Pubdate: Sun, 19 Aug 2012
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2012 The Associated Press
Author: Juliana Barbassa


RIO DE JANEIRO - Business was brisk in the Mandela shantytown on a 
recent night. Customers pawed through packets of powdered cocaine and 
marijuana priced at $5, $10, $25. Teenage boys with semiautomatic 
weapons took in money and made change while flirting with girls 
lounging nearby.

Next to them, a gaggle of kids jumped on a trampoline, oblivious 
tothe gunsanddrug-running that are part of life in this and hundreds 
of other slums, known as favelas, across this metropolitan area of 12 
million people.

Conspicuously absent from the scene was crack, the most addictive and 
destructive drug in the triad that fuels Rio's lucrative narcotics trade.

Once crack was introduced here about six years ago, Mandela and 
surrounding shantytowns became Rio's main outdoor drug market, a 
"cracolandia," or crackland, where users bought the rocks, smoked and 
lingered until the next hit. Hordes of addicts lived in cardboard 
shacks and filthy blankets.

Now, there was no crack on the wooden table displaying the goods for 
sale, and the addicts were gone. The change hadn't come from any 
police or public health campaign. Instead, the dealers have stopped 
selling the drug in Mandela and nearby Jacarezinho in amove that 
traffickers say will spread citywide within the next two years.

The drug bosses, often born and raised in the very slums they now 
lord over, say crack destabilizes their communities. Law enforcement 
and city authorities, however, take credit for the change, arguing 
that drug gangs are only trying to create a distraction and persuade 
police to call off an offensive to take back the slums.

Dealers shake their heads, insisting it was their decision to stop 
selling crack, the crystalized form of cocaine.

"Crack has been nothing but a disgrace for Rio. It's time to stop," 
said the drug boss in charge. He is Mandela's second-in-command. At 
37, he is an elder in Rio's most established faction, the Comando 
Vermelho, or Red Command. He's wanted by police and didn't want his 
name published.

Although crack makes him a lot of money, he has his own reasons to 
resent the drug.

"I see this misery," he said. "I'm a human being, too, and I'm a 
leader here. I want to say I helped stop this."
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