-fumo (drug distribution spots) managers.
In an interview with Rio's daily O Globo, B. (Brazilian law forbids the media from naming minors involved in crimes), 15, a drug manager in the favela do Arará, talked about his work before getting caught by police: "If a guy has what it takes, he can make money with pot. Each load of marijuana has 120 little packs. The owner of the place got 100, the vapor and I got 10 each. I could make $20 a day selling my share for $2 each. Isn't that good money? (The minimum wage is $100 a month in Brazil.) But you can't get high when you are working. Because if you steal any money you get killed."
Paulo César Barroso, a prosecutor at the Vara da Infância e Adolescência, asks: "How are you going to be able to hold down a poor boy who wants to climb the social ladder, who is full of ambition, and suddenly starts making more money than his parents because he is selling drugs?"
More than three years after the massacre at downtown Rio's Candelária church that left eight street children dead and horrified the world, there is a new generation of kids in the area. There are maybe 300 of them. They have nicknames like Bactéria, Bel, Camarão (Shrimp), Cebolinha (Little Onion), Menor (Minor), Menorzinho (The Smallest One), Ninha, Pit, Pretinho (Little Black One), Soró and Xuxa. Some things have changed. Today, only those without any money continue sniffing shoemaker's glue to get their high. Cocaine has become the drug of choice. But they still spend the day playing, mugging and getting high.
A recent study conducted by IBOPE (Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística — Brazilian Institute for Public Opinion and Statistics) in Rio, São Paulo, Campo Grande, Salvador and Porto Alegre, among children and young adulst between the ages of 9 and 21, revealed that 43 percent of them used drugs or had a friend who used them. The IBOPE work also showed that among 9 to 12-year-old children, 31 percent had already experimented with alcohol, 8 percent had smoked and 2 percent had tried pot. Among the older kids, the majority admitted having used some type of drug before the age of 15.
In an effort to take away some of the glamour linked to drugs, the Partnership Against Drugs Association — a group formed by 20 ad agencies and media outlets — has started a TV, radio and magazine campaign against drugs. The anti-drug message is urgent. According to NEPAD (Núcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas em Atenção ao Uso de Drogas — Center of Studies and Research Concerning Drug Use), close to 10 percent of Brazilian teens smoke pot regularly. Elementary and high school students ages 12 to 16 who go to private schools in Rio have told reporters that any student knows how to get a joint without having to deal with a stranger. Nepad's study has shown that 10.4 percent of the Zona Sul (the more affluent side of Rio) students smoke pot and 1 percent use cocaine. The average age in which they start their habit is 14.
A bill approved by the lower house of Congress in December introduces several new concepts to Brazilian drug legislation. Among them:
1. The drug user is not a police case anymore, but a medical-social problem. (The present law punishes drug users with six months to two years in jail.) The new law would impose fines and community service.
2. Drug -traffickers who are part of a gang would be treated more harshly. Now, traffickers who are condemned get from six to 15 years of jail time. With the new legislation the penalty would increase to up to 25 years, without the possibility of parole, bail or sentence reduction due to good behavior.
3. All public and private schools must include drug education in their curriculum, starting on the first grade.
In line with their counterparts in the US like the rap band Cypress Hill which sings "I Wanna Get High", Brazilian rockers aren't shy about their love for pot and coke. The group Planet Hemp, for example, was a hit with their first album called Usuário (User) in which they sang "Legalize Já" (Legalize Now) with lyrics such as: Legalize já / porque uma erva natural não pode te prejudicar. (Legalize now / because a natural herb cannot do you any harm). In Güentando a Ôia, the latest release by Som Livre one of the cuts, "Leonor", is a hymn to cocaine. The very successful rock band Raimundos is always singing about drugs too as well as Chico Science & Nação Zumbi who have included in their latest release the track Macô (an abbreviation for maconha, the Portuguese word for marijuana).
Narcóticos Anônimos (NA) — With chapters throughout the country. Tel: (5511) 242-9733
NAR-ANON — For the families of drug addicts. There are groups in 160 cities. Tel: (5521) 263-6595
NEPAD (Núcleo de Estudos e Pesquisas em Atenção ao Uso de Drogas — Center of Studies and Research Concerning Drug Use) from the Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro. Tel: (5521) 589-3269
Avião — (lit. plane) middleman
Baba — good money
Badaga — shoemaker's glue
Badagueiro — glue sniffer
Bagulho — joint
Banhista — (bather) someone who steals from a friend
Barato — high
Baseado, bagulho, bomba — pot
Bater pavão — steal
Bater um — (to beat one) to prepare the cocaine for snorting it
Bocada — (mouthful) — place to buy drugs
Bob Marley — marijuana
Boca-de-fumo — (mouth) point of sale of drugs
Bode — (goat) urge to sleep
Bodinha, bodinho — (little goat) girl, boy
Branco — (white) cocaine, faintness
Brecar — to dress well
Cagoete — snitch
Canaleta — (gutter) — vein
Caô — craziness or boaster
Chocolate — hashish
Crackeiro, craqueiro — a crack user
Dar o confere — to frisk someone while stealing
Dar o gogó — (give the Adam's apple) to catch by the throat
Dar uma luz — (give a light) transitory high
Derramar — (to pour) steal from the boca-de-fumo
Descuido — (carelessness) little theft
Docinho — (little candy) lysergic acid
Erva do diabo — (devil's weed) pot
Fazer um ganho — (to make a profit) to steal
Fino — (the thin one) pot cigarette
Fralda — (diaper) pot paper
Fritar pedra — (to fry stone) to smoke crack
Imbalista — passerby who nabs a mugger
Ir para Londres — (to go to London) to have sex
Lombra — high
Mardita — pot
Marica — (pansy) any object used to hold the grass
Matutos — (hillbillies) drug go-betweens in Rio
Malhada — cocaine mixed with talc or corn starch
Mela, merla — cocaine paste smoked in a pipe
Mesclado — crack and pot mix
Meter — to steal
Metranca — gun or machine gun
Mincha — metal bar to open cars
Mocó — place to sleep
Mula — (mule) person who carries drug in a bus or plane
Nóia — (from paranoia) drug high
Noiado — in a high
Palha — (straw) bad quality pot
Pedra — (stone) crack
Pico — (prick) injection in the vein
Pipar — to smoke a drug in a pipe
Poeira — (dust) cocaine
Plizzzzzz — mugging
Preto — (black) pot
Tuim — the almost instantaneous sensation provoked by crack
Tyson — (as in Mike Tyson) strong, knocking-down pot
Vapor — (steamboat) favela dweller who takes the drug to the consumer
Viajar — (to travel) to be intoxicated by a drug
Zoeira — high