Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Why is it that when talking about the “problem of drugs” we are quick to point the finger at those “evil drug traffickers” of the notorious Comando Vermelho (Red Command), Terceiro Comando (Third Command) and Amigos dos Amigos (Friends of Friends) and assume that by “dealing” with them we will resolve Rio’s (in)security dilemma?
This is not an argument for or against the legalization of maconha (marijuana) – which in and of itself would solve absolutely nothing – but a call for an alternative to the repression, extremism and sometimes inefficiency characteristic of Rio de Janeiro’s security policies.
It is Carioca practice to face a problem only when there is no other way around it and, when doing so, covering up symptoms rather than addressing root causes. The government’s crack down on drug trafficking and related violence is not much different. After three decades of neglect: warn, invade, expel, occupy and “pacify.”
In the pre-World Cup/Olympics UPP-hype our leaders proudly claim to be “eradicating drug traffic,” but I am not quite sure just how that will be achieved.
Have they finally understood public security is not dissociable from education policies? Does not seem like it. Or, do they honestly believe drug trafficking is the only facet of Rio de Janeiro’s high rates of criminality?
Here’s a thought. It seems it is not yet in the jeitinho brasileiro (Brazilian way), but why not try to invest in preventive, rather than simply repressive, policies? Why not educate the populace on drug consumption? Or on the perils of drug consumption? Why not expand access to rehabilitation? Why not widely disseminate education campaigns?
Such measures cost less lives and money. It is not enough to blame, threat, repress and punish. It is not enough to decriminalize and tax either. But it may be a start to educate.
Education is not simply for the economically underprivileged.
It is quite comfortable to sit at home with middle and upper class friends and call for the “bombing of Rocinha” (yes, I heard that). It is quite another thing to acknowledge that the maconha enjoyed at the parties and beaches comes from the same evil place where children as young as eleven serve as soldiers for drug trafficking gangs.
It is nice to see Cariocas taking to the streets in marijuana marches, as they have done for the past six years, chanting to “sou maconheiro, com muito orgulho, com muito amor” (“I’m a weed smoker with much pride, with much love”). It would be even nicer to see acknowledgment that their “harmless actions” have perverse repercussions.
True, the government should not decide what you can or cannot do inside your own home. Unfortunately, marijuana is not legal (yet), so if what you do in your privacy contributes to Rio’s record high rates of violence, it becomes a lot of people’s business.
A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs student with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, specializing in International Security Policy, Brazilian Studies and Communications.