Dana Beal dana at phantom.com
Sat Feb 23 20:37:50 EST 2008

> Joao Pina for The New York Times
> Bilma Acuña has two sons who are addicted to paco. More Photos »
> Enlarge This Image
> Joao Pina for The New York Times
> An addict holding paco, a cocaine residue that is smoked. More  
> Photos >
> Enlarge This Image
> Joao Pina for The New York Times
> A group of mothers of paco addicts meeting in Ciudad Oculta. They are
> trying to find ways to halt the spread of the drug. More Photos >
> The New York Times
> Some 15,000 people live in the Ciudad Oculta slum. More Photos >

Begin forwarded message:

> http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/23/world/americas/23argentina.html? 
> ref=americas
> Cheap Cocaine Floods Argentina, Devouring Lives
> Published: February 23, 2008
> BUENOS AIRES — Bilma Acuña has two drug-addicted sons and roams the
> streets of the Ciudad Oculta slum here with a purpose: to save others
> from the same fate.
> She and the group of mothers she helps organize have become the only
> bulwark, it seems, against the irrepressible spread of paco, a highly
> addictive, smokable cocaine residue that has destroyed thousands of
> lives in Argentina and caused a cycle of drug-induced street violence
> never seen before in this country.
> The scourge underscores a significant shift in both Argentina and its
> larger neighbor, Brazil, which in just a few years have become sizable
> cocaine consumers. Brazil now ranks as the second largest consumer of
> cocaine in the world after the United States, the State Department
> says.
> The surge in drug use has been fueled by porous borders, economic
> hardship and, more recently, the rolling back of restrictions on coca
> growing since President Evo Morales took office in 2006 in neighboring
> Bolivia. The result has been the democratization of cocaine in this
> part of South America, which has become the dumping ground for
> cheaper, lower-quality cocaine.
> In the five years since residents first began noticing the crude
> yellowish crystals being smoked on the streets of Ciudad Oculta, a
> neighborhood of 15,000 people within Buenos Aires, paco has become the
> dominant drug that dealers are peddling.
> Just weeks after first trying the drug, Mrs. Acuña's son Pablo Eche
> began selling everything he owned to feed his addiction. He committed
> violent robberies. In a drug-fueled rage he destroyed his house and
> then sold the land that was left, ending up freezing and alone on the
> streets until his grandmother took him in.
> "The majority of the kids are using here," said Mrs. Acuña, 46. "My
> son saw what was happening with the kids in the streets that were
> using paco, and he always said he wouldn't get caught up in that. But
> he did."
> The challenges to stopping the flow are immense. Fewer than 200
> federal police officers patrol Brazil's 2,100-mile border with
> Bolivia, though the Brazilian government says reinforcements are on
> the way. Only 10 percent of Argentina's airspace is covered by radar,
> leaving traffickers free rein.
> Cocaine seizures and major drug raids in Argentina and Brazil have
> surged in the past two years. The influx of raw cocaine paste used to
> make crack, from both Bolivia and Peru, has been particularly acute.
> In Brazil, such seizures by the federal police nearly quadrupled from
> 2006 to 2007, to 2,700 pounds from about 710 pounds, according to the
> police.
> In Argentina, the deep financial crisis of late 2001 turned places
> like Ciudad Oculta into what are known here as villas miserias, or
> towns of misery, easily exploitable markets of impoverished people
> looking for escape.
> "Cocaine is no longer the drug only of the elite, of high society,"
> said Luiz Carlos Magno, a Brazilian narcotics officer in the São  
> Paulo
> State Police Department. "Today kids buy three lines of cocaine for 10
> reals," or about $6. For about $1 in Brazil and about $1.50 in
> Argentina, users can buy enough of the cocaine for a 15-minute high.
> Paco is highly addictive because its high lasts just a few minutes —
> and is so intense that many users smoke 20 to 50 paco cigarettes a day
> to try to make its effects linger. Paco is even more toxic than crack
> cocaine because it is made mostly of solvents and chemicals like
> kerosene, with just a dab of cocaine, Argentine and Brazilian drug
> enforcement officials said. The surge in lower-quality cocaine hitting
> the streets has resulted from a crackdown by both countries on the
> chemicals needed to transform cocaine paste, or pasta base, as it is
> called, into powder form.
> Tougher customs rules to track the flow of the chemicals, manufactured
> in large quantities in both countries, have limited access for
> Bolivian traffickers seeking to refine the base cocaine into
> higher-value powder, said Gen. Roberto Uchõa, Brazil's national drug
> secretary.
> As the quality of Bolivian cocaine has fallen off, the European
> market, in particular, has rejected it, the general said. So more of
> it has gone to Argentina and Brazil. In São Paulo, the police say the
> cocaine on the streets is less than 30 percent pure. "Every year they
> are producing more, and that is driving down prices," said Mr. Magno,
> with the state police.
> Traffickers are cutting the cocaine powder with everything from boric
> acid to lidocaine to baking powder, leading to severe health effects
> like infections and blood clots, health officials said. "It is the
> garbage cocaine that is coming here," Mrs. Acuña said. "The kids here
> are smoking garbage."
> Mrs. Acuña, a soft-spoken Paraguayan native, is battling paco's  
> spread
> to save the barrio, but also to save her family. Tragedy first struck
> in August 2001 when two drug dealers shot and killed her 16-year-old
> son, David, one week after he was believed to have witnessed a murder.
> The dealers are now in prison for his death.
> A few years later Pablo Eche, her eldest son, and her younger son,
> Leandro, 20, became addicted to paco. That was when she helped form a
> Mothers of Paco support group.
> With less than three dozen members in Ciudad Oculta, the mothers have
> few ways to counter the armed dealers who hold sway over the
> neighborhood. Instead, they find safety in numbers.
> On one recent afternoon, Mrs. Acuña led a walk through the Oculta  
> with
> some eight women. As she walked along the mostly unpaved streets,
> Bolivian and Paraguayan music blaring from open windows, she pointed
> out kiosks and red brick homes where dealers were known to sell. A
> teenager strode by at one point, a pistol stuffed in the front of his
> shorts.
> A tiny police station the size of a one-car garage sat in a makeshift
> plaza. A police car was parked outside. "The police haven't entered
> here much since 2001," Mrs. Acuña explained.
> Argentine government officials have increased money in recent years
> for drug education, prevention and rehabilitation, but they have yet
> to announce any major plans to tackle the paco problem, which has left
> local law enforcement officials overwhelmed.
> Instead, led by the mothers, residents are largely taking matters into
> their own hands. Mrs. Acuña fields dozens of calls a week from  
> mothers
> seeking help with their children's addictions. She refers some to
> government-run psychiatric clinics, and urges others, some of them
> recovering from addictions themselves, to join the group.
> Mrs. Acuña operates a small diner with a bare concrete floor where  
> the
> mothers hold many of their meetings. At one meeting on Jan. 28,
> Liliana Barrionuevo blurted out that not enough was being done to
> crack down on the dealers. Some mothers cast their eyes around
> nervously, fearful of reprisals.
> "Before there were codes," another mother, Andrea Cordero, chimed in
> angrily. "The dealers would never sell to young kids, and the users
> would never use in public. Now there are no codes. We need to stand up
> and stick it to two or three dealers."
> The descent of Mrs. Acuña's son Pablo Eche parallels that of his
> neighborhood. His addiction began in 2003, when he was 21. His
> girlfriend at the time, six months pregnant with their son, left him
> and moved to Italy. Argentina's economic crisis was still ravaging the
> country, and Ciudad Oculta was gripped by hopelessness.
> Every day seemed to be worse. "The lack of money isn't the nightmare,"
> Mr. Eche said of the economic crisis. "It's the pressure that it
> causes in a person, the desperation and the depression." He said he
> "was looking for a way to not feel anything, to not feel sadness, to
> find a way not to cry."
> For months he had passed the kiosk on a corner near his house where he
> knew dealers were selling a new drug, one, it was whispered, that
> could cheaply fill that hollow place inside. "I always passed it, but
> never bought anything," he said.
> Then one day he did.
> From the first 15 minutes, paco seized his soul. Soon, he could no
> longer hold a job, even at his mother's diner. And he could never have
> enough. At one point he went on a three-day paco bender without a wink
> of sleep, he said.
> Three months after smoking his first pipe, he sold anything he could
> to turn into cash for paco. Finally, in a drug-induced hysteria, he
> destroyed the one-bedroom house his mother had given him, tearing down
> the roof and walls and ripping out the flooring. Eight months into his
> addiction, he sold what was left for about $315, one-quarter what his
> mother had paid.
> His relationship with his mother was in shambles. He had stolen from
> her, and stolen from other family members as well. "I had turned into
> a nobody to her," he said. "I caused her a lot of pain."
> He was homeless, starving and suffering from severe drug-induced
> chills when his grandmother finally took him in. His mother later came
> around.
> These days, his eyes are clear, his voice steady. Interned at a
> drug-dependency clinic some 40 minutes from Ciudad Oculta — his  
> fourth
> rehabilitation stint — he said he had been clean of drugs since
> October.
> Now 25, he is again writing poetry, something he had not done since
> before he discovered paco. "The future is uncertain," he said. "But I
> am getting back my dreams."
> But he worries about his brother Leandro, who is still prone to
> all-night paco benders. "I hope he finds a way to stop," he said. And
> he mourns for Ciudad Oculta. "Right now I can see all the little kids
> lining up to buy," he said, closing his eyes deeply. "Paco is a
> plague. Somehow we need to protect them from this."
> Joao Pina contributed reporting.
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