By Felipe Neis Araujo / Talking Drugs
Public security is one of the main topics during electoral campaigns in Brazil. As usual, during interviews and debates, presidential and gubernatorial hopefuls are encouraged to talk about their perspectives on policing, the criminal justice system, and drug policy. Drugs, as it is widely known, are still a matter of public security and policing instead of being approached within a health and well-being framework. As so many of the stories on this website demonstrate, you can realise how these police operations that usually lead to extrajudicial killings and miscarriage of justice are, in general, repeatedly justified as a necessary means to achieve an alleged noble end: to combat the drug supply and “win” the War on Drugs.
Even though decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs are getting more traction around the globe, Brazil remains a strongly conservative country and, in the current electoral campaign, left-wing candidates are refraining to approach this issue from a progressive angle. Politicians like Marcelo Freixo (Brazilian Socialist Party), a gubernatorial candidate for Rio de Janeiro with a long history in advocacy and campaigning against paramilitary groups and for the decriminalisation of drugs, is dodging the subject. In a 2016 debate with Flavio Bolsonaro (the son of the current President), when both were running for the mayoral office of Rio de Janeiro City, Freixo said that the criminalisation of drugs was the criminalisation of poverty, and was responsible for the deaths of both civilians and police officers. Last month, during a collective interview with other gubernatorial candidates for Rio de Janeiro, when asked about the legalisation of cannabis, Freixo avoided the issue, stating it is a debate that divides society and that this is not the appropriate moment to discuss it. In his government manifesto, drugs are only mentioned through the lens of criminal organisations that must be combated. His strategy for public security is very much centred on reforming police training and qualification.