Drug dealers in two of Rio De Janeiro’s most notorious slums, or favelas, have taken the unprecedented step of deciding to stop selling crack cocaine to their customers, citing the drug's harmful effects on the surrounding community.
Crack will no longer be available in the Mandela and Jacarezinho favelas, which are home to more than 100,000 people, according to a report in Al Jazeera.
"I am not going to lie to you, there is a lot of profit to be made on crack," a Mandela-based dealer told Al Jazeera.
"But crack also brought destruction in our community as well, so we're not selling it anymore. Addicts were robbing homes, killing each other for nothing inside the community. We wanted to avoid all that, so we stopped selling it."
Of course, the traffickers are not giving up on narcotics entirely, rather they will focus their business on powder cocaine and marijuana.
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Crack addiction has become a grave public health and security concern in parts of Brazil, particularly the poverty-stricken shantytowns that ring the large cities.
An attorney who represents drug dealers believe more favelas controlled by traffickers will also eschew crack cocaine sales.
"Our campaign is not only done in the communities directly with the traffickers that are selling, but also with some of the drug gang leaders that are in jail," said Flavia Pinheiro Froes, a lawyer who represents many drug traffickers and helps convicts with job training.
"I think convincing the seller could be one of the most efficient ways to combat crack because if there is no supply we will be able to solve the problem of the consumer."
Pinheiro Froes added that even the biggest drug dealers have seen first-hand the devastation crack has caused in their communities, particularly on friends and families who have become addicted.
But Rio's police are skeptical of these measures and the motives behind them.
"I think this is just a trick that the traffickers are doing," Marcello Maia, a top drug crime investigator, told Al Jazeera.
"What they think is that now the police will stop combating other drugs they are selling, and we still stop entering their strongholds. But this is not what is going to happen."
What is indisputable is that crack has risen to a top-priority crisis in Brazil, more than two decades after the drug reached its peak of destruction in the U.S.
In November 2011, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff introduced a $2.2 billion program to remove crack addicts from the streets and place them into treatment facilities. Money is also being set aside for prevention programs. Rio is expected to receive about $125 million of that funding.
Despite the enormous economic advances Brazil has achieved over the past two decades, poverty and drug addiction remains intractable in the huge deprived favelas and other poor communities.
Addicts, including even children, walk around in daze across the urban landscape of Brazil, extending into the remote Amazon jungles.
The United Nations 2011 World Drug Report noted that cocaine seizures in Brazil have tripled from eight metric tons in 2004 to 24 metric tons in 2009. Brazil is a key cocaine shipment point for drug markets in Europe.
The Health Ministry estimates there are 600,000 illegal drug users in Brazil (not all addicted to crack, of course), but non-governmental groups think the actual number is much higher.
Brazil’s health care system is simply ill-equipped to deal with the mounting needs of untold hundreds of thousands of addicts.
“There is a lack of management and focus on the problem," Ana Cecilia Roselli Marques, a psychiatrist and board member of the Brazilian Association for the Study of Alcohol and Other Drugs, told Reuters.
"There is no real drug policy at all in Brazil."
The cheap price of crack (as low as $1.10 per hit) means it is easily accessible to the poor, who smoke the drug a dozen times a day.
As in the United States of the 1980s, crack is fueling a spiraling wave of crime and violence in Brazil. For example, in the northeastern coastal city of Maceio, the homicide rate has jumped by 180 percent over the past decade, principally due to the crack cocaine trade. Maceio has a murder rate of 109 per 100,000 inhabitants, versus Brazil’s national rate of 26 per 100,000. This makes Maceio one of the most dangerous cities on earth.
"Most addicts are killed because they can't pay back the debt they owe their dealer," a military police officer told Agence France-Presse.
"The traffickers like to show who's boss to ensure they get their money, so they make an example of the user by murdering him."