Residents of Brazil's largest open-air drug market have relocated amidst renewed police interventions and the possible orders of organized crime.
In mid to late March, the population of 'Cracolândia’ (Crackland), São Paulo's largest downtown drug market, picked up and moved to Plaza Princesa Isabel just a few streets away.
Local media posited that unlike previous dispersals of Crackland’s homeless population, the latest was likely carried out at the behest of the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC), Brazil’s leading drug trafficking organization which is based in São Paulo.
Some drug policy experts in Brazil suggested that the PCC, which now rakes in a fortune from the international cocaine trade, may have seen Crackland as "bad business", given its reputation and the frequency of raids there by security forces.
The move may have been further propelled by just such a series of government crackdowns on the illicit market. Beginning in June 2021, state and municipal police had renewed armed interventions in the area, seeking to rid the zone of between 500 and 800 homeless people estimated to reside in the area.
Employing operations reminiscent of previous infiltrations in 2017, security forces entered Crackland repeatedly with gas bombs and rubber bullets attempting to clear the area of the crowds of drug users often referred to as the “flow”.
As of March 2022, some 92 individuals had recently been arrested in connection to micro trafficking, according to the news agency, Efe.
For thirty years, ‘Crackland’ has existed as a quasi-community for the homeless and drug dependents, primarily those addicted to crack – the cheaper, smokable derivation of cocaine.
São Paulo is the birthplace and criminal stronghold of the PCC, so the decision to relocate the “flow” of ‘Crackland’to Plaza Princesa Isabel was likely dictated by the organization.
For all the habitual incursions by law enforcement, ‘Crackland’ as a haven and a market for microtrafficking has been an immutable institution. While its physical location may have changed, the underlying problems of addiction, state neglect and see-sawing policies towards its population persist.
In a statement in 2021, São Paulo’s Public Ministry lamented “The sad history of [Crackland] recalls the countless failed attempts of the Public Power, both state and municipal, to face the problem, with a succession of projects, sometimes consistent, sometimes electoral, which cost huge volumes of public resources, but show few results.”
The choice by drug traffickers to propel a shift in the primary zone and seemingly abandon the micro trafficking hotspot was likely due to the PCC’s declining interest in maintaining order over the open-air market.
According to journalist Bruno Paes Manso, an expert on organized crime dynamics in São Paulo, Crackland does not represent a significant stream of revenue for the PCC.
“Nowadays, the PCC’s money comes from wholesale rather than retail drug sales.” Manso noted that the group has been involved in 'Crackland' for roughly a decade now and that it may attract more unwanted attention from the public than it is worth, stating “it’s really not important in terms of money for the PCC.”
With gubernatorial elections set to take place on October 2, ‘Crackland’ is back in the spotlight as a political issue for Governor João Doria. Under Doria’s tenure, a politician who himself initiated previous police interventions while mayor of São Paulo, heavy-handed approaches to stamping out micro trafficking will likely continue.
Already, the Metropolitan Civil Guard (GCM) and public security forces have set about dismantling shelters and removing individuals in Plaza Princesa Isabel, according to Globo.