Amid Poverty and Decaying Neighborhoods the Drug Business Is Thriving in Brazil

Brazil's Grajaú Bus Terminal Grajaú Bus Terminal, São Paulo Capital South Region. For years, the government of São Paulo has promised to extend train lines from popular Grajaú Bus Terminal – located at the overpopulated South region to its neighboring district, the Varginha Bus Terminal.

The South Region of São Paulo has become famous for its high crime rate and also for its high drug activity. It is possible to buy drugs in the area, 24 hours a day even at broad day light.

Even though it’s been 5 years since the Bus Terminal was inaugurated with the promise of an extension to the furthermost periphery areas, so far the project has yet to take off.

Instead, the area behind the Grajaú Bus Terminal has become a vacant spot accumulating garbage and being occupied by Favela Minhoca (Earthworm Shantytown).

If you would like to buy any sort of drug, like crack, cocaine or marijuana, you can simply go behind the busy bus terminal and talk to one of the many minors selling drugs throughout the day .

Many of them live in the shantytown behind the bus terminal and have dropped out of school in order to support families in a profitable business: drug selling.
 
Grajaú is not the only point in São Paulo where many minors work for extended shifts selling drugs. Old Downtown São Paulo for decades now has been one of the centers of illegal actions varying from child prostitution to drug dealing.

If you ask any Paulistano (São Paulo resident) where the crackland is, many will mention São Paulo’s old downtown. where quality of life has been deteriorating for long. There is no sign of revitalization with many old abandoned buildings falling apart.

The police is unable to control criminal activities and the government has long stopped investing in rehabilitation center. The state has also failed to provide assistance to those families who have lost their children to drug addiction.

Many children start their drug addiction problems early at school since many public schools lack social work support. Meanwhile drug dealers have been able to fulfill that space, promoting parties where many minors can buy and enjoy drugs.

The famous funk music street parties, known as Pancadão (Big Blow) take place at many poor areas of the city, over the weekend. In Brazil it is possible to sell alcohol to any minor without any proof of ID, as there is no oversight.

Emergency hotline 190 – local 911 – never responds to calls to visit such boisterous parties which normally end up in fights due to lack of police personnel.
 
According to the United Nations “2010 Drugs and Crime Report” 80% of the drugs commercialized in Brazil originates in Bolivia, which amounts to 40 tons of cocaine each year. 45% of the Marijuana originates in Paraguay. The United Nations report also points out that Brazil is one of the country with most drug apprehensions by the Federal Police.
 
It is easy to understand why drug problems have been such a pandemic among teenagers and children in São Paulo. Many cities do not invest in health centers for physical activities. The also don’t offer cultural programs or rehab centers in the poor areas.

Besides, state and federal government have long forgotten to invest in technical schools. At the same time, many private businesses have increased their level of demand for hiring, some of them requiring post graduation courses from a population that in most cases has not even completed basic high school.

In addition, most private businesses have throughout the years drastically decreased salaries, following former President Henrique Cardoso 1997 law, which determines that employer and employee must negotiate salary rates.

With such decision, many companies stopped seeing the need for yearly salary revision. Prior to that the government used to dictate the inflation, in which many companies would have to abide by and provide proper readjustments.
 
Many teenagers are unable to work until they complete the age of 19 due to mandatory military service. In Brazil you are eligible to work starting at 16, however due to mandatory army service at the age of 18, many companies are afraid of hiring an employee, who may or may not be released from work due to military obligation for 1.5 years. In this case, many of these young men will find alternative work: drug dealing being one of them.
 
Meanwhile the number of slums continue to rise due to the lack of funding for popular housing as the government cuts down on housing investment, forcing families to invade periphery areas.

Private businesses on the other hand blame the government for the ever shrinking salaries, accusing the government of applying extreme high taxes preventing them from offering better pay.

Brazil still has 16,5 million people living under extreme poverty condition. The majority live in low quality shantytowns with not even a basic sanitation system. In many of these areas a large number of children do work, relying on drug trafficking as a way to survive, as the business generate good profit.

In May 2011, the federal government cut approximately 4 billion dollars of its housing program called Minha Casa Minha Vida – My Home My Life. The average income for most poor families in São Paulo state is about US$ 400, which is far from being perfect in a high inflationary city such as São Paulo.

Rents in the poor areas of the city can be as high as US$ 350 per month. An ordinary citizen can barely survive with one regular job. Some bus lines do not offer free transfer and many areas lack adequate security or basic sanitation.
 
While families are able to maintain themselves financially, youngsters find alternatives to unemployment or lack of proper education by selling drugs at the “biqueiras” or little shops.

Last December, daily newspaper Jornal da Tarde revealed that 55% of the crimes committed by teenagers in São Paulo are related to drug trafficking. Between December 2005 and June 2010, 62% of the incarcerations in Rio de Janeiro alone were related to drugs.

According to Berenice Gianella. president of the Fundação Casa (The House Foundation). an institution responsible for minors involved with crime, trafficking represents an opportunity of work:

“What we can see is that many people are abandoning violent crime and pursuing trafficking activities. which would offer less risk, not involving violence, such the use of fire weapons, offer a faster way to make money and fulfill the needs of consumerist youngsters.”
 
For public defender Carmen Silvia de Moraes Barros, Coordinator of the Center for Prison population, sending people to prisons in mass is far from resolving the issue:

“What we have seen is that the creation of the 1990 heinous crime law cracking down on drug dealing had a contrary effect. Selling has increased instead of being eliminated.”

Public defender Barros is right. Drug dealers strategy now is to utilize children in order to do the work.

In some areas such as Grajaú, the little “shops” have rotating shifts.” Many drug dealers will support entire families, and they count on a squad of messengers, watchers, and managers on duty to supervise the work, many of them underage.
 
While the government still continues to ignore the need for investment in cultural incentives, a proper tax policy to increase salaries, and foster employment, and the private sector turns a blind eye to social responsibility practices, Brazil will continue on growing financially as a major economy, but will still be far from being an egalitarian society.
 
Bernard Alexander is a journalist, having graduated in Social Communication Studies from Pontifical Catholic University in São Paulo, Brazil . He lived in the US and Canada for close to 12 years and participated in volunteering activities in social works agencies. Alexander currently lives in São Paulo where he teaches English as a Second Language for both private English Language Institute and Private High-School. He is currently participating as an actor in two English Musicals in São Paulo – Brazil and is pursuing further advancements in his career. He is particularly interested in economics, history, politics and human rights articles.

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