Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jan 2012
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: John Lyons
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Hampered in the U.S., Drug Traffickers Find a Replacement; Skeletal 
'Zombies' Rule Sao Paulo's Cracolandia After Dark.

SAO PAULO, Brazil--A crack cocaine outbreak reminiscent of the one 
that devastated U.S. inner cities in the 1980s is starting to take 
hold in this South American nation, as drug traffickers facing more 
difficulty selling into the U.S. are pioneering markets elsewhere.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, what to do about the hundreds of 
zombielike addicts who by night wander a downtown no man's land known 
as Cracolandia, or Crackland, has become a key issue for local 
elections this year. But mayors from Rio de Janeiro to outposts in 
the Amazon lament that dangerous cracklands are sprouting in their 
cities as well.

Underscoring the difficulty of a controversial bid to remove crack 
use from Sao Paulo's downtown, police units Friday descended on 
dozens of users who had returned overnight to a desolate city block 
that had been cleared in a previous raid. Among the arrests: a 
15-year-old boy carrying 1,500 crack "rocks," cash and cellphones.

Rio's mayor said this month he would create a special crack police 
that could be deployed to the hardest-hit slums. In December, 
President Dilma Rousseff said the nation will spend around $2.5 
billion by 2014 to combat crack nationwide.

Brazil illustrates a global trend. Cocaine traffickers are 
successfully exploring new markets to offset steep declines in U.S. 
cocaine use in recent years. Though the U.S. is still the world's 
biggest cocaine market, its share is shrinking as the result of 
greater domestic spending on prevention, stronger enforcement, and 
users switching to other drugs, authorities say.

As the illegal cocaine business recalibrates to U.S. progress in 
fighting it, cocaine production is migrating from Colombia, a close 
U.S. ally in combating drugs, to Peru and Bolivia, where populist 
leaders have less interest in combating it. As much as 80% of cocaine 
in Brazil comes from Bolivia, Brazilian police say. Brazil's national 
police now works closely with the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration agents to develop strategies for slowing the flows.

Users in the U.S. consumed some 165 metric tons of cocaine in 2008, 
down from 267 metric tons in 1998. Traffickers offset these declines 
mainly by expanding markets in Western and Central Europe, where 
cocaine use grew to 126 metric tons in 2008 compared to 63 metric tons in 1998.

Traffickers are reaching increasingly down to emerging-market 
countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, where consumption is 
also rising. In the case of Brazil, the country has doubled as a 
transit route to the growing markets of Europe, adding to the 
quantities of cocaine moving through the country.

Brazil's 900,000 cocaine users makes the country one of the world's 
biggest markets for the drug. For dealers, the profits are smaller, 
but the risk of prosecution and jail is also much lower than in the 
U.S., experts say.

"Drug-trafficking organizations seek the path of least resistance, 
and Brazil is becoming a replacement market," said Bo Mathiasen, a 
senior United Nations drug official based in Brasilia.

U.N. drug officials say the most recent trend is a push to ship 
cocaine east to a growing population of users in South Africa, as 
well as west from Bolivia, through Chile and on to potential growth 
markets in Australia and New Zealand, said Mr. Mathiasen.

The rise of crack is an ominous development in the trend. Powerfully 
addictive and sold in cheap nuggets to users who can't afford 
powdered cocaine, crack's inroads may stress creaky public-health 
systems and exacerbate already-high crime rates in Brazilian cities, 
experts say. In Sao Paulo, robberies are up near Cracolandia.

Dealers in Rio, which will host the 2014 soccer World Cup finals, 
appeared to be trying to tap Brazil's love of the game to market 
their wares. Police raiding a favela, or shantytown, in Rio on Jan. 
11 confiscated crack rocks in packaging emblazoned with the face of 
Ronaldinho, one of Brazil's most prominent stars.

Studies conducted in the U.S. linked crack use with rises in violent 
crime and HIV infection in U.S. cities such as Washington and New 
York in the 1980s. U.S. crack use declined sharply in the 1990s, and 
a debate remains as to whether law enforcement caused it to fall, or 
whether the brutal toll crack takes on its users led the epidemic to 
burn itself out.

To be sure, crack cocaine has been in Brazil for years, and the 
rundown blocks around Sao Paulo's Victorian-era Luz train 
terminal--the area now called Cracolandia--have been a skid row for 
longer. But by all accounts, both the local population of users and 
the supply of crack are exploding.

Before the military police moved in, radio traffic reports 
occasionally noted when throngs of crack users were overflowing into 
nearby thoroughfares and blocking transit. Nearby shop owners rue the 
garbage strewn on most street corners, a sign of users sifting for 
something to eat or sell.

"They are people who are dying on their feet, like zombies," says 
Angelo Jose Odines, an underwear wholesaler in the area for four 
decades who doesn't plan to move. "The key is leaving this district 
before nightfall."

On a recent night, mobs of skeletal figures ambled in darkened 
streets. Some draped filthy blankets over their shoulders or heads in 
the drizzly chill. They swarmed when a dealer arrived. Flames flared 
from crack pipes in the darkness. Police cars patrolled slowly but 
didn't intervene.

The experience of Washington Pereira Ramos, a rail-thin 40-year-old 
user with sunken cheeks, underscores crack's pull. He said he usually 
spends several days awake using the drug, stopping to beg for the $2 
he requires for a hit. When he sleeps, he does it for a day straight 
under a highway overpass. He eats from the garbage, or an occasional 
soup served at a church, to save all his centavos for crack.

"Crack is like my wife, and I've loved it since my first taste," Mr. 
Ramos said.

A campaign to clear Cracolandia began on Jan. 3. Police arrested 
dozens and recovered large quantities of crack. Workers demolished 
some buildings used as crack dens and bricked in others. But critics 
note that Mr. Ramos and other users simply spread out along the edges 
of the operation. The simple reason is they have nowhere to go: Most 
treatment centers are full, and others are yet to be built. Dealers, 
many of whom are users themselves, arrive to make sales unimpeded.

The "pyrotechnic" intervention only "dispersed groups of homeless," 
Marta Suplicy, a former Sao Paulo mayor from Ms. Rousseff's Workers 
Party, wrote in a major Sao Paulo daily newspaper earlier this month. 
Analysts say the drug issue will feature in this year's Sao Paulo 
mayoral race--a key test for parties ahead of the 2014 national election.

Activists for the poor and homeless have blasted heavier policing as 
inadequate for dealing with the problem if treatment for addicts 
isn't part of the mix. Police officials defend their action as the 
beginning of a long-term effort to provide security. Officials note 
that more treatment centers are due to come online soon and that a 
police presence must be part of any solution.

Some local business owners suggested police action had more to do 
with real-estate speculation than stopping drug use. The crack 
problem is simply being relocated to make way for development plans 
around the train station, says Gilson Vieira da Silva, who runs a 
business selling used computers a few blocks from the crack center.

Inside the Hotel Imperial, one of a string of downtown establishments 
notorious for crack-related prostitution, the burned odor of crack 
smoke hung in the air. A group of young men with gold chains and 
gelled hair hanging around the front desk said business was as usual.

At Cristolandia, a crack outreach center set up by an evangelical 
church, business is booming. The group has opened three new centers 
in the past year, says Jose Roberto Souza, who manages the operation.

"Because the drug epidemic is so new, people aren't ready for dealing 
with crack addicts, which is a whole different game from dealing with 
people hooked on other drugs," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom