By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A documentary about reforming Brazil’s drug policy hits Brazilian theaters this week. The film is about former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s worldwide advocacy for a new view on this politically sensitive subject. The documentary called Quebrando o Tabu (Breaking the Taboo) follows ex-President Cardoso on his search for solutions of the worldwide problems with drugs and crime. According to the former president, drug abuse should be treated as a public health issue.
Quebrando o Tabu is the work of filmmaker Fernando Grostein Andrade who is known for his prize winning film Coração Vagabundo (Wandering Heart) about Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso.
Andrade followed Cardoso for two years with a camera, while he was talking to people like former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and former heads of state from Colombia, Mexico and Switzerland. They all reveal why they have changed their minds about the issue of drug control.
“Quebrando o Tabu’s main objective is to open a serious and well informed discussion about the complex problem of drugs in Brazil and the world,” director Andrade writes on the movie’s website.
After ending his second presidential term in 2003, Cardoso joined three committees (Brazilian, Latin American, and global) that examined the effects of the prohibition of drugs. He traveled around the world, studied the matter intensively and attended many international conferences. It all led him to one conclusion: the War on Drugs has failed.
“Being a failure is not saying that you have nothing to do with drugs. You have to act. Drugs are infiltrating local power in several parts of the world. Corruption is increasing, and the consumption of drugs is also increasing,” Cardoso declared in recent speeches and interviews. “Marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and cigarettes.”
Crack-cocaine use is on the rise in Rio de Janeiro and other Brazilian cities, concentrated in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods with nicknames such as “Cracolândia.” Brazilians may use relatively high amounts of cocaine, crack and a new drug called oxi, but they don’t produce it. Most of it comes from neighboring Bolivia, and easily slips through long and porous borders.
The documentary is Cardoso’s plea for ending the criminalization, marginalization, and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. “We should not treat drug users as criminals, they should not go to jail. Depending on how much they use, they should primarily go see a doctor.”
In a recent interview with Trip Magazine he also spoke of the new drug oxi that is forming a recent threat to Brazilian cities. “Some drugs are extremely complicated and even more destructive than cocaine. You can not tolerate these types of drugs, you have to fight them. But it’s a too complex a subject to be a taboo.”
His appeal won praise from experts who agree that the anti-drug policy has increased violence without significantly halting drug use. But it appears that Brazil remains committed to treating drugs as a problem for the police.
The film Quebrando o Tabu can be seen at Unibanco Arteplex in Botafogo.