“Another Amazon is possible” will be the slogan in Manaus from today (18 January) until Saturday. For four days an estimated 8-10,000 activists and campaigners from Brazil and surrounding countries are expected to descend on the Amazonian city to take part in the Pan-Amazon Social Forum.
Among the subjects they will tackle will be the drugs trade and the American presence in the region.
According to the Folha de São Paulo website, Brazilian army intelligence reports suggest that American soldiers are setting themselves up in cities near the border, including in Paraguay and Bolivia. In addition Colombia’s government has turned over its anti-narcotic teams for training by 500 US soldiers.
That will concern many of those meeting in Manaus; they believe that military solutions will resolve little.
Adilson Vieira, the Forum’s co-ordinator, said to the Folha that “Military intervention won’t resolve the problems, and in Colombia especially. It only reinforces the paramilitaries, leaving hundreds of peasants suffering persecution and deaths through repression.”
That same point was made in the first documentary of a three-part series about the cocaine business on Britain’s Channel 4 last Sunday night.
Focusing on the experience of Peru’s cocoa growers, the government’s destruction of their crop and failure to offer a viable alternative leaves many fearing the return of the Shining Path guerrilla movement.
Although left unspoken, the conclusion was clear: the current measures for tackling the drug problem do not seem to be working. But even if it is failing, as a method it has a long history.
As far back as the Miami summit ten years ago, which heralded a new dialogue and partnership between the US and Latin America, the same complaints were being made about the drugs war.
First that it was too focused on cocaine to the detriment of other drugs. Then that it concentrated too much on the Andean region, including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and ignored the other aspects of the trade including consumption and money laundering.
And finally that it remained too focused on the military with resulting human rights violations.
While Anti-American rhetoric is bound to be in evidence in Manaus this week, all those affected by the drug business will hope that some meaningful solutions may also be found.
They will include not only the cocoa growers who find themselves threatened on all sides, but those who don’t live in the Amazon as well.
That would also mean individuals living as far away as Zé and Leo, a reformed gang leader and his nephew, who want out of the drug business in Rio’s favelas.
The second of the three Cocaine documentaries, which focuses on the drug trade in Rio’s favelas, will be shown on Channel 4 in Britain at 8pm, Sunday, 23 January.
Guy Burton was born in Brazil and now lives in London. He has written widely on Brazil both for Brazzil and on his blog, Para Inglês Ver, which can be read at http://guyburton.blogspot.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.