A police operation against an open-air drug market in São Paulo, Brazil has simply displaced the problem, as buyers and sellers moved their dealings to new locations, illustrating the limits of such crackdowns against microtrafficking in the region.
Brazilian authorities deployed 900 military police officers on May 21 in an area of São Paulo known as “Cracolândia,” or “Crackland,” reported Folha de São Paulo.
The operation aimed to put an end to the widespread local selling of crack — a cheap, addictive, smokable form of cocaine — that has flourished in the area for years. Several dozen individuals were arrested during the raid.
“Crackland doesn’t exist anymore and it won’t come back. The government won’t allow it,” São Paulo city Mayor João Doria said in comments reported by the BBC.
The official did, however, subsequently admit that maintaining a police presence will be necessary to stop the resurgence of trafficking in the area.
But others did not share the mayor’s optimism. São Paulo state Gov. Geraldo Alckmin was more cautious, describing the operation as only “the first step to put an end to ‘Crackland,'” according to Agência Brasil.
Meanwhile, São Paulo prosecutor Arthur Pinto Filho said that the issue was far from resolved, and that the police operation had simply displaced “Crackland” to other areas.
“The operation hasn’t solved the problem at the basis of ‘Crackland,’ which is addiction. Until that is not resolved, the issue isn’t solved, the drug will continue to flow, whether here or in any other part of Brazil,” the prosecutor told Agência Brasil during an interview.
The day following the operation, addicts could already be observed consuming crack in the streets surrounding the microtrafficking hub, while police officers turned a blind eye once again, according to Folha de São Paulo.
Mayor Doria used the occasion of the May 21 raid to announce the end of his predecessor’s policy of targeting the issue of crack consumption by focusing on treating addiction rather than using enforcement measures. But Doria insisted that certain measures, such as providing addicts with employment opportunities and housing, would be maintained.
The mayor also promised to completely reshape the infrastructure and buildings in the “Crackland” area as part of a broader program known as “Beautiful City” (“Cidade Linda”).
São Paulo’s police raid the city’s “Crackland,” Courtesy of Euronews
InSight Crime Analysis
Crack has become a serious issue for Brazil, now the world’s second largest consumer of cocaine and its derivatives. Authorities have attempted to curb rising consumption through various means. Both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, for instance, tested mandatory treatment programs for addicts in 2013, with limited success.
Meanwhile, efforts to forcibly crackdown on microtrafficking, such as the latest police raid in São Paulo, have proven inefficient and controversial. The recent heavy-handed operation in “Crackland” was described by some mental health experts as an “atrocity,” while local activists reportedly called it a “massacre.”
Indeed, this is not the first time that such operations have been conducted in Brazil’s two largest cities. In São Paulo, police raids of “Cracklands” stretch back to 2008. Ironically, the city’s then-mayor made comments similar to Doria’s, stating after the operation that “‘Crackland’ doesn’t exist anymore,” according to Folha de São Paulo.
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São Paulo is not an isolated case in the region. The strategy of executing swift and forceful crackdowns on open-air drug markets without implementing initiatives to address the factors that make these areas ripe for such activity has also repeatedly failed in the Colombian capital Bogotá, which has its own version of a “Crackland” neighborhood known as the “Bronx.”
Multiple police raids in the Bronx have simply displaced microtrafficking activities over the years. In May 2016, authorities undertook a massive deployment of 2,000 police officers, soldiers and judicial officials who descended upon the Bronx in one such raid. More than anything, however, the need for such a massive operation highlighted the long-term failure of similar previous police operations in terms of addressing widespread public drug dealing and consumption in the area.