Cracolândia and drugs – dialogue with Frei Betto

Image: Elīna Arāja


The “solution” lies in changing people’s material conditions, first of all

Our always attentive Dominican – one of the greatest icons of the Brazilian left – published on September 4th a brief reflection on the topic of crack, whose use has apparently been growing in the country's capitals and large cities.[I]

I say apparently because the moral panic disseminated by the mainstream media creates a feeling of immediate danger, which is not supported by data. There are about 1 million crack users in Brazil. Let's compare: there are 4 million alcohol dependents, 12 million smokers and 1,4 million cocaine users. There are around 1,5 million fans of the “devil's cigarette”.

In this short space it will not be possible to create a genealogy of the topic. For anyone who wants to delve deeper, I would recommend, among many others, Dudu Ribeiro, Henrique Carneiro, Carl Hart, Edward MacRae, Jacqueline Muniz, Luiz Eduardo Soares.

By the way. Do you know the most successful public policy ever implemented in Brazil to face chemical dependency? It was the anti-smoking actions. We've dropped from around 35% of smokers in the 1980s to less than 10% today.

Smart advertising campaigns, more taxes, etc. The old dispute of ideas. By the way, the electronic cigarette in fashion today seems to be doing a lot of damage to certain middle-class youth.

The National Program to Combat Smoking was created in 1985. I remember a poster from the Sarney government, with the slogan “smoking is tacky”. Which, between us, works much more than those scatological photos on the packs. Oh, cigarette advertisements were also banned. What should we do about beer and alcohol in general.

12% of Brazilian women still smoke. But look at the contrast: 20% are alcohol abusers. In other words: our biggest problem is the abuse of alcohol and not marijuana, powder, crack or cigarettes.

Returning. Alberto Libânio gets the essential point right: “I am in favor of the decriminalization of drugs and the release of their controlled use, as long as the entire process, from manufacturing to consumption, is under public health administration and aims to free the user from dependence and eradicate drug trafficking”, was in the liver.

Frei Betto adds beautifully to our greatest Brazilian genius: our Chico

“From hand to hand the thief
watches distributed
And the police no longer knocked
At night the sun shone
That everyone applauded
Marijuana was only bought
At the tobacconist
Drugs in the drugstore”[ii]

More from Carlos Alberto: “what is the solution? One of them lies in the pedagogical factor, in restoring the self-esteem of Cracolândia visitors. How are they treated by the police? Like unwanted, addicted, bums and disgusting. And for the traders and neighbors?”

Here Frei Betto gives a little simplification. There is a certain idealism in the proposal.

The “solution” lies in changing people’s material conditions, first and foremost. That is why the “Open Arms Program” of Fernando Haddad’s administration[iii] in São Paulo City Hall is so fantastic – and should be replicated by all progressive governments in Brazil.

It's about allowing people not to spend 24 hours on the streets, putting them in hotel rooms, offering work suited to their limitations, paying them. Each day they worked on the work fronts, program participants received their payment.

And there was no moral oppression, no repression, no control. Each citizen autonomously used the money he earned by working. Guardianship is not valid, much less paternalism. In fact, it is a debate similar to the one that took place at the beginning of Bolsa Família.

Oh, how are these poor people going to spend that money? Everyone will get drunk on cachaça! Give money to a cracker? Hotel for this rabble?

Now I return to my mantra: the left needs to get out of common sense! Break with conservatism. Stop trying to imitate Ratinho, Siqueira Jr, Datena. Study these topics.

Drug policy must be treated scientifically, taking into account the best empirical and theoretical evidence.

If we don't face this issue soon, the c and all its derivatives will be legalized. Great!

It depends. How will the process take place? Is it due to pressure from the USA, which will soon monopolize our market – forcing us to import everything from them?

A cultural tip. Watch the comedy series (Disjointed) starring the brilliant Kathy Bates, owner of a little shop in California where she sells everything you can imagine related to weed, dope, grass, ganja, pot, marijuana; obviously, only for medicinal purposes (in 2017, even in California, recreational use had not yet been legalized).

By the way, why only defend the legalization of Cannabis? I confess that this part on the left grlight up/haribo/hippo – which only acts for its own sake – tires me too much.

Why the Marijuana March and not the March to End the War on Drugs and Legalize? (Worse are the hypongian arguments that marijuana is ancestral, medicine etc. and such – the rest is chemistry! What do you mean?)

Anyway, even from a strictly capitalist point of view, the current drug policy is archaic and is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Bible of liberal chics, the magazine The Economist,, defended the legalization of cocaine in October 2022, criticizing Joe Biden's timidity!!!.[iv]

When imperialist neoliberals have less reactionary and frowning positions than most of the left, wouldn't it be time to stop, study, think and change? And long live Frei Betto for putting his finger on the wound!

However, the mass killing and incarceration of black and poor young people can only be faced with the demilitarization of the PMs and with the legalization and regulation of all drugs. The rest is hypocrisy, or the idealistic good will of a certain white middle-class progressivism – added to the conservative (and unscientific) pragmatism of most left-wing leaders.

Not to mention the omnipresent attempt to “dialogue” with Christian fundamentalism, instead of trying to politicize things – discussing concrete, material life, combating any type of discrimination (“he who is without sin cast the first stone; “the great god is no respecter of persons”).

Legalize it now!

* Julian Rodrigues, journalist and teacher, is a PT militant and an activist in the LGBTI and Human Rights movement.



[ii] Other Dreams: Chico Buarque, 2006, on the fantastic album Carioca



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