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Now or Later | The Cracolândia Conundrum


As Brazil’s economy expands, so too does its demand for drugs. The world’s second largest cocaine consumer behind the United States is struggling against a growing crack epidemic at the same time that it’s preparing to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. — “Crack strikes late but hard,” Juliana Barbassa, MSNBC, July 17, 2011

Actually, it seems as though MSNBC has arrived even later for the party than other global news sources reporting the story in the last 12 months: WSJ, FT, Reuters,BBC and AP. So where is the novelty in this news?

While global sources pitch the story as an emerging problem — a steep and alarming  upward trend —  the local press and press watchdogs treats it as what it is and what makes it newsworthy: the anniversary of a controversial anti-crack policy and the prospects for new approaches with the changing of the political guard.

Let me translate part of what Martins observes:

The annnouncement that the state government of São Paulo plans to organize the forced hospitalization of street addicts in Cracolândia, in downtown São Paulo, has caught the interest of the press and reopened old debates over individual rights and proper limits on the action of the State.

Recall that this measure was adopted by Governor Geraldo Alckmin one day after the the Folha de S. Paulo observed the first anniversary of a police operation designed to reduce the concentration of addicts in the downtown area, implying that the government is only taking action in response to press criticism.

For the Estado de S. Paulo, however, police actions undertaken last year positively prevented the adoption of a program for the involuntary and compulsory  hospitalization, drafted by legal scholars and public health experts.

If the government was, indeed, merely reacting to the Folha story — which indicates that the high-profile police operation has only made matters worse for addicts who throng the so-called Cracolândias — it is up to the newspapers to deepen the debate.

The pro forma approach to most social problems is to run two brief articles by specialists in the area in question, one favorable and the other unfavorable. This approach obviously does not provide enough fuel for the formation of a well-founded opinion.

As always, opinion tends to polarize between more extensive State intervention and those who accuse the government of carrying out «social hygiene» policies in order to protect valuable urban real estate from devaluation.

For its part, O Globo recalls  that the  Rio city government tried to execute a similar policy last year, with obligatory hospitalization of drug addicts on the city’s streets, but  that controversy prevented the program from being realized.

For this reason, this protocol was only to be used on children and adolescents, and state courts committed just one addict all year — a 22-year-old woman, eight months pregnant, who was held against her will out of concern for the risk that she and her baby would end up in a crack neighborhood.

Although the timing of Geraldo Alckmin’s announcement have been attributed by some to the negative publicity published by the Folha, the articles published on Friday — January 4 — give the impression of a relatively well-planned action.

According to the governor, the decision to commit or not will be made on a case by case basis, with the participation of a psychiatrist, a prosecutor, a judge, and an attorney representing the Brazilian bar association, the OAB.

And the defendant, any representation for him or her?

Removing the subject from the street may be recommended by State agents or family members, and the program is a natural conclusion drawn from the study performed in late 2011 by state justice Antônio Carlos Malheiros, who heads the juvenile division of the state high court.

There is no sign, therefore, that Alckmin is reacting hastily, as the Folha de S. Paulo claims. Even so, it is important for the press to follow up on the launching of the program, announced for next week.

Identify Investors

In international public health forums, Brazil is accused of not paying sufficient attention to crack. Addiction to this type of drug is disastrous for certain vulnerable social groups, such as the homeless, the jobless, and young people suffering from family conflicts.

The UN alerted Brazil that crack was becoming a major problem in 2009. This does not mean, however, that debate should not continue, focusing on the public health aspects and the property damage caused by Cracolândia-style urban decay. And there is also the challenge of identifying and punishing the financiers of the crack trade.

Five years ago, when the problem came to the attention of the UN, crack sales had reached US$ 100 billion per year and Brazil had 2 million users.

Two million? This number is hard to verify. The AP reported late last year,

In a recent deposition before Congress, Pedro Delgado, the Health Ministry’s coordinator for mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, said Brazil has about 600,000 crack users.

And so this figure varies from source to source. For example,an article on UOL, based on research done at the S. Paulo Federal University (UNIFESPS) reports that …

This year alone, one in every hundred Brazilian adults smoked crack, a number that represents one million users over 18 years of age. Factoring in the two drugs, cocaine and crack, this number grows to 2.8 million. The number is considered “alarming” by the psychiatrist and study coordinator Ronaldo Laranjeira.

When the press turns its attention to drug-related problems, the focus falls on traffickers, for the most part. In the case of crack, attention is also given to users because the concentration of homeless addicts in the major cities is disturbing to society.

Very little progress will be made if authorities and the press continue ignoring the major investors behind this deadly trade.

Very good, we will await answers from the Folha and the Estadão to the question cui bono? You almost never read police blotter stories on the retail and wholesale parts of the business.

Be careful, comrades.

Psychosocialism Central?

Meanwhile, what does the program of government of the incoming city administration promise in the way of anti-crack policies?

Under a plan to expand emergency room treatment, the city promises to

develop teams of specialists in pre-hospital and emergency care in the area of mental health generally, and more specifically in cases of addiction to crack, alcohol and other drugs.

The city will

increase the working hours of Psychosocial Care Centers — Alcohol and Drugs (CAPSad), in coordination with shelters and therapeutic group homes, in order to provide care that is better integrated and more inclusive.

In its hospitals, the city will

guarantee the availability of beds for addicts


take part in the development of policies and programs based on integration with federal programs, such as the national program relating to crack and other addictions.

This program has reportedly not spent a single dime of its budget since its foundation —  but I may be misremembering.

In the area of education and children’s rights,

expand  the Integrated Anti-Drug Plan for children and adolescents, based on Federal Decree No. 7.179/ 2010.

Under the heading of public safety,

Implement a multsector program  — Social Services, Income and Employment,Educations, Urban Development, Culture, Sports, and so on —in coordination with the federal and state government and the «Crack can be defeated!» program.

In the area of public health, the Psychosocial Centers should not be large, and should follow the logic of territorialization.  Distributed  around the city, the CAPs should remain open 24-7 and give priority care to children and adolescents as well as pregnant drug users.

Crack receives 10 mentions in Haddad’s program of government. «Socioterritorial» is a key term in the new mayor’s theory of urban planning.

That is all I can find out so far.

Changing of the Guard?

Under the general heading of public safety, the incoming mayor seems interested in strengthening the Municipal Guard and orienting it toward policies coordinated by federal and municipal authorities as well as think tanks..

The Metropolitan Public Safety Forum — ForumSP — created in the early 2000s, in its best days represented 25 municipalities of the greater metro area, as well as various civil society organizations — the São Paulo Institute on Violence among them. The city of São Paulo should lead the way in refounding the Forum as a nonprofit consortium.

One area in which the city and state can be expected to clash is over a relatively new rule that allows state police to work overtime for other state and municipal agencies.

The «bico oficial» — permitted off-duty service — is active in São Paulo and Mogi das Cruzes.

Reportedly, 123 city governments have expressed interest, write the DGABC. The program is

a contract between the state public safety secretary (SSP) that permits police to assist the muncipalities with patrol duties on their days off.

I understand that the list of delegated positions is more varied than that. Haddad’s sharp response:

«Delegated Activity» cannot lead to the scrapping of the Metropolitian Civil Guard, as has happened under the current administration. The Guard is absent from our public parks and schools because they have been replaced by outsourced private security, and has seen a number of its members reassigned from their duties as peace officers in public spaces.

Hadda says he will

Fortify the Guarda Civil Metropolitana with new hires, modernization of equipment, and continuing education and training.

It seems to me that Haddad will have quite a fight on his hands if he clashes with the state government on this issue. See

Haddad, according to his plan of government,

will add another dimension to the Delegated Activity agreement, amending the original legislation so that it applies more broadly, instead of limiting enforcement to oversight of the black-market retail sector. Even when working for cities, military police retain their status and obligations as such, responsible for maintaing public order and  conducting street patrols.

Topic for another post: a blogger-cop for the Guard Civil and his take on the situation.