Pubdate: Tue, 6 Jul 2004
Source: Financial Times (UK)
Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2004
Author: Raymond Colitt
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Peruvian Aircraft Shooting)


Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won Brazil's presidency with the election
slogan "Love and Peace". But after 18 months in office his pacificist
leanings are being tested by the growing menace of drug

An influx of cocaine and other narcotics is blamed for many of the
370,000 deaths by violence in Brazil during the 1990s. Drugs have
financed arms purchases and intensified turf wars between gangs in Rio
de Janeiro and other cities.

Now, amid rising public anger at the level of urban violence, Mr Lula
da Silva is to authorise Brazil's air force to shoot down any
unidentified aircraft suspected of smuggling narcotics.

The move is one of several announced by the government in recent
months that signal an increasing militarisation of efforts to prevent
the entry of drugs from Colombia and Peru.

In the Sao Luiz cemetery, surrounded by the sprawling favelas of
southern Sao Paulo, the tombstones tell the same shocking story.
Two-thirds of the 150,000 men buried here were aged between 13 and 25.
Eighty per cent are reckoned to have been killed in urban violence
linked to drug and arms dealing.

"The government is beginning to realise there is a link between
regional and local insecurity - what happens in Colombia matters in
the streets of Rio," says Rubem Cesar Fernandes, executive director of
VivaRio, a community group.

Brazil for some time has been a transit country for drugs from
Colombia. Yet with controls tightening elsewhere, drugs have instead
flooded into Brazil's cities in recent years. The number of cocaine
users trebled in the 1990s.

In addition, says Giovanni Quaglia, Brazilian head of the United
Nations Office on

Drugs and Crime, drug consumption in developed countries is "reaching
a level of saturation. Brazil is an attractive market." The US
government estimates Brazil is now the second-largest single-country
market for cocaine in the world.

Hence Mr Lula da Silva's new tough approach. Last month the government
ordered the creation of an elite police force to combat drug
trafficking and quell urban violence. By the end of the year it is to
total 2,000 troops. In addition, the army will relocate a brigade of
3,000 troops from Rio de Janeiro to help patrol rivers and roads along
the borders with Colombia and Venezuela. Last month, the Senate passed
legislation that will allow the armed forces to take on police tasks
in the fight against drugs. The bill "represents the armed forces'
substantial increase in support, in agreement with the wishes of
Brazilian society, in combating international crime", the defence
ministry said.

The measures are not universally applauded. The government's response,
says Mr Fernandes, remains diffuse and inflexible. "The police are like
the Catholic church in the Middle Ages: extremely hierarchical and
bureaucratic." One risk, other critics say, is that a "war on drugs"
could undermine prevention measures. "Brazil should not follow the
American model of repression and threats, which has proven to be
ineffective," argues Denis Mizne, head of Sou da Paz, a peace advocacy

He says Brazil's "inadequate" drug prevention effort - mainly
educational - should be led by the health and justice ministries, not
a public security ministry run by a military official.

The US has so far poured $2.8bn (UKP1.5bn) into Plan Colombia, its
counter-narcotics and military aid programme in the Americas and is
considering an increase in aid. But the results have been mixed.

The US claims success in eradicating significant areas of drug
cultivation in Colombia. Yet critics say the overall export volume has
not been reduced significantly. New coca plantations as well as
increasing productivity have offset eradication.

In 2001, Peru and Colombia abandoned the practice of shooting down
suspicious aircraft after an incident in which the Peruvian air force,
with the help of US intelligence, mistakenly shot down an aircraft
carrying American missionaries. Colombia resumed the policy last year.

Brazil says it is taking measures to prevent such tragedies. Only
suspicious aircraft lacking proper registration and an official flight
path which failed to respond to radio and visual contact as well as
warning shots would be fired at.

Nevertheless, even the authorities admit there are limits to how
successful the new approach is likely to be. "Technically, we can
track and shoot down the planes but we don't always have the
resources," says Getulio Bezerra, head of the Federal Police's
organised crime division. "You will never be able to end drug
trafficking through repression. No country has and neither will we." 
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