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Welcome To 'Cracolandia,' São Paulo's Roving Drug Bazaar

A pulsing, hazy world comes to life every night in Brazil's largest city, as drug traffickers and users gather to buy, sell, barter, smoke. When police intervene, a new neighborhood is found.

An altercation with police in the 'Crackland' of Sao Paulo in February
An altercation with police in the "Crackland" of Sao Paulo in February
Danilo Verpa, Juliana Gragnani, Leandro Machado

SÃO PAULO — In "Cracolandia" (Crackland), in the Brazilian megalopolis of São Paulo, almost anything can be exchanged for drugs: a shower head, an empty rucksack, cachaça, headphones, radio-controlled cars, a lampshade. One boy walks around carrying a chair. He's hoping to barter it for crack. He stops outside a shack. A trafficker looks at him and makes a gesture indicating "no deal." A chair isn't worth a rock around here. A guy with a pair of sneakers has better luck. "Who wants a pair of Nikes? I've got a pair of Nikes," he shouts. Moments later he makes an exchange.

After a major police operation at the end of May, drug traffickers and users moved from the streets they used to occupy in central São Paulo to this area in Princess Isabel square. It's about 400 meters from the previous Crackland, which São Paulo's mayor, João Doria, described as an "open-air shopping mall for drugs." The new Crackland is already growing unremittingly, with an almost exclusively male population that can reach up to 1,000 people, depending on the time of day. And so on June 11, police again intervened.

The tarpaulin tents that make up Crackland have two main functions: they protect against the cold and the rain and they provide shelter for drug trafficking. Inside the tents are small tables on which all sorts of products are kept: crack rocks, drinks, lighters, cigarettes, pipes. The traffickers remain behind these tables as they negotiate sales or barters, but they don't deal to all drug users. There's also a more subtle way of trafficking, where drug users themselves pass rocks to one another.

The "flow" of selling, bartering and consuming is less intense during the day, in part because of the presence of dozens of social and health workers trying to convince addicts to seek treatment. Most of the time, the police presence is limited to two military police vehicles with four officers in each. But access to the square isn't restricted, and the trafficking takes place without intervention.

At nightfall, the flow expands. Hundreds of people appear, looking for drugs and drinks. At night in Crackland, there are two types of people. First, the homeless, who make up about 80% of the population in Crackland. The vast majority are either unemployed or work in undeclared small jobs. The other group is fluctuating, and includes clean, well-dressed people, many in their 20s and 30s but some over 45. One man enters the area, wearing suspenders and a hat. These people never stay too long. They buy their drugs (crack, cocaine, marijuana), they smoke it, they leave.

Rogério, 37, says he comes "once or twice a week" to smoke crack. "I come here, I buy my drugs, I take them and I go and sleep," he says. "I don't stay here all day."

Dancing til dawn

It's 2:30 a.m. and Crackland is still wide awake. Portable loudspeakers spit out funk and rap beats. The sound of hammers pounding on tent pegs mixes with the noise of the shopping carts the homeless walk around with. It doesn't stop. One man plays a ukulele. Another starts playing a guitar solo that soon dies out.

Little by little, the area turns into a sort of rave, with people taking drugs, drinking and dancing until the crack of dawn. People light fires to keep warm, and the smoke adds another layer to the smell of feces. A young man climbs on one of the square's playground structures — a jungle gym — and in under 10 minutes builds a home for himself on the top part. The playground becomes an estate. The tunnel under a slide turns into a shelter for more drug-taking.

Day and night, young boys ride their bikes in and out of Crackland. There are also people walking around barefoot, others lying on the ground, which becomes muddy when it rains. Others pick through the trash, looking for something to eat or for iron to make a pipe.

Compared to its previous version, where drug users stayed one street and traffickers on another, the new Crackland is more of a maze. It also has a "bar," which is actually a 10-meter long tent. Beyond crack pipes, the bar also sells White Horse whiskey, brandy, beer, catuaba (an aphrodisiac infusion), cigarettes, lighters, water and other soft drinks. Workers take turns. One young man works there until 10 p.m. before being replaced by a blond woman who spends part of the night looking at her phone. Every now and then, a man comes to refill the stock with new products.

There is also food available in Crackland, though at least one in every five people we talked to hadn't eaten at all over the previous 24 hours. Not far from the bar, one man sells sandwiches. He's got bread, a bag of olives, parsley, lemon, meat, mustard, pepper, margarine, tomato sauce and salt. To fry the meat, he makes a fire inside a shopping cart and puts his frying pan on top. Other tents specialize in making pipes. The owners of those "shops' spend their night preparing food that they then exchange for rocks, or anything deemed good enough to accept.

Of course, this all takes place in a cloud of crack smoke. Anybody who comes just to eat a sandwich also gets his share of second-hand crack fumes — even the man selling the sandwiches smokes.

Children and teenagers also roam freely in Crackland. One of the dealers is actually a boy, aged about 12. He stands in front of a table, together with a woman. Both are partly hidden behind an umbrella. In the early hours of the night, a big, shirtless man — not exactly the sort you imagine taking drugs — comes looking to buy some crack. The child prepares the man's fix. Another boy, Danilo, 13, admits he comes to take drugs. "But I don't live here," he says looking at his feet.

The atmosphere is generally friendly. We didn't see any fights, just some people arguing, but nothing serious. We did, however, witness three police officers beating up a young man. Others rebelled and tried to intervene. In a matter of minutes, six cars from the municipal guards came and the crowd dispersed.

After the first police operation, Mayor Doria proclaimed the end of Crackland. Since then, though, little has changed for the drug users. But people are a bit more wary, not sure who to trust. Anybody, they worry, could be a police officer working undercover... or a journalist.

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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