Brazil's new president, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, is under pressure from his own advisors to reform that county's drug policies. While Lula's only overt moves on drug policy since taking office in January have been to mobilize a tough response to the sporadic insurrectionary activity of Rio de Janeiro's notorious drug "commands," there are growing signs that his leftist-populist government could embrace drug reform.

Part of the growing sense of urgency for reform stems from the commands, who reached out from their zones of control in the city's teeming shantytowns this week to once again flex their muscles. Monday night, presumed command members threw homemade bombs at the swank Le Meridien Hotel in Copacabana and a heavily-frequented metro station, as well as engaging in a firefight with police on Avenida Brasil, where they also burned buses. For Lula, who has vowed to break the power of the drug gangs, Monday's incidents marked an unwelcome return to the command violence that plagued Rio in the days before Carnival in February.

Two of Lula's top drug policy advisors, Minister of Justice Marcio Thomas Bastos, and former head of SENAD, the national anti-drug office, Judge Walter Maierovitch, publicly pressured Lula to move forward in televised interviews two weeks ago. Appearing on Sao Paulo TV Cultura's Roda Viva on March 16, Bastos said that Lula does not agree with the drug policies of his predecessor, Hernando Cardoso, and is committed to changing it. Bastos also criticized the drug court system implemented by the Cardoso government, known as "therapeutic justice" in Brazil, calling it cruel and inhumane.

Bastos added that he favored ending the criminalization of drug possession, suggesting that it be replaced with the Portuguese model of administrative sanctions.

Maierovitch, for his part, criticized the US drug war in Colombia, ridiculed the appointment of a military officer as press spokesman for SENAD, and signaled his general agreement with Bastos' ideas. Maeirovich also lambasted the "Proer Program," a DARE-like anti-drug effort in which uniformed military officers go into the schools to preach a propagandistic version of drug education. On hearing Maierovich's remarks, Bastos told the TV audience he was reviewing the program and would make changes.

But while Lula is hearing calls for change from his top advisors, he is also hearing them from below. Grassroots harm reductionists representing about 200 harm reduction projects in 18 Brazilian states gathered in Rio earlier this month to adhere to a Movement to Revise the National Anti-Drug Policy, and members of that movement met in a shadow session in Sao Paulo March 26 to challenge both SENAD's presentation of a defense of current drug strategy and the organism's very existence. Lula ran on a platform of social justice; now he is being pressured to bring social justice to drug policy.

Visit and and articles they link to for reports on Brazil's burgeoning drug reform movement.

-- END --
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Issue #281, 4/4/03 Week Online Fundraising Update | Editorial: Reasonable Doubt Routinely | Victory in Tulia! | Rosenthal Asks for New Trial, Cites Juror Violations | Drug Czar Gives Up on Drugs and Terror Ad Campaign, Also Cancels Studies to Track Ads' Effectiveness | Drug Czar Sends Flunkies to Try to Stop Columbia, Missouri, Marijuana Initiative | DRCNet Interview: Marco Cappato, Member of European Parliament | Newsbrief: Reform Rumblings Begin in Brazil, While Commands Create Chaos | Newsbrief: Post-Assassination Serbian Crackdown Creates Drug Panic | Newsbrief: Jamaican Official Promises Ganja Decrim Bill Soon | Newsbrief: Belgian Marijuana Decriminalization Passes Final Hurdle | Newsbrief: Midwest Meth Madness -- Indiana | Newsbrief: Midwest Meth Madness -- Iowa and Illinois | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cop Story | Web Scan: New HR95, JAPHA on Syringe Sales, Reason, Mama Coca, OAS | Clinical Cannabis Conference CDs Available | Job Listings: Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts and Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless | The Reformer's Calendar

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