The governor of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro told reporters last Friday that legalizing drugs could help stem the violent crime that is making the city of Rio one of the most dangerous in Latin America. In doing so, he took a swipe at United States-style prohibitionist policies.
In the favelas of Rio, drug dealers organized into "commands" control entire neighborhoods and have engaged in uprising and gun battles with police on numerous occasions in the past few years. More recently, paramilitary vigilante groups known as "milicias" have joined the fray, waging war against the commands. This all contributes to a murder rate of about 40 per 100,000, making violent crime a serious social and political problem.
Gov. Cabral campaigned on a pledge to reduce violent crime and moved early in his administration to send federal special police into the city to confront the commands. But so far, it hasn't worked.
"The governor is merely saying out loud what so many more think but fear to say," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Rio today is like Chicago under Al Capone -- times ten. Reforming drug prohibition won't be as quick and easy as repealing alcohol Prohibition was, but there's no hope for breaking the drug-crime nexus unless many more elected officials heed Governor Cabral's call."
Psicotropicus worries that Cabral will not move forward, but retreat in the face of criticism from drug warriors and moralists. It urges the governor to stand firm and put together a commission to move toward an end to the drug prohibition regime. The life of the city is at stake: "A transition has to be made, one that among other things should reduce the war arsenal in the hands of the several criminalized groups who control the illegal trade of drugs," the group argued. "There is a civil war going on in Rio de Janeiro and we don't realize that one of its main reasons is that we don't control those illicit drugs but instead put them in the hands of outlawed groups to produce and distribute them. And then we mobilize the police to fight these groups who heavily arm themselves, violence explodes and the population is fucked. It couldn't be more stupid."