Jun 2, 2010

The effect of drug trafficking on the development of Brazil

I found this article in an independent journalists' website. As the majority of journalists articles it lacks references, but it states in the beginning that it was mostly based on UNODC publications. Although evidently biased towards a good view of UNODC and international drug control efforts (parts I highlighted in red), it brigs an interesting compilation of reports and a valuable tentative to explain the relationship between poverty/underdevelopment and drug trafficking and even some enlightened conclusions that implies the lack of efficiency of the current system to curb drug-trafficking (highlighted in bold).

By Arielle Caron Published September 26, 2008

This study is a compilation and analysis of research geared toward answering the question: is the narcotics trade keeping the development of Brazil at bay? Looking into the effects of drug trafficking and consumption on socio-economic development, various aspects are discussed including the differing opinions on the situation, the correlation between drugs, development, crime, education, health, children, the current drug situation, the history of drugs in Brazil, Brazil’s development and finally the solutional paths that have been taken. The conclusion more accurately assesses the situation than either the affirmation or refutation of the preliminary hypothesis.

Nations across the globe are now working strenuously towards equitable and sustainable development. In considering the development of any nation, there will inevitably be numerous factors contributing to its successes and its blocking points. Due to nations’ differing situations and issues, the fastest way towards that goal of development may differ accordingly. Knowing the roots of the problems could be just as crucial as being able to come up with solutions. For this reason, it is vital that the major blocking points for each nation are identified and addressed. When coming to understand the situation of the nation of Brazil, the possible blocking point that I chose to look into was the impact and role of drug trafficking.

My hypothesis was that the drug trafficking was, in fact, a major barrier for the development of Brazil. This prediction recognized that other conclusions were also possible. An alternative assessment of the narcotics trade could be that it simply is the result of a lack of good welfare and education systems, leaving the impoverished with few choices and therefore is not directly an obstacle for Brazil’s development. Usually drug use, trafficking and organized crime is viewed as the result of underdevelopment, of poverty; not the cause of it. But in the case of Brazil, the extent of the problem and how deeply rooted it appeared, made it seem possible that currently it may, in fact, be a significant barrier keeping Brazil’s development at bay.

One aspect of the drug issue that seemed hard to ignore is how heftily it emboldens socio-economic disparities. Brazil is an expansive nation with a population of over 183 million and for this reason, it perhaps is easier for Brazilians that don’t live in areas that are directly controlled by drug trafficking circles, to brush it off as someone else’s problem: the problem of the people in the slums, (also known as favelas), not the problem of Brazil and its government. This attitude, to an extent, reflects the drastic gap that still exists between the wealthy and impoverished of Brazil. It seems that for a long time, the situation of the impoverished has been brushed off. But in order for Brazil to progress, to develop a healthy middle class and to have a good quality of life for all of its citizens, it may need to deal with the drug situations that circumscribe the life of so many within its slums. This need may also become more dire as the drug circles and users seem to be expanding and with them, crime.

Main relationships that this paper addresses include the impact of drug trafficking in the social sector, focusing in on crime, violence, education, health and child welfare. Conclusions reached suggest that although reparable, the drug trafficking situation needs to be addressed seriously by society in order for it to not pose further threat to the welfare of the people of Brazil. Opinions on the situation and seriousness of the narcotics trade in Brazil tend to vary. Understandably, many within the country want to be able to go past that image and focus on a positive future for their country. Yet, there are some that have been working hard to improve the narcotics situation and according to the US’s Narcotic Control Strategy Report in 2006, it was recognized that Brazil had undertaken bilateral and multilateral efforts to meet the goals of the 1988 UN Drug Convention, to which Brazil became a party in 1991.

This paper looks into the many aspects of development and how each appear to be influenced and impacted by the narcotics trade. This is done in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the situation and also for this reason, interviews with citizens of Brazil were especially weighed into the conclusions. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime was a prominent source used in research as were numerous articles written regarding the situations. Exploring what is in the best interest of Brazil, I will also attempt to assess what has been done, how affective it has been and what still needs to be done.

Economic Impactor?
One facet of development is undoubtedly economic growth and stability. In assessing whether or not drug trafficking is impeding the development of Brazil, it makes sense to look at financial indicators to see if it is either costing the economy a lot or rather is creating a positive influx of revenue and jobs. The narcotics trade is a trade and thus brings in revenue and jobs. However, it is not seen to be intricately interwoven with other areas of commerce with the exception of illicit firearms and thus cannot be viewed as potentially dangerous to the economy should it be dissolved. Furthermore, there are numerous sources of spending related to drug trafficking-induced problems. The cost of crime and social deterioration is substantial, estimated to consume 10% of the GDP. The main economic figures that were available showed the costs of the violence and crime through the health required to assist victims, through supporting prison facilities, and through developing expensive systems and staff to contain the drug trafficking.

Statistics support the conclusion that although the trafficking of narcotics is not especially detrimental to the economy, it is to the people. If the statement, “Brazil is doing well but its people are not” , is true, then perhaps what is most important is to consider how Brazil’s people are affected by the narcotics trade. It has been said that, contrary to popular belief, development is often primarily political and cultural, with the economy secondary. For this reason, this paper will continue to mainly focus on the analysis of social indicators showing the effects of drug trafficking and drug consumption.

Direct Effects

Social indicators range widely and inevitably affect each other. However, there are a certain aspects of society in Brazil that are so affected by the drug trafficking and consumption that the correlation is direct. The three that will be touched upon are the areas of health, education, and welfare of children.


“Drug addiction is a problem that places increasing demands on the public health services and society in general.” These increasing demands and strains come in different forms, but the trends are clear that where there is drug consumption or trafficking, public health is worse. This includes the serious epidemic of HIV/AIDS. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime reports that along the cocaine trafficking route, numbers of users and cases of HIV/AIDS is distinctly higher than other parts of Brazil. “The Brazilian epidemic among injecting drug users follows the main routes of cocaine transshipment.”

However, in regards the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it should be noted that Brazil has done quite well in reducing the number of cases. According to numerous reports, including that of the UNODC, Brazil has been clearly successful in its reduction of AIDS. This success extends to cases of AIDS that were contracted by the injection of drugs. More than anything, this shows tangibly that the awareness and action taken on the part of the government and society as a whole can make a huge difference. The Programme of the Ministry of Health reports that from 1994 to 2004, AIDS among injection users dropped from 27 per cent to 13 per cent for men and 17 per cent to 4.3 per cent for women. This victory was not augured by any world guesstimates. The World Bank in 1992 predicted that Brazil’s AIDS epidemic would have spread to affect 1,200,000 by 2000. However, the so-called “epidemic” was contained to only 597,000 in 2000.

However, other factors that were studied showed an increased rate of AIDS among women, especially those impoverished and with an IDU(injecting drug user) partner. In addition, there is increased spreading among the youth, the lower education level, and the rural sector. This shows that the bottom half of the disparity dynamic is suffering further. Further analysis showed a “disturbing relationship” between the use of crack and AIDS, which contrasts with the decreasing relationship between cocaine and AIDS. This bluntly calls attention to the health of those involved with crack, particularly among women and youth.

Despite the success, or lack thereof, of the health department, it remains evident that the narcotics trade is affecting stress on the health department. The Ministry of Health Information Department (DATASUS) estimated that the government is spending at least US$ 35 million per year on the related costs of alcohol and drug abuse translated into public health.


Another area that is suffering as a result of the narcotics trade is the position of children. Their health is perhaps most dramatically threatened through the types of violence that is commonly observed in the drug trafficking trade. Their disadvantage in age, experience, and opportunity places them in a dangerous demographic when it comes to the narcotics trade and the many affects it has on society. The employment of young children by drug lords is one situation that is especially demanding of attention. Because Brazil’s protective child statute holds that children under 18 can’t be arrested unless caught in the act, they are often the target recruits for the lowest rung in the drug trade: these children are often killed, working as outlooks, then on to deliveries and errands. Sadly, many of these youth’s lives end tragically. Many are killed when a dealer is simply unhappy or annoyed with the child and has an impulse to shoot someone.

It appears that, like with other social sectors of the poor areas, not much federal investment is currently going into improving the situation of children that are suffering from the narcotics trade. There are few programmes for these street children, and the number of street children is only increasing, as is their involvement in drug use, prostitution and crime. An undeniable aspect of development is human welfare, which begins with a child’s right to freely pursue life, liberty and justice. If the government of Brazil is rapidly moving towards development, it should seriously consider drastic social action to remedy the position of its impoverished children, especially those in connection with the narcotics trade.


Education, especially education being made available to the poor, is key to development in the way that it empowers people. It allows for people to raise their individual awareness and in some situations, take social action. I did not focus too much time in researching the education systems in connection with the drug trafficking routes, etc. However, it is understood that many of the youth that are getting involved in drug trafficking are not staying in school. It may not be available in the slums, or it may not be taken seriously by the fiscal sector and thus is of very low quality. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime did refer to one study that was done that analyzed how the school environment was being affected by the narcotics consumption and trafficking. “Retrato da Escola” was a study that collected data from 2,351 schools, starting in 2002, on drugs and drug trafficking within the school environment. Some statistics (solely on effects within the physical school building) include that 32 per cent reported that there was drug use, either occasionally or always, with 21.7 per cent reporting the presence of trafficking to be either occasional or always. In conclusion, there is a strong drug presence in the education sector; even beyond the slums and it is hindering progress for the educational future of many.

Education is one sector that could be a powerful source for change and reform. Although it is currently suffering from the drug situation, it may have been weak from the start. If the government can invest in schools and educate youth so they are equipped to even initiate social reform, then perhaps it could be not only another problem, but also a potential solution.

Drugs and Crime Connection

Some may argue that crime is a result of poverty, and thus will only be eliminated/reduced through the eradication of poverty, not of the narcotics trade. In the same way, one could say that if one suggests eliminating the narcotics trafficking and market, one must consider how to replace the incomes of the individuals that resort to it out of poverty. Understandably, poverty is a huge issue and deserves its own paper entirely. However, the amount of crime that is related to drug trafficking cannot be ignored. The narcotics trade’s connection to crime goes beyond petty theft and violence that is poverty driven, although it certainly includes that. Crime and violence associated with the narcotics trade includes everything from the massive importing of illicit firearms, to war between drug gangs, to highly professional organized crime and drug cartels that are laundering millions of dollars.

“Increased drug trafficking in Brazil potentially impacts public security because it promotes drug-related crime.” In reference to crime in Africa, the UNODC stated, “The most profound impacts of crime are personal. Becoming a victim to crime can change people’s lives forever.” The UNODC considers the link between drugs and violence to be one of two main aspects that is making drug abuse in Brazil, something to be taken very seriously (The other main aspect being the link of drugs to HIV/AIDS prevalence). Drugs are controlled by drug lords, which equal organized crime. There is no more direct connection than this: everything is illegal and thus constitutes as crime and is closely associated with illegal firearms trade. With this definition of crime, it becomes apparent the extent to which the criminal demographic now expands is impressive. Brazil’s prisons already cannot accommodate all of the inmates.

The Crime of Violence

In 2004, a study carried out by the University of Sao Paulo partnered with the Pan American Health Organization published a work entitled: “Firearm-related Violence in Brazil”. The main conclusion of the paper illustrated how firearm-related violence has evolved into an aspect of everyday life for urban youth. They attribute this reality to, first and foremost, the illicit trafficking of drugs, coupled with the lack of opportunity and employment for the less socially endowed.

This violent reality is a commonplace for homicides. The UNODC explains that, as may be expected,“ The high homicide rate in slum areas is due, to a large extent, to the easy availability of smuggled guns, alcohol abuse, and illicit drugs.” Out of 50,000 homicides registered yearly a significant proportion is related with drug trafficking. Because people pay a lot for drugs (especially wealthy people for house delivery) the market and competition among gangs is fierce. Within large urban areas in Brazil, the high homicide rate among 15 to 25 year-old men is unarguably caused by gang fights.

The effect of gangs cannot be seen as disparate from the firearms and drug trafficking and the crime they confer. The affect of firearms illicitly traded in connection with the narcotics trafficking would not perhaps be the same was it not mainly under the domain of gangs and drug lords. From 1993-2003, 325,551 deaths were reported as caused by firearms. This translates into 32,555 per year which is the highest annual mortality rate caused by firearms, ever recorded.

Crime and Development

Now how much all if this crime weighs into Brazil’s development as a country, is another area of debate. Because development is considered to entail numerous things, it is difficult to analyze and weigh the varying factors effects. Crime, according to the UNODC, undermines equity, which is affecting the poor very deeply. In addition, this crime and violence in slum areas remain high and “solutions remain elusive”, which shows that a large demographic of citizens are being affected by it.

Aspects of progress, of improvement seem to be blocked by the systems the drug lords have set up: “Violent drug gangs make it almost impossible to even enter some of Rio’s favelas, let alone upgrade the housing. The government has to resort to war-like maneuvers just to get into the neighborhoods.” In addition, crime has produced a huge influx of prisoners and with a high rate of recidivism (return of prisoners), the government is pouring capital into the jails. A prisoner in Brazil costs the criminal justice system 16 times the cost of keeping one student in school. Many feel that one of the solutions to dissolving the presence of drug trafficking in the communities is to improve the education system so the youth of the communities have the foundation to choose better paths for their lives, but if the government is spending so much money on the jails, that education isn’t getting as much funding as it could be. Crime depletes resources that could be used for education, health, public safety, generation of employment etc. Although an exact number has never been assessed, the UNODC office of Brazil estimates that the economic and social cost of crime could represent 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

Another big question is, is crime increasing or decreasing? This also would help one understand whether the drug situation is worsening or improving. UNODC reports that organized crime, with clear regional and international links has increased. The difference in crime in the slum areas and tourist areas is drastic with 150 homicides per 100,000 people in the Favelas and only 5 homicides for the same amount of people in the wealthier areas. These deaths do not necessarily consist of only trafficker, criminals and police. Often civilians are the ones that get shot out of example: either the police warning the gangs, or one gang warning another by shooting family members of leaders. “We see the news of violence in the Alemao favela and it makes people angry, because we know many of the people who die in conflicts are reported as being criminals, but we know they are not.”

Also, according to some interviews and differing reports, drugs and crime are not only increasing, they are also spreading. This is not a good sign of development. One man from the southern state of Parana’ explained that growing up, drugs only affected the poor and urban but now is affecting everyone, everywhere, even the small cities of the south.

Regarding development, because the narcotics trade has proved to be so closely linked to crime (illicit arm imports), and everything that one expects in heavy underdevelopment, it is only preventing development.

Drug History

According to a New York Times article, drug experts for years shuddered at the thought of what would happen if the expansive nation of Brazil became involved in the narcotics trade. “Those dark forecasts are coming true. Brazil has emerged as the most important new player in the international narcotics trade, with a role in every stage of the drug chain, from production to consumption.” This article was written in the late 1980s, when the transfer of trafficking routes into Brazil significantly began.

The reasons for the traffickers to desire Brazil as its transit country choice are quite clear: Brazil is so big, it is easy to elude pursuers, it has markets to the entire world, and it has consumers.
It appears that Brazil's role in the narcotics trade is somewhat recent and was not as deeply rooted as I had thought. Becoming a big player in 1980s, Brazil is only in knee-deep at most. As a nation, it is starting to be known for its favelas and drug trafficking but this view has not monopolized the world’s view on Brazil and more importantly doesn’t seem to have monopolized Brazil’s view of its self. Compared to neighboring countries that have been a part of the narcotics scene for so long, Brazil has a better chance of changing its citizens’ minds: changing the direction in which the country is going.

Current drug situation

The UNODC tags Brazil to be particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to its proximity to the main drug-producing countries in Latin America. “The geography of Brazil allows for greater mobility of trafficking network. This makes state control measures difficult. The existing national infrastructure is well explored by criminal organizations for their illicit activities. These characteristics allow the drug traffickers to find a financial heaven in Brazil, using the country as an export route or even as a cocaine deposit point.” Although Brazil has a domestic market for drugs, it was not what drew traffickers. Entering into the research, I considered it a possibility that the drug circles expanded into Brazil because of the number of consumers, the demand. However, I found no research that supported this hypothesis. Brazil is considered as a country of medium consumption.

As a result of the transfer of trafficking routes into Brazil in the 1980s, Brazil is now considered to be a gateway to world markets of illicit drugs produced in the Andean region. It is mainly a transit country for cocaine headed for EU or the US. However, the effect of Brazil being a transit country resulted in an increasingly important domestic market for cocaine consumption. These foreign and domestic markets will be discussed further.

“Drug abuse among the Brazilian population in general, and its youth in particular, has increased significantly over the last decade.” According to the U.S.’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, marijuana from Paraguay and cocaine from Bolivia are smuggled into Brazil primarily for domestic consumption. While higher quality cocaine from Columbia gets “exported” to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In estimating the magnitude of the role that Brazil plays in drug scene, it is significant that eighty percent of drugs produced and processed in Bolivia are destined for Brazil. Brazil lies central to Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia and Venezuela and is an expansive door for trafficking of all kinds. In June 2007 it was estimated that the Bolivian Drug Force had confiscated 266 tons of drugs that year so far. The primary purchaser of these Bolivian shipments is the PCC, one of the largest Brazilian drug cartels. Brazil is among the top 20 principal drug trafficking routes from Peru, Bolivia and Columbia abroad, says the U.S. State Department. It is considered by the same source to be a consumption hub of marijuana produced in Paraguay (Columbian 3). 15.8 metric tons of cocaine were seized in Brazil in 2005, which was double the amount seized in 2004. In the same year, 146.6 metric tons of marijuana was confiscated by the Brazilian Federal Police, assessed a U.S. report (Columbian 3).

The two main components of the drug problem are consumption and export, or traffic. It is important to view the two components separately because research has clearly shown that although Brazil is the center for illicit drug transport and export, it is still considered as a nation of only medium consumption. On the other hand, one cannot ignore that the two aspects are connected and thus increase in one area (e.g. trafficking) may be seen to cause an increase in the other area (consumption). As consumption may be seen as a more direct concern for the domestic development of Brazil, I focused researching that aspect of the narcotics trade.


Once again, Brazil is considered as a country of medium consumption. World listings of consumption of both cocaine and cannabis show Brazil to be 55th and 114th for the drug use percentage for populous, respectively. However, there have been many reports of increases in consumption, logically along trafficking routes, which is never a good sign. The past decade shows an increase of drug abuse among youth and includes a fourfold increase in cocaine consumption among adolescents. The UNODC reports that numerous approaches have been used to determine the seriousness of drug consumption in the country. Whether it was through population studies among students and street children, drug-consumption indicators, or ethnographic studies, everything pointed to drug abuse as “a phenomenon of increasing importance in Brazil.”

Consumption style varies but most of the cocaine trafficked for domestic consumption is made into crack locally. “Crack is the drug of choice of low-income population. This is true for many of the major cities of Brazil (such as Sao Paulo), with the exception of Rio de Janeiro. In the poorest areas of Rio de Janeiro, drug trafficking is mainly a retailer’s activity.”

As far as percentage of the adolescent population using, (indicating recent increase), a study was conducted by UNICEF/Brazil towards 5,280 Brazilian adolescents. 14.2 per cent of the interviewees, whose ages ranged from 12 to 17, reported using or having used some kind of illicit drugs. 8.2 per cent of the group of 12 to 14 year-olds reported lifetime use of some kind of illegal drug.

In 2005, the UNODC office in Brazil reported that the National Anti-Drug Secretariat(SENAD) had an average yearly budget of US$2 million in order to reduce drug demand. It goes on to assess: “Unless the Government invests more in drug demand reduction, the situation will continue to deteriorate.”
Looking at the affect of the drug trafficking cannot be done in a static manner: one has to also foresee what the affects could be if the drug trade gets way out of hand. Considering how relatively recently Brazil came into the transit scene, it might be accurate to assess that no one is entirely competent to understand where the current trend could be leading. Organized crime and their traffic routes are rapidly expanding into Brazil. One former police officer commented: "We knew that drug trafficking would not be eradicated with the fall of the big cartels, but we were not expecting Brazil to become the principal route for smuggling Colombian and Bolivian drugs to the rest of the world."

This expansion of larger organized crime and trafficking routes have translated into other dramatic increases of cocaine consumption ,and crime, organized and otherwise.

International Issue

The issue of drug control, especially concerning government task forces with that objective, has become an international policy issue: countries now have to cooperate in order to corner traffickers. An outlaw leader of Columbia’s largest drug cartel was recently located and arrested in the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Although he claimed it was to escape authorities in Columbia, it is known that he had been using profits from his narcotics trades to invest in similar activities in Brazil. This same man was indicted in the U.S. in 2004 for racketeering charges as a member of the Norte del Valle cartel which has sent massive amounts of cocaine to the U.S. The U.S. even began to offer an approximate amount of $5.9 million for information regarding his whereabouts. This is only one example of how drug control is truly warranting the cooperation of many nations in order to reduce the problem. International affects are seen everywhere, for instance because 80 per cent of the drugs produced by Bolivian cartels are shipped to Brazil, the government is very close to holding Bolivia responsible for the increase in the drug traffic.
The international task does not stop at deleting two major cartels, as it was before: now there are many; many new cartels popping up everywhere. One thing to consider is how affective an international criminal court of the future would be as the next step in international effort towards drug trafficking reduction.

Social Issues

The consumption and exporting of drugs impacts the Brazilian society in many different ways. One key issue is the way in which the drug trade impacts the poor most centrally and deeply. For this reason, it could be increasing social disparity. Drug gangs and a corrupt police force impact the society in a irrevocably destructive way, undermining the public’s trust in the government and freedom to even travel beyond the limits of the local gang’s territory. These issues’ connections to the narcotics trade either have already been elucidated or will be in the following text.

Widening the Poverty Gap

One of the biggest development issues/ crisises across the globe today is the distribution of wealth and the immoral, wide gap that exists between the rich and the poor. Development of a nation should connote and entail quality of life for all citizens. The narcotics trade in Brazil appears to impact most heavily the poor communities and thus should be a priority for the government to deal with that it may lessen the gap between the rich and the poor.“ The poorest communities, where there are a few social and professional opportunities, represent a source of cheap labour for drug traffickers. It is in these communities that there appears to be a tendency towards drug abuse in its most harmful form-injecting drug use.” Remembering the previously described crime implications that drug trafficking is asssociated with, one might see how this is further exemplified with 90 per cent of prisoners belong to the low-income population. If the drug trafficking and crime continues unabted, so will the low quality of life that so many of the low-income population are destined for. In the same way, if the drug trafficking and consumption is increasing, it is drastically lessoning the chance for the poor to have upward mobility and thus fill in the poverty gap.

Drug Gangs

Drug gangs bring a number of additional issues into the picture. There is the serious issue of control of areas by drug lords. In these areas, federal police cannot even enter due to the gangs being even better armed than the police. There also is the detrimental, violent aspect of the gangs that was discussed a lot in connection with crime and violence. Violent situations heighten most when the gangs come into conflict with either the police or a rival gang. The citizens of the favelas, have, to some extent, adjusted to life circumscribed in this manner. “Gangs enjoy community support because they improve people’s lives. Drug trafficking brings money into the community. So there’s no use in coming to the favela, killing a bunch of gang members and leaving. The government thinks its smashing crime, but its just smashing today’s leaders. As soon as the police leave, more traffickers come to power” says a 23 year old man from Complexo do Alemao. Although not many would argue that the drug gangs truly benefit the community, there is dispute on what actions should be taken. As exemplified in the quoted statement above, many citizens view the police’s assault on the gangs as unproductive, harmful, and pointless if it is in effort to replace the narcotics sovereignty with equally dangerous, corrupt government officials.


The issue surrounding the police force of Brazil is expansive. It is a sensitive issue, as always is the reforming of any lacking on the part of a federal government. Nevertheless countless sources have been unable to see the improvement that needs to take place with the police force. The lack of an authoritative and respected position is seriously harming the social dynamic of Brazil. The police force is seen as weak, underpaid, insufficient, and corrupt. Unlike some other intense issues concerning the drug trade, this problem is not limited to the favelas: weakness within the police force is evident throughout the varying regions of Brazil. Within the favelas, however, the issue is heightened because of the way that it interacts with the gangs and drug lords. The PCC, or the First Capital Command, is the largest drug gang, cartel and in 2006, it performed what was described as “audacious and ongoing attacks” on police, buses and banks. Analysts and human rights experts warned that the series of attacks signaled “a new power struggle between police and organized crime in Brazil's biggest state.” The lack of manpower coupled with the corruption of the police force empowers the gangs as well as upsetting the citizens.
“The PCC feels emboldened because it senses the government is weak."

In Brazil, some feel that the government needs to invest more in the police force. Right now they are not getting paid enough to care and are mostly all bought off by drug lords to keep quiet. Corruption, bribery is a big problem and as a consequence, the people do not respect the police. It is reported that there is an increasing number of corruption cases.

The UNODC backs up this opinion strongly and goes on to explain that because the police officers are not paid sufficiently they have no choice but to live in high-risk areas, some in which a police officer is killed every 17 hours. The major issues of drug-related crimes, smuggling of arms, organized crime, kidnapping, human trafficking, are all attributed to ineffective law enforcement and inadequate prison facilities.

''I have only 18 agents here and we only have 300 in all of Brazil. Everything favors the traffickers'', said Claudio Barrouin Mello, the chief of the narcotics division of the federal police in Rio de Janeiro.

Unfortunately, even that meager force appears to be corrupt. Reports of policemen beating up kids on the street is not uncommon. One resident of Rocinha, one of the biggest favelas, shares: “Kids here don’t fear the bogeyman, they fear the Caveirao. Police shoot at you without asking who you are.” Taking this into consideration, militarization of a strong police force may not be the answer in making residents feel safe and protected. Rather, it may ignite a costly street war. There are different views regarding the matter of how to handle the issue of the police force.

Brazil and Development

Taking the current drug situation into consideration, it is easy to get caught up in the many issues that are facing Brazil’s people as a result of the narcotics trade. However, in order to show how much of a role the narcotics issues play in the greater scheme of development, a broader view on Brazil’s development may be desired. Different experts have different takes on what is most important for Brazil’s development and what are the most serious issues to tackle.

Among the many opinions on what is most important for Brazil to progress, three major themes were

1.Government needs to not only invest more social expenditure, but also take the steps to ensure the effectiveness of those investments.

2. Equalize Distribution of Wealth.

3.Reduce social inequalities and prejudices.

As far as social expenditure goes, the OECD states that Brazil has a high level, but explains that that has not been converted into social outputs and this is an area that needs to be drastically improved. Apart from the intrinsic value in improving the quality of public spending, effort spent on improving delivery of these services would also benefit the poorest and would support the authorities’ goal of achieving higher sustainable levels of growth in the future.” Reasons for the lack of social result could be the skewed investment primarily to pensions and social security, apparently the pension budget exceeds the education budget by more than 35 per cent. The lack of social improvement could be the reason that a common request of the Brazilian people is better education, security, and health.

Another area in which some believe holds the key to development is the distribution of wealth, or rather, the lack thereof. Although Brazil’s GDP has been soaring, the GDP per capita in 2004 remained at $3,300 with a PPP of $7,700. In 2003, the UNDP assessed Brazil’s gini coefficient to be .61, which made it close to twice as unequal as Indonesia and leading among one of the most unequal nations in the world. In a report by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), poverty and unequal distribution of wealth was clearly pinpointed to be the major challenge for Brazil in its development.
The third area in which development is suggested to be dependent upon is the social structure. Brazil has a history of slavery, landless peoples, and discrimination between racial and social background. Some feel that this old system is still existent and is holding Brazil back. In The Synthesis of Social Indicators 2004, it is demonstrated that although Brazil has achieved progress in reducing social inequalities, “clear disadvantages related to gender, race, and other social and economic categories continue to exist.” In connection with the unequal distribution, poverty is drastically higher in the north, compared to the south where the majority of Caucasians reside. “Poverty is concentrated in the North East region, where the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) is 0.57 (compared to 0.78 for the South of Brazil).”

After taking into account the prominent views regarding what is important for Brazil’s development, the
seriousness of the narcotics trade can be more accurately assessed. The simple point that neither the OECD nor the DFID directly identified drug trafficking and consumption to be particularly central to Brazil’s development, connotes that either it is an issue that does not warrant such attention or rather there is not enough awareness regarding its impact in order for it to be commonly assessed as serious.
My own analysis shows that, even regarding only the three major improvement points for development previously mentioned, the narcotics trade is connected to all of them. It is hindering social improvement, effectiveness of social expenditure, it is suppressing the lower class within an environment in which they are unable to earn a higher capita yearly and thus equalize distribution and finally it is clearly marked by social disadvantage: even race-wise, whites are less commonly found among the favelas than blacks. For this reason, after taking many viewpoints into consideration, it is reasonable to put forth the statement that the narcotics trade, drug consumption and the dynamic of drug trafficking within the favelas are seriously harming Brazil’s development. The question perhaps then becomes, where the does the solution begin; which end of the knotted rope must we first isolate?

Paths that have been taken: Solutions?

In assessing the effectiveness of solutions one must consider several kinds: those of grassroots movements, those initiated by the government, those initiated by the UN and NGOs and finally those proposed by citizens of Brazil. The way these aiding efforts could directly affect the poor is also significant. It may be that when the Brazilian government and society can offer the impoverished a better option, the drug trade, or at least the power of the drug lords may diminish.

Grassroots movements

Without going into too much detail, the Afroreggae movement was the strongest media that sparked my personal interest and concern regarding the favelas and the drug trafficking of Brazil. It is a social movement centered on the idea of empowerment, specializing in pride and hope for the Afro-Brazilian community through music, dance, and martial arts programs for youth and adults alike. The success story of changing the attitudes of the community and offering better opportunities to youth than employment under drug gangs, is profoundly inspirational. The government, seeing the success of the group, begged it to expand and begin sister programs within other favelas. It was begun by a group a friends after a genuine discussion on what could be done about all of the drugs and violence that consumed their reality. These individuals were the catalysts of change. It was my hope to encounter other grassroots movement success stories, however no major sources I found referred to any, though they may exist. There was one that didn’t pertain directly to the drug situation but more to the millions of citizens that are without property and are squatting: this is referred to as the Landless People’s Movement.

Government Initiatives

The government of Brazil has taken numerous steps towards trying to affect change within the favelas and with the drug trade in general. As was mentioned, it became a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention and has been working towards the goals of that convention. Efforts include addressing the lack of chemical dependency rehabilitation centers that reintegrate the individual back into society. “Experience shows that investing resources in treatment by offering quality services reduces criminality substantially. Income generating crime-such as theft, shoplifting, and robbery is considerably reduced. This contributes to improved public security at the family, community and country levels. The cost to society of untreated drug dependency is estimated at several hundred million US dollars in Brazil.”
Another effort by the government of Brazil includes the Aerial Interdiction Operations, in which planes are responsible to follow illegal aircraft, intercept them and oblige them to land. Technology, radar is being utilized towards the reduction of illegal trafficking. One journalist reports that the officer affirmed that since this operation with Brazil began, the number of illegal flights has dropped by 56 per cent in the border area, prompting him to assert that they have struck a heavy blow to the drug trafficking groups that operate in this region of the country. The biggest problem that remains with this kind of method is that traffickers merely resort to alterior routes, of which there are many.

Another issue that has arisen regarding a surveillance system SIVAM that was set up in the amazon region of Northern Brazil, was the lack of result due to a persistant insufficency of enforcement. “However, since its creation along with other government projects, crime rates have drastically spiked. This suggests that the executive branch is still badly lacking. The major issues of drug-related crimes, smuggling of arms, organized crime, kidnapping, human trafficking, are all attributed to ineffective law enforcement and inadequate prison facilities.” The control method was recently excelerated by the approval of a law that permits the “shooting down of suspicious airplanes that refuse to identify themselves and land when ordered to do so by authorities.” Most recently, in the summer of 2007, Brazil’s government pledged $1.7 billion to improve conditions in the shantytowns or favelas of Rio de Janeiro, as an effort to defeat organized crime.

UN/ NGO Initiatives

The UN has a number of different projects that are directly impacting/ helping the drug situations of Brazil and of the world. Firstly, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime should be recognized because besides all of their initiatives and actions, the awareness and availability of information that they offer is invaluable. The majority of the research analyzed in this paper is attributed to their studies and observations. Alternative development is one initiative of the UNODC, and it tackles the root cause the drug production by offering alternative crops and employment to the producers of illegal drugs. Although Brazil does not play a huge role in production, the reduction of production in the surrounding nations will no undoubtedly reduce the use of Brazil as a transit country. The effectiveness of this project is still being developed, but the general idea of pulling citizens out of the drug trade by offering them a better option is, to say the least, ingenious.

Another very recent operation by an NGO is the development of a National Plan for Youth, which would represent youth from all walks of life. A youth conference was held in Brasilia (Brazil’s capital) with more than 2,000 youth participating. The group made history marking the first time where youth discussed issues such as drugs and violence: these two issues surfaced as the participants’ top priorities. Besides the Federal District of Brasilia, 26 other states are holding local conferences where young delegates are elected to represent at a national youth conference to be held in late April of 2008. This is one initiative that represents a growing movement among youth that, if successful, could ignite significant social reform.

The UNODC, whose reports outshine the rest in statistics, research and research compilation, heavily suggests preventive strategies, especially in regard to the violence sired by the narcotics trade. More specifically, it recommends demographically developed analysis of factors contributing to the violence in order to produce an accurate diagnosis.

Proposed Solutions by Citizens

One solution proposed by a Brazilian emphasized the need for government investment and spending on social culture programmes and education that will ready the youth: “Government needs to spend more money and invest in the culture and social environment and education so that children will have a good basis and foundation and be ready to meet the world.” At the recent youth conference, a similar consensus was built to create opportunities for youth: “Kids have to keep their minds and bodies busy in order to prevent problems with drugs and crime.” The general social opinion appears to be that, better than simply trying to outlaw or take the drugs away, is to invest in education and infrastructure. This is built on the belief that if the culture is changed and awareness is spread, people will naturally move away from the drug trade.

Other social areas to which general attention is being drawn by citizens of Brazil includes family programs and investment in the police force. The youth conference put forth the statement: “The family also needs to be factored into social policies for drug abuse and violence prevention.” Investment in the police force is already an issue that has come up a lot. But it is noteworthy that citizens of Brazil feel that the police force is one of major areas that need immediate reform. “Government should also invest more in the police force. Right now they are not getting paid enough to care and are mostly all bought off by drug lords to keep quiet. Corruption, bribery is a big problem and the people do not respect the police.” One idea proposed that awareness of human rights is the key to awakening reform in the police force: “Kids propose that the issue of police corruption could be alleviated by increasing awareness on “human rights amongst youth and disseminating contacts of state-related agencies and toll-free numbers to denounce crimes. The group stressed the importance of training authorities and encouraging colleagues to report abuses.”


However internal a nation’s fight against drugs can be, the market driven aspect of all of the trafficking operations cannot be ignored. In an article released by UNIS, it was described how the drug cultivation/ trafficking in Morocco and in general can be attributed primarily to Europe’s demand for the drugs. Supply and demand cannot be underestimated. Executive director of UNODC puts forth the statement: “ Europe’s drug habits are at the heart of the illegal activity.” He goes on to praise Morocco for doing their part in trying to decrease the drug problem. Undoubtedly, in the same way we can applaud Brazil’s efforts to try to curb the trafficking, but one might assume that as long as there is market demand, supply will materialize. There is a lot Brazil can due to decrease its own, domestic consumption demand, but as far as the market in Europe and the US, it is somewhat out of their hands.

Many different paths have been taken in attempt to curb the narcotics trade of South America that has chosen Brazil as its favorite transit route. Some have been as aggressive as passing laws that permit the shooting down of suspicious planes that refuse to identify themselves. When analyzing the measures that have been taken it is understandably most accurate to say each measure plays a very valuable part. However a more constructive analysis may venture to say that while drastic, military actions may produce immediate results, it does not necessarily tackle the root of the problem and thus cannot be effective in and of itself. One such example is the development of SIVAM, the surveillance system recently developed in the Amazon region that has not been able to gain control over the expansive issues in the region. Through research, it is evident that the narcotics trade, especially in the way that it undermines quality of life for so many, may be only “curbable” through the efforts and initiatives of citizens that are being affected: grassroots movements and social initiatives that spread awareness and hope for the future. These cultural movements will inevitably spur the passing of laws that would help control the drug trafficking.

It seems that the rules alone, especially with the current state of the police force, will not produce sustainable results. The most probable reason for this is that the main labour source for the drug traffickers (the poorest demographic) exists because of the lack of other social and professional opportunities. This is one of the reasons why the movements of afroreggae and others hold much value: they begin to offer them those missing opportunities. However, the success and growth of these grassroots movements can only be secured when the populous of Brazil, on a large scale, and the federal government takes interest in them. In the example of the Afroreggae movement, one sees that after the initial inspiration and ground-up work, federal or external support was sought.

Analysis and Conclusion

Taking into account the many issues and relationships discussed, the grander picture of the effect of drug trafficking on the nation of Brazil begins to form. From the research done for this paper, a number of clear conclusions can be made. One is that, for the slum areas controlled by drug lords, the seriousness of the situation cannot be expressed in words. The eradication of drug trafficking may be in the best interest of Brazil considering that, besides its illegality, it is the cause of a shocking flood of homicide, illiteracy and other deleterious effects.

The demographic that is most affected has been somewhat ignored by the government of Brazil and securing federal concern for it is a high priority towards achieving a healthy middle class. Another conclusion that was reached was the understanding that should integrated drug societies expand, this would make the issue that much more critical. There is evidence that trafficking routes are starting to expand and with them, the demographics of those getting involved. Before it was mostly the very poor that were involved in drug consumption and trafficking and now it is spreading to all social strata. Also the problem used to be quite isolated to certain areas, especially within the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo but now it is reported that it is becoming more and more common to see narcotics trade affecting other areas, such as the southern state of Parana which used to not be involved to a noticeable extent.

Another significant conclusion is that although the drug trafficking/ consumption issue is serious, it may be able to be fixed naturally through the forming of social programmes, and improvement on police, education and health departments. But again due to the expanding phenomenon within the narcotics trade, consumption and trafficking is something that Brazil needs to be careful with. Although the country is still considered to be a nation of average consumption, it seems that it has been spreading and if the situation in the favelas is a preview into a possible future of other areas, it is something to be avoided at all costs.

If in fact the drug trade does continue to expand, it could simultaneously be spreading underdevelopment. In scanning and analyzing solutions, my feeling was that it may take a grassroots social movement in order to really turn around the situation in the favelas. Even recently the Federal GOB committed $1.7 billion towards improving conditions in the favelas but citizens remain skeptical, especially considering how corrupt the police force has been in the past. One of the most inspiring efforts I have noticed is the Afroreggae movement documented in "Favelas Rising". It just showed that with government support how the people there could pick themselves up and work towards a better, healthier society. As far as maintaining the trafficking, a lot of it has to do with the international control, considering Brazil is a transit country. Drugs will continue to be smuggled into wherever they can, but governments are beginning to cooperate to stop them and amidst the communities if citizens clearly do not want to be part of the trafficking, perhaps the cartels will find they lack the manpower for their operations.

When the question of whether the drug problem is serious is again posed: it can be concluded: how can it not be serious when it is the cause of 325,551 peoples death from 1993 to 2003. As Garfield Azevedo, a citizen of Brazil, put it when asked if the narcotics trade makes a big impact, “For the economy it doesn’t, but for the people it does” For the people, it impedes development: it undermines quality of life.

Jun 1, 2010

Would Legalization Harm Developing Countries?

Over the last month I studied the impact of prohibition and drug war on developing nations, and the following bulletin gives an overview of the issue. I found lots of papers, reports and news to support the idea that the drug "control" system is, in fact, aggravating most of the problems related to poverty and underdevelopment in countries where drug production and/or drug trafficking plays an important role in the economy. I also tried to explore the other face of health consequences of the drug "problem", which are commonly attributed to widespread drug use and to some drugs themselves, but instead, as I will point, can be widely attributed to the regime of criminalization of drugs and drug use. During the next days I'll be publishing here the texts I used as reference, that explain in more details the relation drugs X development.

Also available in other languages at ENCOD website.


NR 64 JUNE 2010

by Marisa Felicissimo


Last March, during the CND meeting in Vienna, the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa warned that developing countries could face a "health disaster if wealthy countries fail to control drugs”.

Costa pointed to a growing drug problem in impoverished nations. He also remarked that the "developing world – already struggling to deal with health, education and unemployment problems – lacks the treatment facilities and law enforcement to control narcotics". And he continued: "Poor addicts– and there are millions of them– have been pushed to the margins of society, deprived of medical attention, often exposed to conditions, including imprisonment, that exacerbate their illness’.

Costa also seemed to have already found the ones to blame for this fatidic destiny: "This seems to have been forgotten by people in rich countries calling for loosening of drug controls," and he concludes: "Why condemn the Third World, already ravaged by so many tragedies, to the neo-colonialism of drug dependence?"

Mr. Costa is speaking to us from an imagined moral high ground, but in fact advocating the continuation of the harmful policies that are the main cause of the misery that he tries to make his opponents feel guilty about.

It is true that developing countries that have important connections with the illegal drug market, as producers or as trade routes, have been struggling with drug related problems for decades and it is also true that many of them have increasing rates of drug consumption. It is also quite obvious that developing countries are expected to have less resources to adequately address drug addiction, and have more aggravating circumstances then developed nations (urbanization, poverty, migration, educational deficits, income inequalities...).

But let’s make one thing clear here: what was exactly the role of “neo-colonialists”or “rich countries” in this “disaster”? Certainly it was not the “loosening of drug controls”. Let’s forget the rhetoric and look at the facts.

The so-called War on Drugs, fiercely pursued by rich nations led by the US, was forcefully imposed to developing nations, and is becoming tougher and tougher each day. It is widely acknowledged now, and even admitted by UNODC, that this policy is also systematically generating immense “unintended consequences” such as a criminal market, displacement of routes, markets and substances, and the marginalization of users. Despite strong indications of failure of this policy, organizations such as UNODC are still encouraging countries to join international drug control efforts.

Having considered the efficacy of the current drug “control" system then how can Costa call for more of the same? How can he claim that this would help developing nations to escape from “drug dependence tragedy”? How exactly can more drug prohibition and counter-drug tactics save poor countries from a “health disaster”?

One thing that probably is worrying Mr Costa is the mythological concept that the cost of drug use to the individual and to the society infinitely outweighs the cost of enforcing prohibition. According to this concept any effort to reduce the availability of drugs is justifiable. However, evidence suggests that the costs of prohibition are, in fact, very high, and evidence on the efficacy of prohibition to reduce drug use is, at best, disappointing.

Even if we admit that the costs of drug use are in fact very high, we can not forget the role that prohibition plays in that. It is certain that criminalization of drugs is behind the majority of health and social problems related to drug use and is also an important factor for the perpetuation of poverty, inequalities, corruption, poor governance and underdevelopment of many nations.

Criminalization increases the negative effects of drug use

1. Prohibition attracts drug traffickers and drug consumption to countries in which drug consumption would otherwise not be prevalent. The costs of distributing drugs inside transit countries is lower, given that traffickers already must build up networks of collaborators to move the drugs through. Even though transit countries are poorer, and drug prices therefore much lower, low marginal costs make these markets highly lucrative. The fact that drug traffickers pay local collaborators in drugs, may explain part of the rise in consumption in transit countries.

2. Illegality undermines the usual vehicles of quality control upon which legal markets rely. In this context, overdoses due to uncertain strength and poisoning due to adulteration are both certain to be more frequent.

3. Criminalization of drugs and drug use impedes efforts to treat drug addiction and to prevent the spread of HIV among drug users. Since consumption is an illegal activity in most developing countries and, because of that, drug use tends to take place under less than ideal conditions, the transmission of contagious diseases and overdoses becomes more likely. Access to health care and harm reduction may lessen these problems, but users are still reluctant to take advantage of these when consumption is criminalized and profoundly stigmatized.

Criminalization perpetuates corruption, poverty and inequality.

1. The war against drugs increases the cost of drugs, making drug production and sale more profitable and therefore more attractive - particularly to those living in poverty. More risks, more profits, and even more poor people being recruited to this illegal activity.

2. To achieve and maintain profit goals, traffickers implement strategies to respond to the "challenges" of confronting the state, which include corruption of important officials and policemen and violence against the state and other competing groups. Corruption jeopardizes democratic stability and is a serious obstacle to guaranteeing a countrys’ governablility and national security.

3. An estimated 4 million people depend on income derived from the cultivation of illegal drug crops. In many countries, efforts to wipe out drug cultivation and supply have a high cost to human welfare and lives. For farmers there are few economic incentives for growing alternatives to drug crops. Moreover, a major part of the profits end up in the hands of those who control the later stages of the distribution process (retailers in developed countries).

4. Two other well-known costs of prohibition are the lives lost due to prohibition-induced violence and the productivity losses due to incarceration. The majority of people incarcerated in Brazil due to drug related crime are uneducated, poor, black young men, who where caught selling small amounts of drugs. More people die of drug trafficking related violence then of drug-related diseases or overdose, especially in developing countries.

In summary, despite the research and analyses made so far, social and individual costs of drug use, and the effects of prohibition on consumption are uncertain. Some will argue that it is likely that the relaxation of prohibition would lead to an increase in drug consumption. However, there is much evidence (see for instance the EC Report by Reuter and Trautmann) that the influence of repressive policies on levels of drug use is marginal. In addition, the nature of the “legalization” regime against which prohibition is being compared is not clear. But if drug trade can be regulated and resources diverted to other policies, such as treatment and education, with proven efficacy in reducing addiction and problematic use, it is likely that the types of drug use that impose the largest costs could be reduced.

Negative health and social consequences related to prohibition should be correctly put in the equation when the “tragedy of drug dependence” is weighed.

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