Brazil’s Counternarcotics Policy Challenges

Tom Long – AULA Blog, 02/04/2013

Long a significant market for cocaine – the second or third largest in the world according to estimates – Brazil is suffering a major increase in crack cocaine use. Visible in the centers of major cities, drug abuse has become a more serious national concern as Brazil prepares to mount the world stage as host of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. Brazil was slow to recognize the problem as it grew to epidemic levels, surpassing the United States as the largest consumer of crack cocaine, according to a recent report from the Federal University of São Paulo. While national and local authorities have emphasized their recent approach to drugs as focused on public health – in contrast with the U.S.-led, supply-oriented policies – Brazil also has increased control and interdiction efforts. According to the UN, cocaine seizures by Brazilian security tripled between 2004 and 2010.

The effort to control the flow of cocaine into and through Brazil will test both the country’s diplomacy and state capacity. Its long, undefended and sparsely populated borders touch every major narcotics-producing and ­transiting country in South America, and cooperation in addressing the problem varies widely for political reasons and disparities in capabilities. For example, the government of President Evo Morales in Bolivia has declined Brazilian requests for crossborder eradication, InSight Crime reported. Other countries’ counternarcotics focus is almost completely internal, such as in Colombia and Peru. As a result, Brazil is increasing action on its own. President Dilma Rousseff supports plans to spend some $400 million on an expanded fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to provide surveillance of its borders. Military patrols have increased, albeit in necessarily limited areas.

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