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English Report

The 2nd Sub-Station for Infants and Youth – 2nd VIJ – provides an example of the work of the Judicial System of Rio de Janeiro, which handles the treatment of crimes committed by children and adolescents up to age 18. Between 1996 and 2000, 25,488 children and adolescents were seen at the 2nd VIJ, of these 11 percent were female, and 89 percent were male.



Jailson de Souza e Silva[2]

1.      On Popular Social Networks

 Two central propositions dominate this article: the first is a critique of the usual stereotypes of urban popular spaces and their inhabitants; and second is the recognition of drug-trafficking, in particular in the favelas of Rio, as a social network. In the case of these stereotypes, we highlight the one we call “socialcentric.” The essence of this is the use of terms by other social sectors, in particular the middle sectors, to define and establish their relationships to the popular sectors. In this case, what we will call a “discourse of absence” has been developed in relation to the popular sectors, characterized by a process of fear of the favela based on what it does not have, or what is absent from it:

 “The favela is that place that does not have access to basic services, asphalt, schools, healthcare, day-care centers, education; in the extreme it does not have rules, does not have laws, it is chaos, it is the expression of a lack of standards of conduct, it is the absence of rights, of citizenship," says the conventional word.

 The use of this “discourse of absence" with respect to popular spaces reveals a very common perspective -- that the favela is not “city.” The “neighborhood” exists, a typical locale with formal and legal residences, and the favela exists as “non-city,” or as an ineffective space for the exercise of citizenship. Apart from these assumptions or perspectives, there is another series of discourses. The main one is “criminalization,” according to which the favela dweller, in particular the youth, is seen as a potential criminal. 

 There are, thus, two traditional ways of defining the slum dweller: either he is a potential criminal or he is a passive victim of a perverse social system. The same problem occurs in talking about the exclusion of social rights. There exists a label of exclusion: from the labor market, from the university, from accessing certain types of cultural tools, etc. The usual feeling expressed, however, in the term “social exclusion” generalizes what is specific, as though there were an ideal world of those who are the included ones, and in which all social subjects ought to be included. The difficulty is knowing this ideal world that is being discussed. Is it the world of consumption, for example? Should the entire group of people from popular social networks be included in the same way in this particular network? What is the critique being made of this world of inclusion when talking about the “excluded”?  What society is being discussed? Is there a consciousness that certain social identities are (re)produced in this process [of inclusion or exclusion]? That the characterization of “Us” and “Them” influences political and cultural practices as well as the dynamic of allocating urban space?

 In truth, the popular social sectors produce their own social networks. The discourse of exclusion, in its substantive form, fails to recognize the daily practices that they develop, the positive behaviors present in their daily routines and the constructive strategies they create to confront the challenges, fears and difficulties of a society that sustains itself in the exploitation and oppression of the majority of its population. These people have plans, strategies, desires, choices and passions. Establishing this recognition is a fundamental challenge.

 This introduction is necessary to understand the social network of drug trafficking. It is, in effect, one of the networks present in the slums. And the ways it is embedded in the slums are multifaceted, bringing together economic, cultural, familial, psychological, and local dynamics.

 In this sense, it is critical to understand people’s incorporation into certain networks – be it through the family, the neighborhood, the Church, the school, the community, the favela. This approach allows a better understanding of the factors that draw children and adolescents to enter into the trafficking of drugs.

 Trafficking constitutes a network that offers some sufficiently sophisticated possibilities of belonging; it is not the common form of exploitation of child labor; it has glamour.

 Adolescents enter the drug trade, in general, because they are seeking prestige, virility, consumption power, and social visibility. They do not enter the drug trade in order to accumulate wealth, but to have the right to consumption. In this sense, paradoxically, young people engaged in this activity are the most sensitive to the dream of social inclusion, seen in this case as inclusion in the market. Trafficking, thus, is a sophisticated network that involves a confluence of rituals, rules, and relationships that infuse its participants with a profound sense of belonging. It is no accident, then, that there is a feeling of fraternity, of identity. An understanding of the reality and dynamics of trafficking is a necessary step toward the creation of practices that can break its cycle of reproduction. 

2. The Social Network of Drug Trafficking 

 The 2nd Sub-Station for Infants and Youth – 2nd VIJ – provides an example of the work of the Judicial System of Rio de Janeiro, which handles the treatment of crimes committed by children and adolescents up to age 18. Between 1996 and 2000, 25,488 children and adolescents were seen at the 2nd VIJ, of these 11 percent were female, 89 percent were male.[3]

 Narcotics-related crimes represented 36 percent of those charged. Of these, 23 percent were classified as Code 12 – trafficking – and 13 percent were classified under article 16: drug use. Thus, the greatest percentage of crimes registered at the 2nd VIJ are either for trafficking or use, which is similar to the pattern of criminal acts committed by those over 18, according to the Ministry of Justice. The fact that calls for the most attention in all of this is the grade level of those seen at the 2nd VIJ: around 30 percent gave no information about their level of schooling, but of the 70 percent who did, 37 percent had between zero and 4 years of schooling, half of the average of 8 years for the entire population of Rio de Janeiro.

 The data from the 2nd VIJ also reveal a strong concentration of adolescents in the 15-17 age group involved in crime. There is, in fact, a growing progression of the number of traffickers beginning at age 13. It is important to note that the entry of those under age 18 into the drug trade marked a major change, beginning in the ‘90’s. Until mid-way through that decade, the entry of adolescents was not a common strategy. Among the main reasons for the change was the lower “cost” of children to drug lords -- shorter penalties paid by children in the event of prison or the lower cost of police bribes to have them released.

 The second element that encourages the recruitment of child labor is their disposition for this kind of group work. In general, they seem to enjoy, much more than their elders, the exchange of gunfire with police or with a rival gang.

 As to ethnicity or skin color, a high percentage of traffickers in Rio are black or mestizo [pardo]: around 90 percent, almost double the rate of both groups in the total Brazilian population, which is approximately 45 percent. The greater use of blacks and mestizos in the retail sales of drugs corresponds with the concentration of these groups in popular social spaces (favelas), and with the lack of opportunities to succeed in the formal labor market.

 The feeling of belonging to a group that defends its territory is another characteristic of traffickers in Rio. This feeling is stronger among younger members of the trade. The desire to strengthen their gang, such that they would give their lives to expand their territory in the city, is a typical way that the newer recruits prove themselves. Those with more time in the trade tend to be more measured in sustaining their bonds with the gang. In either case, these bonds are highly valued, showing that the relationships are profound and intimate. Daily life is lived with these colleagues in a very integrated fashion. 

 It deserves mention that the daily rules of the drug trade are tough and tense. The fluidity of positions and situations, in effect, requires that the social network maintain rigorous norms, defended by all those in the trade. Numerous interviews, particularly among the older traffickers, confirm that in order to survive in this social network it is fundamental “to know how to listen, to know how to talk, and to know how to be deceptive.” The ability to comply more skillfully with the existing norms of the group affects how one is promoted.

 The assignment of compensation and work schedules is determined differently than what is customary by a traditional boss in the labor market. In this sense, it is meaningless to try to apply the norms or practices found in formal or informal jobs. Compensation arrangements can involve a fixed weekly payment, daily wages, a percentage of sales revenues – a type of consignment contract – or a combination of a fixed payment and a share of sales. The value of compensation depends on the overall sales level of the gang, which, it should be emphasized varies from community to community. The communities with higher sales are, in general, those that are better organized, have stronger armed forces, and, in turn, offer better remuneration.

 Work schedules vary according to demand and to the number of employed workers. The defining characteristic, however, is absolute availability for daily activities by all members of the group, a mandatory factor for the most recent recruits. Thus, the worker in drug trafficking is not guided in his behavior by the same variables as employees in the formal work sector.

 The principal factor responsible for the daily availability of drug workers is their limited mobility. The act of leaving the community is always a risk, be it as a function of the police or of a confrontation with rival gangs. Thus, these departures from the community are prepared with importance and great care. Circulation, basically, is restricted to the localities with which local trafficking is allied. It also depends on the level of exposure of the member of the group – how much he is targeted by the police or other groups. The more time someone has in trafficking, the more difficult it is for him to circulate in parts of the city. Because of this, his local ties and his routine are reinforced. Thus, there is a strong tendency for allegiance to particular territories, which limits the experience of time and space by youth involved in the trafficking of drugs.

[1] This article was written in conjunction with the research project, ”Children involved in the trafficking of drugs: a simple diagnostic” – Organizacao International do Trabalho, Brasilia, 2002. 

[2] Professor of Geography, Universidade Federal Fluminense, and Coordinator of the Observatorio de Favelas (Study of Favelas) of Rio de Janeiro.

[3] The numbers are rounded off.