After years of São Paulo officials employing forced treatment and other heavy-handed tactics to fight the city’s crack epidemic, Mayor Fernando Haddad is trying a new approach. But his attempts to implement a health-based, humane line of attack against crack abuse are being challenged by state police, who favor more orthodox law enforcement practices.
Earlier this month, Haddad announced a strategic shift in the city’s battle with rampant crack cocaine use in the central slum popularly known as Cracolândia. He unveiled “Operation Open Arms,” a new program which provides housing, food and work opportunities to those living on the streets in the neighborhood. Inspired by the success of similar programs in the Netherlands and Canada, participants will receive roughly $6.50 USD a day in exchange for cleaning parks and other public places. They will also be given meals, medical care and group housing in local motels, according to G1. Giving up drug use is not a condition for participating in the program, though participants will be encouraged to do so and will have greater access to addiction treatment programs. Some 300 people have been enrolled in the program thus far, and were moved into motels after their improvised shelters were demolished on January 14 and 15.
While Haddad has touted the program as a bold embrace of harm reduction-based treatment, some are skeptical of the program. As the Christian Science Monitor notes, many view it simply as an attempt to temporarily clean up the city’s streets in time for the World Cup. Several drug treatment experts who work in Cracolândia told the CSM they are doubtful that the program can offer a long-term solution to crack addicts.
This skepticism is seemingly shared by state anti-drugs police agency DENARC. Last week saw a major confrontation between DENARC officers and locals in Cracolândia, in which police allegedly fired rubber bullets and used tear gas against a crowd after an operation there sparked public outrage. Estadão reports that Haddad called São Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin to complain about the incident, and some in his office told the paper that Alckmin, a member of the PSDB, was working to undermine the drug policy of the Workers’ Party (PT) mayor. Public prosecutors are investigating the alleged use of force, and a top aide to the governor has said that there will be no more confrontations between state police and Cracolândia residents, though Folha de São Paulor notes that he assured the public that DENARC operations there will continue.
The incident occurred just as federal public prosecutors announced an investigation into alleged abuses that have occurred in local, state and federal operations in Cracolândia in recent years.
- São Paulo saw a massive anti-World Cup protest on Saturday, which brought some 2,500 people together and led to several clashes between demonstrators and police. Protestors rallied under the banner of the “There Will Be No Cup” ("Não Vai Ter Copa") movement, which stems from the massive demonstrations of last June. As a result of the violence, the BBC reports, São Paulo officials were forced to cancel some events planned for the city's 460th anniversary.
- Chile’s Michelle Bachelet has named her picks for her incoming cabinet when she takes office in March. EFE notes that includes a record number of women, as well as political independents. Reuters reports that the choices reflect a pragmatic sampling from across her wide political coalition. Rodrigo Peñailillo, one of her top advisors, has been named as cabinet chief and Interior Minister, and Heraldo Muñoz -- currently the regional director of the UNDP in Latin America -- as her foreign minister.
- On Friday, Peruvian public prosecutor Marco Guzman announced that his office would drop a criminal investigation into former President Alberto Fujimori and several of his health ministers who oversaw a mass sterilization program during his administration. El Comercio reports that Guzman found that legal responsibility for the sterilizations does not extend up the chain of command to the president. Sigifredo Florian of the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) told reporters that this decision will be appealed. The AP notes that the case was initially taken up by Peruvian authorities under pressure from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
- The governments of Chile and Peru are awaiting a ruling from the International Court of Justice in The Hague over a longstanding maritime border dispute between the two countries. As El Pais reports, both countries have vowed to abide by the ruling, though it is sure to stir up nationalist outrage in one of them.
- Over the weekend, leaders from across the hemisphere began arriving in Havana, Cuba today for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit. Today’s meetings will bring together CELAC foreign ministers to agree on a common agenda for tomorrow, the official meeting of heads of state. The Nuevo Herald points out that, while this is the first CELAC meeting since former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s death, his legacy still looms large over the fledgling organization. Latin America historian Miguel Tinker Salas tells the AP that he believes the CELAC’s existence puts pressure on the OAS and Inter-American system to respond more closely to the interests of Latin America, though other experts are less optimistic of any real change arising from the organization.
- Honduran President-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez takes office today, and La Prensa reports on the arrival of international delegations to the country. Among these is OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, who heralded Hernandez´s inauguration as proof that political order had been restored. “The political crisis of 2009, after which Honduras was isolated by the world, is now in the past and now things are normal and calm,” Insulza told journalists.
- As the region’s focus turns to Cuba, pro-democracy activists on the island have staged a series of protests to draw attention to their cause. Members of the Ladies in White claim that over 100 of their group have been arrested by officials, and leading dissident Guillermo Fariñas told reporters he has been placed under house arrest to prevent his participation in a parallel summit meant to draw attention to the human rights situation in Cuba.
- The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff takes advantage of the CELAC summit to look at the post-2000 “left turn” in Latin American politics, which has only deepened in recent years. As Miroff notes, when Chile’s Sebastian Piñera ends his term in March, the only conservative governments in power will be in “small Central American nations and Paraguay.” While part of this has to do with the appeal of left-leaning policy narratives in the poverty-stricken region, it can also be explained by the willingness of some leftist politicians to moderate their images in order to appeal to a wider base.
- The L.A. Times is the latest U.S. paper to profile the arrival of Cuban doctors to Rio as part of the “Mais Medicos” program. While the program has earned criticism from those who say it exploits the labor of the doctors involved, the isolated and poor communities where they serve have been very appreciative of the program.