|Week Online: Both of you
were involved in a series of meetings among human rights, harm reduction
and other drug reform groups that led to a Brazilian delegation attending
and addressing the recent Global Social Forum Special Thematic Meeting
on Democracy, Human Rights, War, and the Drug Traffic in Cartagena, Colombia.
Can you tell us about that process and what it says for the state of the
movement in Brazil?
Luiz Paulo Guanabara: There
were several preparatory meetings beginning in February; I didn't really
get involved until April, when Psicotropicus helped prepare for the second
meeting in Rio de Janeiro. We had Congressman Gabeira, National Public
Security Secretary Luis Eduardo Soares, retired Judge Maria Lucia Karam
-- who affirms prohibition is unconstitutional -- Cândido Grzybowski,
from the World Social Forum. There were many other groups and teachers
from several universities involved. That was in May, a few weeks before
Cartagena, at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
|Luiz Paulo Guanabara
Cecilia Szterenfeld: This
was the first time the kinds of subjects, especially antiprohibitionism,
were discussed within the federal university. It was very helpful to open
people's minds and get them thinking differently. Brazilian drug policy
is still very dominated by the US stance toward drugs, and we are pushing
our government hard to adopt new policies. These meetings were important
not only as organizing tools for Cartagena, and for our September users'
rights conference in Rio, but also as a means of raising the federal government's
consciousness about what civil society thinks about this. Here in Brazil
we have a very strong tradition of organizations from civil society. Beginning
with the time of the military dictatorship in the 1970s, we have seen a
very interesting development of civil society around the Catholic Church.
There are thousands of small groups in communities across the country.
The Catholic Church was one of the few institutions that opened a political
space for organizing during the dictatorship. Now there are a myriad of
organizations all over the country. In AIDS prevention, for example, the
health ministry works with some 600 organizations. This is why AIDS prevention
has been so successful here -- because it reaches people where they are
and where they are most vulnerable.
WOL: You mentioned the role
of the Church. Is the Church in Brazil progressive on these issues?
Cecilia Szterenfeld: In Brazil, you
cannot speak of the church as a monolithic institution. This is where liberation
theology was born, and it is still strong here. You do have general lines
of instruction from the hierarchy, but they are not very tight. Just as
whether you have condom distribution within a particular school depends
on a number of factors, so it is with the Church. It depends on the nature
of the parish and the nature of the priest. Some priests will tell us we
can do a workshop on AIDS prevention in the church, but that we cannot
distribute condoms. "Do it outside," they say, "I'll look the other way."
The Church is very active in harm reduction issues, but they have their
limitations when it comes to sex and drugs. Still, they are usually on
the people's side. Our bishop, for instance, says that using a condom is
a lesser evil.
WOL: Luiz, you represented
the Brazilians at the Mama Coca (http://www.mamacoca.org)
meeting in Cartagena, on the last day of the forum, where many in attendance
signed on to participate in setting up an international commission to pressure
the United Nations to amend or repeal the global drug conventions. At the
time, it sounded like you were saying the Brazilians would not choose to
be part of that effort -- you thought your resources were better spent
on the local and regional level. Is that still the case?
Guanabara: There will be
a Brazilian participation in the commission. On Tuesday, we had our first
post-Cartagena meeting with the Brazilian group -- which also includes
Colombian Fernando Patiño who lives in Rio, -- and Jorge Atílio
S. Iulianelli and Ana Maria Motta Ribeiro from Koinonia (http://www.koinonia.org.br)
will be part of a small Brazilian group that will be part of the commission.
For me and for Psicotropicus, while we think it is important to work toward
changing the UN conventions and we are willing to be part of that, it is
secondary to our primary goal of empowering Latin Americans so we can create
some space for a drug policy independent of the US. Brazil cannot just
challenge the UN conventions by itself, but if we can get the Latin American
countries working together at the regional level, then a change in drug
policy towards decriminalization of drug production, sales and using could
become a real possibility. It would also help change at the UN.
WOL: This year has seen international
conferences in Mérida and Cartagena where reformers from around
the hemisphere and beyond came together to work and learn and attempt to
forge that hemispheric movement. Are we seeing progress?
Guanabara: One thing both
conferences made clear was how prohibitionism is used as a tool for controlling
people and restricting civil liberties, not only by the US against other
countries, but within individual countries, including the US, where it
is used against the poor, those with the wrong skin color, the excluded.
I see a real opportunity for forming and strengthening a Latin American
antiprohibitionist network. Psicotropicus debuted at Mérida, even
before being publicly announced it in Brazil. When I got back home, I found
there was no other antiprohibitionist group at work in Brazil. But I also
found that there were people in Brazil and beyond who want to be part of
this work. The Brazilian Harm Reduction Association (http://www.aborda.org.br
-- "Associação Brasileira de Redutores de Danos" in Portuguese)
was also thinking about antiprohibitionist issues, and so are groups like
DRCNet, the Mordaunt Trust in England, the Transnational Radical Party,
Mama Coca, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, ARDA in Argentina, the
Drug Policy Alliance and many others. And these groups can provide mutual
support for each other. When I came back from Mérida, I found that
Psicotropicus had become the catalyst for a lot of antiprohibitionist-minded
people. What happened in Cartagena was to some degree a further development
of issues brought up in Mérida.
WOL: You are planning a September
conference in Rio de Janeiro. What is that about?
Guanabara: It is the First
National Seminar on Drug Users' Rights. The main sponsor is ABORDA and
funding comes from the Health Ministry. It's interesting to have support
from the Brazilian government -- and also partially from the UN Office
on Drugs and Crime Prevention, through their AIDS program -- to realize
such a conference. It's a positive sign that amidst the drug insanity created
by prohibition there are many people here trying to fix that. It'll take
place September 22-23 in Rio de Janeiro. Former ABORDA president Domiciano
Siqueira and I will be coordinating the Latin American forum at the event.
We don't know yet who will come from outside Brazil -- I invited everybody
at Cartagena -- but it already looks like it will be really big (more than
150 registrations in the first week). We certainly will see people from
Argentina and Uruguay, and are working to bring others from Bolivia, Peru,
Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America. We hope North America and Europe
will be represented as well. Our problem is that we do not have funding
for travel expenses for all these people. Some will be financed by their
own groups, but some groups don't have enough money, and neither do most
individuals in Latin America. We are also looking for funding for a third
day of the conference, a continuation, which would be devoted exclusively
to the Latin American forum and the antiprohibitionist movement.
WOL: What are the prospects
for progressive changes in drug policy under the government of President
"Lula" da Silva?
Guanabara: There is much
grumbling among Lula's supporters in the Workers Party in general right
now. The bases are not happy. They are disappointed because they feel that
while Lula has taken office, he has not taken control. It is like nothing
has changed. Lula was going to take us on the path of national liberation,
but he hasn't yet started down that path. Still, officials at the Health
Ministry, Justice Minister Thomas Bastos, and National Security Secretary
Luis Eduardo Soares have all said in recent months that they are in favor
of immediate decriminalization of drug use. Also, you have to remember
that the harm reduction movement that has emerged in Brazil is unique in
a couple of ways. First, there are strong antiprohibitionist tendencies
within the Brazilian movement. And second, also unlike the harm reduction
movement in the US, harm reduction has emerged as social movement here.
Psicotropicus, as an antiprohibitionist organization, has allied itself
with the harm reduction movement, and we are working together. And, there
is also a strong marijuana legalization movement, though it is very scattered
and not yet well-organized. In fact, we just met last week with the organizers
of the Rio de Janeiro Million Marijuana March to work on planning next
year's, which will be on May Day.
But as the movement for drug
reform grows, we are starting to see a reaction. The prosecutors and the
people in the recovery industry are starting to attack, and so are people
in the judiciary. They want to see their drug courts expanded, and the
recovery people want to keep profiting from this misery. They are using
techniques that have been discarded even in the US!
Szterenfeld: There is a significant
base for reform in the harm reduction movement here, where we already have
harm reduction programs in 22 states, and they are community-based. In
North America or Europe, where you have harm reduction programs like needle
exchanges or safe injection sites, they tend to be professionalized, with
doctors and nurses and psychologists. But here it is different. We have
users involved as community-based health agents. We have created a network
where users have a lot of empowerment, even if they are absorbed within
the public health system. The Lula government came to power in January,
and by March they had issued a statement saying harm reduction was official
public health policy for the entire health ministry. Before that, it had
only been the policy of the AIDS coordinator within the health ministry.
And I think there is a chance
to move the antiprohibitionist movement ahead. Public sentiment is still
against us, of course, and the conference in September will be a good indicator,
a first trial balloon for the idea of ending prohibition. In previous governments,
we in the harm reduction movement were afraid to lose any of the ground
we had struggled so hard to gain, so we were afraid to link harm reduction
and an end to prohibition. But in the last six months, that has begun to
change as we see an opening from the federal government. People feel more
secure, more comfortable talking about it.
Still, I think the Brazilian
public, and even people already involved in the social movements, have
to be educated on these issues. That is one of the main goals of the September
conference. We need people in the social movements to make the link between
the US role in globalization, its policies on drug trafficking, and the
consequences for the people. We aren't there yet. But we also want to show
people who are sympathetic to the antiprohibitionist movement that there
are others like them out there. We intend to have psychologists against
drug courts, educators against a "just say no" drug education, professionals
who are not satisfied with the status quo in drug policy who wouldn't otherwise
know about each other.
This is the year of laying
the groundwork for a five or ten year struggle. We know we have four years
of Lula, where we won't have to worry about being arrested for what we
think. He hasn't yet decided in what direction he will move, and our hope
is to influence him to try other ways. Our strategy will be not to go against
what is officially proposed -- there may be commercial and military agreements
that make it difficult for the government to change gears right now. But
when Lula is reelected in four years, then we can move on. The ideal situation
would be that we convince Lula not to sign the UN convention that will
be up in 2006, and perhaps we can get the rest of Latin America to join
in and Europe will support us, and then we will be free, no? A number of
ministers and politicians here say privately they support decrim and could
consider ending prohibition, but tell us they can't say that out loud because
Lula hasn't decided. We are in a moment where we can be very influential.
Brazil is a huge country with a great cultural diversity, so why not try
the Portuguese model and the Amsterdam model or the Swiss model? Let us
open up possibilities and monitor what happens and see what works. That
would be a refreshing change.