<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Al Giordano

Opening Statement, April 18, 2000
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An Isolated Voice in Brazil’s Congress

The Narco News Interview with Senator Jefferson Péres, Legalization Advocate

By Karine Muller
Narco News Brasília Bureau

June 24, 2003

Walking through the halls of the National Congress, anyone can sense echoes of the history of the making of Constitutional amendments and laws. Here is where the elected representatives come to meet. But, between the lines, beyond all the obligatory bureaucratic and administrative activity of the country, who are the lone, independent, voices in Congress?

One of them is certainly Senator Jefferson Péres, representative of the state of Amazonas and a member of the Constitution, Justice, and Citizenship Commission of the Senate: one of the few who has made pronouncements in favor of legalizing drugs in this country.

In these times of discussion about public safety, narco-trafficking, and organized crime, I went to see the Senator to ask about some of the issues relevant to these questions. Here is what he said.

On the Congressional Debate about Drug Decriminalization…

There has not been an official debate on the legalization of drugs. There have been some isolated pronouncements. At times, debates appear sporadically. Systemic and constant debate about drugs don’t happen. I believe I am an isolated voice.

On Anti-Drug Campaigns in the Media…

I have the impression that the majority of them don’t have any effect at all. I don’t find that anti-drug campaigns convince adolescents or youths to stop consuming drugs. People have been born with the tendency toward alcohol. The drugs and TV campaigns have had very little effect on them.

On Repression of Drug Users…

The repression is worse than ever. What’s more is that, because drugs are prohibited there has been police repression, however I blame the lost war against narco-trafficking. I begin with the supposition that there have always been drug dealers. Where there has been a consumer, there has always been a provider. You can mobilize the police, the army, the marines and the air force, but not extinquish the consumption or the trafficking of drugs.

On the National Anti-Drug Secretary (the SENAD)...

The U.S. model should serve as a bad example for the whole world. Experience has shown me that it is useless to combat drugs with repression. There is no country that has the financial power of the USA, nor its police apparatus. They patrol the coasts, the border with Mexico, the DEA spends billions of dollars in all of this. However, they are also the largest consumer nation of drugs on the planet. Thus, I ask myself, if the most powerful country on earth can’t succeed at combatting drugs, how can the others be expected to do it?

On the Total Legalization of Drugs…

We could legalize them gradually, beginning with the softer drugs like marijuana and later cocaine until we get to others. I am in favor of the legalization of drugs on a universal scale, not only in Brazil. If all the countries legalize drugs, they will save all the money that they spend on repression without success. They will reduce the corruption that narco-trafficking promotes. The police, the courts, the political and penetentiary systems, all of them are corrupted by narco-trafficking. With legalization, the fights between them, the burning of archives, the corruption of the State apparatus and the violence everywhere, will diminish. And a tax could also be collected on the production of drugs, which would be invested in treatment for chemical dependents and educational campaigns, although I don’t believe in them.

On the State as Repressor…

Most people are afraid to say this: It’s about a moral principle. But does the State has the right to impede that an adult does what he wants with his life? I find that it doesn’t. If an adult person wants to consume drugs, or self-destruct, his life is his own. Why does the State have to impede this repressively?

On a Taboo in the Congress…

When I made my speech about drug legalization, many stopped to think and said that, logically, they felt the same way, but they don’t have the courage to say it. The fear of public censure is very great. Thus, they only think about repression.

On What Sustains Narco-Trafficking…

Narco-trafficking is sustained by prohibition. We need to distinguish between two things. The first is the consumption of drugs, that has always existed and is always going to exist in humanity. The second is narco-trafficking, that lives not off the consumption, but, rather, off the prohibition. If you end the prohibition, free the consumption, you put an end to the illegal commerce. This is the only way to end narco-trafficking. I am not defending any thesis. This is a fact. Narco-trafficking exists because it is prohibited. If it is not prohibited, if it is legalized, the illegal commerce is not going to want to pay the tax. That’s when narco-trafficking will die. It is the fruit of prohibition.

On the Question of the Border…

Currently, the questoin of the border and illegal commerce of arms linked to narco-trafficking is discussed a lot. Brasil has an enormous border. It borders Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, which are drug producers. In Colombia we have narco-guerrillas who need to buy arms. People here in Brazil smuggle arms in exchange for drugs. These things are very connected and, with a border that is thousands of kilometers long, it is impossible to “monitor” all this with an Army.

On the Use of the Armed Forces in Combatting Narco-Trafficking…

Senator Jefferson Peres
The Armed Forces can help guard our borders, but they are not prepared to combat narco-trafficking. This is the job of the police. If we use the army, we will only end up corrupting it. There are currently thousands of weapons that have been stolen from Army bases, of course by soldiers who sell them to narco-traffickers. The direct contact between the soldiers and narco-trafficking assures that they are easily corrupted by it. For a soldier who earns 800 reales (around $250 dollars) a month, it is difficult to resist a bribe of 10,000 reales (about $3,000 dollars), for example. It’s the same for an officer who earns 5,000 reals (about $1,600 dollars) per month; a bribe of 50,000 reals (about $15,000 dollars) is also irresistable. We have to leave the Army out of this matter.

On the fight in Congress…

I am not in battle. I simply express my opinion. I can’t betrawy the Brazilian flag. I receive emails from people questioning me about how can I defend the consumption of drugs in the country. But I simply defend the legalization of drugs because I want to stop narco-trafficking. Unfortunately, this is a cultural problem.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America