RIO DE JANEIRO, May 9 (UPI) -- As Brazil frantically prepares to welcome tourists attending the World Cup soccer match in June, it learned it is the world's top consumer of crack cocaine.
Brazil shares a border with Bolivia, Peru and Colombia -- the world's largest cocaine producers -- and its strong economic growth has raised personal disposable income, creating a strong market for many goods, including drugs.
Billboards in the 12 Brazilian cities hosting the World Cup feature public service announcements reading: "Crack. Freedom or death." And officials have begun initiatives, with mixed results, that critics decry as efforts to clean up streets in preparation for the soccer tournament rather than address drug addiction or provide help for crack users.
A neighborhood near Rio de Janeiro's Maracana soccer stadium has an permanent encampment, called "cracolandia" or "crack land," which consists of 300 to 400 crack users nightly. They buy single-use crack for about 5 reais ($2.20) and huddle under plastic tarps, occasionally wandering slowly down dimly-lit roads in the area.
Officials say other cities have similar crack communities.