Monday, August 18, 2014

São Paulo’s Ambitious ‘Crackland’ Program Sees Results

As mentioned in previous posts, São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad has implemented a unique approach to combating crack use in a run-down area of the city center.

The program, “De Braços Abertos” (With Open Arms) provides housing, food and work opportunities -- mainly trash pickup in the Luz neighborhood known as Cracolândia  -- to some 400 drug users who had previously lived on the streets there. Giving up drug use is not a condition for participating, though participants are encouraged to do so and have greater access to addiction treatment therapy.  It was inspired by the success of similar programs in the Netherlands and Canada.

Now, seven months since De Braços Abertos began, the mayor’s office claims the program is starting to show results. According to city officials, while participants largely continue to use crack cocaine the intensity of their use has dropped significantly (with daily usage down roughly 50 to 70 percent, and concentrated mostly during evening hours). They have also benefitted from a drastically increased quality of life as result of the housing and access to health care.

On top of a June visit from the UK’s Prince Harry, the achievements of the program have earned the Haddad administration some unexpected praise from São Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who has championed a controversial forced drug treatment program that is in many ways the opposite of De Braços Abertos. In remarks to the press on August 4, the governor called the city program “highly laudable.”

As O Jornal do Brasil reports, on August 5 Haddad held a press conference to present 16 participants with “carteiras de trabalho” (employment record books, necessary for obtaining formal work in the country) and announced that they had been hired by a municipal contractor to work as cleaners in welfare assistance offices around the city.

They will be moved from the motels they are being housed in now to other areas in São Paulo, namely in the Liberdade and Pari neighborhoods. As a result of their formal employment, the group will receive a minimum wage of about $362 per month, plus subsidies for transportation and food costs.

The 16 were part of a select group of 18 participants who were deemed ready for full employment after undergoing psychiatric evaluations, out of an initial sample of 40. Two of these apparently turned down the job offers. According to Estadão, city officials say the 16 will be the first to take part in a new city program, called “Autonomia em Foco” (Autonomy in Focus). Social Assistance Secretary Luciana Temer told the paper that the city is looking to expand this program by 220 spaces, though she did not say whether all of these will come with formal employment offers.

A statement from the city’s press office claims that the priority of Autonomia em Foco is to “remove [individuals] from the Luz neighborhood, where there is still a concentration of drug use,” though the new program will also be open to people who have not participated in De Braços Abertos. It, also, makes no mention of guaranteed employment for participants.

Ultimately, the fact that the city is opening up permanent employment prospects for those who have benefitted from De Braços Abertos can only be seen as a positive development. But the absence of a clear long-term plan to deal with the majority of locals in Cracolândia is sure to fuel criticism from social and health workers in the area. Many of these --- as I have noted for InSight Crime -- see the program as a temporary facelift of the neighborhood at best, and at worst as a mere band-aid for the much deeper problem of systemic societal neglect.

News Briefs
  • In other Brazil news, Datafolha has published the first poll of the electoral landscape since Eduardo Campos’ tragic death, and the results are ominous for President Dilma Rousseff. The survey shows that, assuming the rumors hold true and Marina Silva is named as Campos’ successor, Dilma has support of around 36 percent of the electorate, followed by Marina Silva at 21 percent and Aecio Neves at 20 percent. A hypothetical second round Marina/Dilma matchup shows 47 percent for the environmentalist and 43 percent for President Rousseff, which makes them statistically tied according to the poll’s margin of error. According to Roberto Freire, who heads a smaller movement that backs Campos’ Socialist Party, party leaders are largely in agreement over supporting Silva, and a final decision will be made on August 20.
  • While the investigation into the cause of the plane crash that killed Eduardo Campos is ongoing, it got off to a peculiar start on Friday when military authorities announced that his plane’s black box did not contain any recording of the flight, as O Globo reports. Still, the AP notes that officials maintain that the black box is "just one element" of the investigation, and that there are other methods of determining what caused the crash.
  • Despite the recent reports that suggest Venezuela’s MUD opposition coalition is disorganized and divided, David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz have an analysis of recent closed-door meetings among MUD leaders that appear to show the coalition is moving beyond these divisions. It has also apparently agreed to incorporate the demands of base organizations that fueled the recent wave of protests, which include calling for the release of those who remain in prison.
  • Writing for CEPR’s Americas Blog, Jake Johnston and Peter Hayakawa offer a critical take on Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina’s recent public comments on the cause of the U.S. border crisis, citing a Guardian op-ed in which the president claims the U.S. shares responsibility for it  as the Cold War and Drug War partially fueled migration from Central America. As the two point out, Perez Molina’s criticism of the Cold and Drug Wars clashes with his own role in the Guatemalan conflict, as well as his government’s recent decision to hire former Reagan advisor Otto Reich to lobby Washington on its behalf.
  • On Saturday, a delegation of twelve victims of Colombia’s armed conflict arrived to join the peace talks between the government and FARC rebels in Havana. Reuters notes that, in remarks to reporters following a closed-door session, the victims urged their country to support the peace process. El Espectador has the particularly moving story of FARC victim Constanza Turbay, who lost her entire family to violence committed by members of the guerrilla group.  According to Turbay, FARC chief negotiator Ivan Marquez approached her on Sunday and offered his sincerest apologies, which she said seemed “not like a mechanic apology, but from the heart.”
  • The New York Times profiles a new cable car system being installed to connect the Bolivian cities of La Paz and El Alto, a move that has both practical and symbolic implications for social and class relations between La Paz’s light-skinned elites and the indigenous majority in El Alto.
  • Saturday’s L.A. Times featured a look at the strong incentives that drive deported Central American youths to re-try the perilous trek north, which include poverty and persistent violence in their home countries.
  • While today is the first day of classes for public schools in Mexico, the AP reports that 88 schools in the northern state of Sonora are delaying their opening by a week due to the danger of contaminated water from the spill of toxic acids into two local rivers by a copper mine earlier this month.
  • The Washington Post reports on kidnappings in Mexico, which reached an all-time high last year with 1,698 reported cases, even as private groups put the total number of kidnappings even higher.  As the Post notes, the figure illustrates a new shift in criminal tactics in the country, with more and more kidnapping victims coming from middle and lower class backgrounds.
  • General Ricardo Izurieta, who took control of the Chilean army after Pinochet in 1988 during the country’s return to democracy, passed away over the weekend. La Tercera notes that current Defense Minister Jorge Burgos commended him on behalf of the Bachelet administration for his professionalism during the democratic transition, and the BBC reports that he was also praised by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza.