By Felipe Neis Araujo / TalkingDrugs

On the 26th of December 2020, an international seminar marked the launch of a pilot project, the  Centre of Excellence for Illicit Drug Supply Reduction, a partnership between the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Brazilian National Office on Drug Policies (SENAD, in the Portuguese acronym), with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The pilot stage is planned to last for 18 months, and the Centre is expected to be incorporated by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. It goes without saying, of course, that the language adopted by the Centre describes illegal drugs themselves—and not prohibitionism, punitivism, and incarceration—as a social problem to be overcome by reducing supply. 

There are many issues with this infelicitous partnership. On the ideological level, it lays bare the will of the Brazilian far-right to confirm its bias and prove that there is an epidemic of drug misuse in Brazil that would legitimise the use of force for combating the supply and use of illicit substances. The recent censorship of Fiocruz’s large-scale study on the use of illicit substances in Brazil tells a lot about this stance. 

Another point to consider is that a partnership with a UN agency lends international support to Bolsonaro’s draconian drug policies. The UNODC has been supporting decriminalisation and decarceration in the last decade—a stance that has caused polemic in the recent past—, something very distant from Bolsonaro’s drug policies, but its programmes aimed at the Global South are still strongly oriented towards building capacity for law enforcement instead of focusing on other areas of social care that have been delegated to the field of policing over the years. It is not a coincidence that the seminar that inaugurated the Centre of Excellence for Illicit Drug Supply Reduction gathered many professionals linked to the police forces and the penitentiary system, with few researchers present.