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Cracolandia, the largest open-air crack market | International

About half a thousand Brazilians addicted to crack swarm every day through some of the streets of the historic center that were once among the most majestic in São Paulo. It is an area dotted with shacks dedicated to the sale of drugs. Popularly known as Cracolandia, it is the largest open-air drug market in Brazil, a territory taken over by drug addicts turned into zombies and hostile territory for the rest of São Paulo. The City Council has just launched the umpteenth attempt to dismantle Cracolandia in the name of the fight against drug trafficking with the deployment this week of hundreds of police officers who have destroyed the shacks and dispersed the addicts. Early Friday morning a man was killed in a riot, according to local press.

Cracolandia has been a chronic problem for years. The police operation has had an effect similar to shaking a hornet’s nest. As the agents advance, hundreds of drug addicts wander in the opposite direction, trying to settle somewhere to resume the consumption and sale of crack. Many merchants in the area immediately closed their doors, frightened by groups of crackers. Several bus lines were diverted. And seven people have been arrested with drugs, scales and fake weapons. In addition, police pressure has triggered the price of the merchandise. The crack stone has risen from 20 to 50 reais (four to ten dollars), reports the newspaper Stadium citing the police.

A man who lived in Cracolandia leaves the area with his pipe in hand after the police operation, on May 11, 2022.
A man who lived in Cracolandia leaves the area with his pipe in hand after the police operation, on May 11, 2022.André Penner (AP)

The mayor of the megalopolis, Ricardo Nunes, of the center-right, is determined to keep them dispersed. This Thursday he ordered the police to arrest anyone carrying a crack smoking pipe. The plan is for them to be transferred to the police station and from there to a rehabilitation program. At the moment, a third of the more than 300 people approached by the authorities have agreed to go to a shelter, but only a dozen have had a place in a municipal therapeutic program, according to Folha de S.Paulo. The councilor explained that “the goal is not to let them crowd together. Dispersing them facilitates the work of assistance (to drug users) and that of the police in combating drug trafficking”, reports the aforementioned newspaper.

Walking through the contours of the Cracolandia camp means coming across an army of zombies, very thin beings – men, women, couples with children, adolescents or the elderly – sitting on the ground smoking crack, dealing or walking with their eyes lost under a blanket to protect yourself from the cold at this time of year. Many drivers have a habit of locking the doors when they pass by.

In a city marked by inequality, the deteriorated historic center is punctually visited by privileged São Paulo residents because the streets near Cracolandia are home to some relevant cultural institutions such as the São Paulo concert hall, the Pinacoteca, the Museum of the Portuguese Language or the Memorial of la Resistencia, which houses the memory of the dictatorship.

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The First Command of the Capital, the most powerful group of Brazilian organized crime, which functions as a brotherhood of criminals, controls Cracolandia. It is suspected that the order came from their ranks so that last April, from one day to the next, the entire camp and the crackers moved a few streets further.

A man who lived in Cracolandia, located in the Princess Elizabeth square, crosses the street in front of the police forces, on May 11, 2022.
A man who lived in Cracolandia, located in the Princess Elizabeth square, crosses the street in front of the police forces, on May 11, 2022.André Penner (AP)

The municipal operation underway coincides with a reinforcement of the police presence in the streets of São Paulo at a time when the theft of mobile phones has skyrocketed because the PPC has turned it into a new illicit business. Police investigations suggest that, beyond the value of the terminal, criminals use them to make instant money transfers to bank accounts of figureheads.

There have been multiple attempts to eradicate the camp and expel drug addicts. The most they have achieved over and over again is that Cracolandia will resprout in a short time in the same location or a few streets away.

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