With an estimated 1 million cocaine users, Brazil is being whipsawed by a problem that some leaders here once thought of as solely an American one. The trend carries worrisome ramifications for the country, whose population of 200 million includes a booming, new middle class, offering a promising market for traffickers, drug-control experts say.
“In Brazil, we have a similar situation to what happened in the United States in the 1980s,” said Eloisa Arruda, who as secretary of justice for Sao Paulo state coordinates the region’s anti-drug policies. “There’s a big growth in crack use in public and people permanently in the streets consuming drugs day and night who are constantly supplied by traffickers.”
There are key differences: Crack hit U.S. cities that were in decline, buffeting minority communities. The battle over the drug trade also led to a record number of homicides in American cities, as some districts became virtual war zones.