|Week Online: What
is Psico-Tropicus and what does it seek to accomplish?
Luiz Paulo Guanabara:
Psico-Tropicus is an independent agency that is anti-prohibitionist and
interested in harm reduction. As a matter of policy, Brazilian harm
reduction projects are funded by the federal government, mainly because
of the AIDS epidemic. Psico-Tropicus has very few funds rights now,
but we have a good chance this year of gaining funding from an American
foundation. We are also looking for funds from some Brazilian nonprofit
organizations. The group is still being formed and is composed already
of academics and professionals in the health field, and we will probably
have Federal Deputy Fernando Gabeira as our man in Congress.
Our main objective is to
participate in the formulation of a new Brazilian drug policy. We
want to take harm reduction and anti-prohibitionism into the meetings with
government officials and civil society and to draw attention to the huge
damage that drug prohibition causes to Brazilian society and the Brazilian
people. Psico-Tropicus only came to life because we have a new government
that we believe will be more open to new perspectives on drug policy.
The violence associated with prohibition is unbearable, and we think the
people are tired of all this violence. We will be like an independent
agency that will strive to insinuate itself into the fabric of the new
Brazilian drug policy that is now being planned.
Psico-Tropicus has five main
objectives. First, we call for the total decriminalization of drug
users. Second, we want to further develop harm reduction strategies.
Third, we call for the immediate legalization of marijuana. Fourth,
we want to be an organization to advocate for harm reduction and anti-prohibitionist
policies with international groups interested in networking and maybe even
opening chapters in Brazil. And last but not least, we call for the
total decriminalization of all drugs and the normalization and regulation
of drug production and sales.
WOL: What are the drugs
of choice in Brazil?
use is the norm in Brazil. It is widely used and should be normalized
as quickly as possible. It's already part of our culture. I've
never had anyone come to me and say he had a marijuana problem, and if
they did, I would suspect there was something else underlying it.
There are virtually no people seeking treatment for marijuana in Brazil,
and the few who are in treatment for marijuana are usually young people
sent by their parents or by the stupid drug courts they are trying to establish.
The main problematic drugs
in Brazil are alcohol, tobacco and cocaine. You don't see much heroin
in Brazil. With cocaine, it was once only used by high society, but
nowadays, cocaine is used by all classes, from the richest to the poorest,
and it is very cheap. And in Rio, it is only powder cocaine, not
crack, because the drug dealers banned crack. They know their employees
would go nuts; it would be bad for their business.
I have done research in the
favelas (slums), and I found that cocaine use and sales are really wide
open. People buy it and do it right on the street, then go drink
beer in the favela bars. When it comes to injection drug users, cocaine
is 100% of the problem here. We do needle exchange programs, and
sometimes we have to give them 20 syringes a day because they are shooting
up so frequently.
WOL: You mentioned
the drug dealing in the favelas. Can you tell us about the drug gangs,
the so-called "parallel power"?
Guanabara: The parallel
power controls the favelas. To do anything in the favelas, you have
to get their permission. If you want to do a social program, put
on a concert, do a tourism tour, you need their authorization. The
parallel power -- they also call them "commands" -- developed inside the
prisons. In the 1970s, during the military dictatorship, the government
threw leftist guerrillas into the same jails as the common criminals.
The guerrillas taught the criminals how to organize, and they created the
Red Falange. Its leaders were middle-aged men, but the Falange split
up into two groups, the Red Command and the Green Command, and the original
leaders were killed and replaced by younger, more violent men. These
are the men who now control the favelas.
WOL: Where is the Brazilian
Guanabara: That's what
the people want to know. The government is absent, it doesn't really
care about the millions of poor in the favelas. They don't send assistance,
they don't do social programs, the only thing they send is the police.
They send the police to contain and repress the poor. In that sense,
prohibition works as an excuse for the repression of the poor. We
have great hopes that this will change with the new government of Lula.
WOL: What other sorts
of drug reform efforts are underway in Brazil?
Guanabara: There is
a movement to legalize marijuana, but it is only at the beginning.
Last year was the first time Brazilians participated in the Million Marijuana
Marches, and I was a spokesman for that. We had more than a hundred
reporters present, as well as the civil police, who came and photographed
everything. There was some fear we would be arrested for our advocacy,
but the government of the state, the Workers' Party of Lula, said it was
free speech. Congressman Gabeira is really the leader of the marijuana
legalization movement in Brazil. He has been advocating legalization
for years and years, but now that Lula is in office we hope it will happen
within the next few years. I think the Workers' Party will be receptive.
WOL: You've just finished
the conference in Mérida, where you helped MC the event. How
do you think it went?
Guanabara: I think
it was great. I have the feeling that some of the nicest people in
the world were there. And we got a lot of work done. We talked
to the deputies from the Transnational Radical Party and will arrange for
them to meet with Gabeira and other members of the state and federal congresses.
We also did a lot of work with our Latin American friends from Argentina,
Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, and we are now, as a result of this
conference, closer than ever to uniting to stop the drug war and end prohibition
in Latin America. There is a common understanding in Latin America
that prohibition is tremendously more harmful than drugs could ever be.
We especially have much in common with Argentina, because neither country
is a coca producer, and we can concentrate on the problems of consumption
under prohibition. So our networking with Argentina is more developed
than with other Latin American countries right now. But in the future
we will also bring up the issues that are important in Bolivia and Peru
and the other producing countries. We understand that coca and cocaine
are commodities that can bring wealth to the consumer countries instead
of destruction, so we favor this commerce. We also have a deep respect
for the ancient indigenous traditions of coca use; it is a sacred plant.
For us in Brazil, marijuana is also a sacred plant. The prohibition
of these plants is a profound manifestation of human ignorance. It