Foreign Policy Blogs

Jose Serra, arch prohibitionist

Playing to public fear over drugs and crime is a tried and tested formula for electoral success. With the presidential race heating up, one has to wonder if José Serra’s gung ho views on drug interdiction are driven by personal conviction or political calculus.

To curb imports of illicit drugs, Serra has called for Brazil to send troops to its border with Bolivia. In a radio interview Serra accused Bolivia of complicity in Brazil’s growing cocaine problem, asking  if “Bolivia could export 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in Brazil without the government being an accomplice”.

Serra’s commitment to interdiction is a rejection of the public health approach favored by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Serra’s former boss was part of a Latin American commission which released a report in 2009 calling for an end to prohibitionist drug policies.

In a recent WPR piece, Roque Planas notes that Serra’s aggressive stanch towards drugs is more the norm than the exception. Dilma Rousseff has been mum on public health campaigns to stem drug use, while Lula recently appointed a general to the role of national secretary for drug policy. Planas also points out that Cardoso became a drug war skeptic only after he retired from politics.

Politicians across the spectrum are likely to continue depicting drug use as an issue of national security, especially as we move closer to October’s election. Promoting a sensible, public health approach to drugs will remain political suicide – at least for now.

Blogging note: I’ll be on holiday all next week.