POPE Francis on Wednesday warned Latin America against legalizing narcotics and urged courage in the face of deadly drug violence as he met addicts in a Brazilian Hospital.
“A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America,” the Argentine-born pontiff said.
The pontiff spoke to addicts and staff at Saint Francis hospital, a 1,041-bed complex run by Franciscan monks in Rio de Janeiro, where he is making his first foreign visit as pope.
The president of Guatemala has called for the legalization of drugs, a position shared by ex-presidents in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil after tens of thousands of deaths in the US-backed war on drugs.
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica has proposed legalizing marijuana in his country and appears to have the votes needed in congress to pass the law this year.
An Organization of American States report published in May called for taking a closer look at possibly legalizing marijuana in Latin America, until recently a taboo issue in the region.
Francis made his remarks hours after leading his first mass as pope in Latin America, in the Catholic shrine city of Aparecida, where he cautioned Catholics against the “ephemeral idols” of money and power.
Brazil, Latin America’s dominant economic power, is the world’s top consumer of crack, a cheap and highly addictive drug derived from cocaine which is ravaging impoverished areas of major cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo.
There are some one million crack users in the country, according to a recent study by the Federal University of Sao Paulo.
“There are so many situations in Brazil, and throughout the world, that require attention, care and love, like the fight against chemical dependency,” the 76-year pope said.
“How many ‘dealers of death’ there are that follow the logic of power and money at any cost. The scourge of drug-trafficking, that favors violence and sows the seeds of suffering and death, requires of society as a whole an act of courage.”
He stressed the need to “confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”
Since 2008 Rio authorities have launched a drive to wrest control of dozens of favelas, or slums, once ruled by drug traffickers ahead of next year’s World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics.
The pope, who is on a week-long visit to attend World Youth Day, a major Catholic gathering, is to tour Varginha, one of these favelas, on Thursday. AFP