Kleidson Oliveira Bezerra, 43, walked almost 40 kilometers until he found a road. It was dawn when he fled a therapeutic community in Minas Gerais, after the pastor forced him to do work removing weeds despite the fact that he had injured his hand in an accident before entering. When he fled, he realized that he was four hours from Belo Horizonte. A few days earlier, he had gotten into a church truck – which he doesn’t even remember the name of – convinced by missionaries who were approaching the homeless with promises that they would free them from their drug problems.
For years after this traumatic experience, Kleidson turned down any offers of treatment, until she came across a Psychosocial Care Center (CAP). In these units, linked to the Unified Health System (SUS), disorders related to the abuse of alcohol and other psychoactive substances are treated without mandatory hospitalization, which is used in therapeutic communities. “They treated me by name, as a person. I felt like I was regaining my dignity,” he recalls.
Kleidson became an advocate for CAPs and the rights of drug users. He is vice president of the National Collective to Fight Asylum and is a member of the service for homeless people and the Sobradinho Health Council, in the Federal District. “The problem with therapeutic communities in Brazil is that most are controlled by religious groups,” he says. “They deprive the subject of freedom, exploit work and take advantage of vulnerability to indoctrinate, transform the person into a product of the church.”
According to an exclusive investigation by Public agencyIn Brazil, Christian-oriented therapeutic communities received almost 70% of the resources allocated by the Ministry of Citizenship to these entities in the first year of the Government of Jair Bolsonaro. Of the approximately 29 million dollars in transfers to 487 institutions contracted to offer treatment to drug users in Brazil, at least eight million dollars went to notoriously evangelical therapeutic communities and eight and a half million to Catholic institutions. The research reached this conclusion by crossing the data of the general map of the therapeutic communities, those of the ministry itself and information available on the websites and official channels of the entities.
More than 60% of the therapeutic communities hired by the Ministry of Citizenship in 2019 have direct links with Christian religious groups or are chaired by priests – priests, missionaries, pastors, among others. In most of these entities, practices such as reading the Bible and participating in services, masses and prayers are part of the treatment offered to drug users.
The largest contracts are also closed with Christian therapeutic communities. At the top of the list is the Nueva Aurora Chemical Unit Assistance Group, which received about $ 311,000. The institution belongs to the Catholic Fazenda Esperança, which has more than 100 units in Brazil and other centers abroad. In total, the units belonging to Fazenda Esperança totaled more than $ 800,000 in contracts with the Ministry of Citizenship last year. The second largest volume of resources, about $ 250,000, went to the Missionary Training School, belonging to the Evangelical Youth Challenge Group. Last year, the Ministry of Citizenship paid about 2.3 million dollars to units of Desafío Joven, a non-governmental organization founded by pastors of the Assembly of God in the United States.
Public money has also funded therapeutic communities reported for human rights violations, including a lack of respect for religious freedom. This is the case of the Desafío Joven Maanaim Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, of the evangelical organization Desafío Joven, which received $ 194,000 from the Ministry of Citizenship to finance 75 free treatment places in three units.
The inmates of that center said they were punished with tasks such as washing dishes when they refused to participate in religious ceremonies. There are also reports of a lack of psychologists or psychiatrists and a phobia of LGTBI people. The complaints are found in an inspection report of the Federal Public Ministry with the National Mechanism to Prevent and Combat Torture and the Federal Council of Psychology published in 2018.
With the change of management in the Federal Public Ministry, last year the working groups in charge of the inspection of therapeutic communities were dissolved, but the report on violations had international repercussions. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights instructed the Brazilian State not to finance the entities denounced. The contracts show that the federal government does not know the therapeutic communities in Brazil, because there is no inspection,” says Lúcio Costa, an expert from the National Mechanism for Prevention and the Fight against Torture.
The report also mentions the Cueva de Adulam Charitable Association in the Federal District, which received 164,000 dollars (844,000 reais) from the Ministry of Citizenship. The document of the Federal Public Ministry says that there was no “personalized attention” in the therapeutic community, that is, an attention that considered the particularities of each inmate. Created by Pastor Lúcio Mendonça, the evangelical institution highlights on its website the “technical and professional accompaniment coordinated by theologians and pastors” as part of the treatment. On the internet, reports circulate that this same therapeutic community is rejecting people who do not take a test of COVID-19.
“They demand an expensive test,” complains Kleidson Oliveira. It shows a video, received on WhatsApp, in which an elderly person complains that their admission was rejected for not having the test, despite not having symptoms. The examination requirement is not part of the brochure that guides the operation of therapeutic communities during the pandemic.
Until the publication of this report, Cueva de Adulam and Joven Maanaim did not send any response to the queries raised and the Ministry of Citizenship did not respond about the financing of the therapeutic communities denounced for human rights violations.
Therapeutic communities gain strength in the Bolsonaro government
Therapeutic communities are central to the Bolsonaro government’s national drug policy, which points to abstinence as the only viable solution. According to the Ministry of Citizenship itself, the number of places financed by the federal government in these entities increased from 2,900 in 2018 to approximately 11,000 in 2019.
The number was expected to reach 20,000 this year, representing about $ 58 million in contracts. It is almost double the 29.25 million contracted last year, although the amount initially announced, of 29.8 million, has not been reached due to cancellations and rescissions of contracts, according to the Ministry of Citizenship, which did not detail the agreements reached or the reason for cancellations. The amount planned for 2020 also exceeds the annual budget of the Psychosocial Care Centers –30,705 million dollars–, which work with the perspective of harm reduction (a strategy focused on reducing risks to consumer health that does not focus on abstinence) and with multidisciplinary teams made up of psychologists and doctors.
“Public resources are focused on therapeutic communities when the ideal is intersectoral treatment, in freedom and in the territory of residence of the patient,” says Luciano Costa, of the National Mechanism for Prevention and Fight against Torture. “There is a movement to reinforce therapeutic communities, including the recent regulation of the reception of adolescents in these homes, by the National Council for Drug Policies”, reaffirms Marisa Helena Alves, of the Federal Council of Psychology and coordinator of the Intersectoral Commission of Mental Health.
So far, however, the 2020 hires have not been made due to the pandemic, the call issued in December was extended to June. However, the Ministry of Citizenship lists 113 institutions registered in 2019, which would be, according to people linked to the sector, a first step to winning the contract.
This previous list maintains the pattern of hiring of religious entities. With the information available through the official channels of these institutions, the Public Agency found that almost 60% of these entities are linked to churches or Christian organizations. At least 40% of the entities declare themselves evangelical, have direct relationships with churches or other evangelical organizations, or are managed by pastors. Catholics are almost 20%.
The treatments combine spirituality and ‘laborterapia’
According to estimates, Brazil has approximately 2,000 therapeutic communities in operation. Many work in the informal sector, away from inspections.
Convergence with religious groups has existed since the creation of therapeutic communities, which arise from anonymous sororities (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) and churches. In Brazil, “82% of the entities are linked to churches and religious organizations, particularly those of Christian origin,” according to the profile of therapeutic communities prepared by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA, for its acronym in Portuguese) in 2018. The cultivation of spirituality and ‘labor therapy’ –treatment through work– are common in more than 90% of the entities.
“Even non-religious institutions do a mixture of spiritual and technical methods,” observes IPEA research coordinator Maria Paula Gomes. For her, the religious agenda is dangerous because it makes the entity “a moral enterprise, which obstructs a discussion on drug policy.”
The strengthening of therapeutic communities linked to conservative Christian groups continues, according to Gomes, since these groups emerged in Brazilian politics. She recalls that the first funding opportunity for therapeutic communities with the federal government was generated in 2010, through the “Crack, it is possible to beat” program. And she adds that since then the granting of loans has only grown, leaving aside other approaches.
“No method is effective on its own and what has been advocated is a unique therapeutic method with complementary methods”, says Maria Paula. “One of the biggest problems with current drug policy is the focus on abstinence. And that, often, in therapeutic communities, the success of treatment is measured by the spiritual conversion of the individual. Furthermore, without proper treatment, the people are not prepared to face reality outside the institution and therefore many return to drug abuse after leaving recovery centers. ”
This article was originally published by Public Agency, and had the collaboration of Raphaela Ribeiro
Source: El Diario – El Diario by www.eldiario.es.
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