Airdate: 
Sunday, August 1, 2010 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

They're known as Argentina's 'living dead'; people who've become addicted to the drug, paco. They wander the slums of Buenos Aires desperately looking for money and their next fix.

Paco is made from the impure waste of cocaine production and sells for less than a dollar a packet. Some addicts need up to a hundred hits a day, with devastating consequences for them and their families.

Video journalist David O'Shea meets some of the Mothers Against Paco, who've joined forces to try and save their children from the drug and the violent culture that goes with it.

And he talks to the director of the film, Paco, about how the problem is moving from the slums to Argentina's middle classes.

WATCH - David finds out that there is also some hope amid the desperation.

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Transcript

In Argentina there's a drug manufactured from the foul waste of cocaine production - that sells for a pittance and is turning hapless addicts into what some locals call zombies or even the living dead. It takes guts and commitment to tackle that sort of scourge. David O'Shea in Argentina met a group of brave mums determined to save their kids.

REPORTER: David O'Shea

The residents of Villa 21 are desperate for help from above. This is one of the toughest slums in Buenos Aires and its people are used to struggling against the odds, but now the community is facing their toughest challenge yet.

FATHER PEPE (Translation): At this Mass we're praying for all the kids who are struggling, who want to get off Paco.

For the past eight years these people have watched helplessly as a drug called Paco turned family, friends and neighbours into addicts, only a handful have recovered.

FATHER PEPE (Translation): So that God continues to give them the strength they show day to day to get ahead and prove to other young people that it is possible to get off Paco; let us sing together;

The no-nonsense Father Pepe isn't relying on prayer alone though, his church is the only one here running outreach programs, and for his efforts he's had death threats. So another of the Parish priests shows me around the ever-expanding slum.

FATHER OSCAR (Translation): This area was a rubbish dump and now it has become part of the neighbourhood.

Father Oscar is involved in the anti-Paco missionary work.

FATHER OSCAR (Translation): We work on that a lot - in creating a sense of identity and of belonging to the church, as a place where they can find a new and different way of seeing life and of living it. We had better hide the camera here to avoid trouble...

It would have been nice to get out of the car, but I'm told it's not safe. Paco addicts commonly known here as the living dead, zombies, wander the streets in increasing numbers, always on the lookout for more money and their next fix. These pictures were taken by a local cameraman. The drug, itself, is a mishmash of impure waste from cocaine production. It's sold for less than $1 a packet, but the effect is so short-lived serious addicts need up to 100 hits a day. Argentina's news casts are full of stories about the Paco plague and arrests by police but so far it's made little difference.

Another desperate mother makes the journey to the office of an organisation called 'Mothers Against Paco'. This woman's son is apparently in a terrible state, and founding member of the Mothers, Alicia Romero is trying to pull strings to get immediate help.

ALICIA ROMERO, MOTHERS AGAINST PACO (Translation): We're talking about a 15 year child and a desperate mother. If you can't help;

Alicia Romero is trying to get the police involved so they can have the unwilling boy treated for his addiction.

MONICA (Translation): I wont' have peace of mind until he's admitted. I wont ; because he's bad, very bad;

She has all the paperwork in order. But it's illegal to force him into rehab against his will.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): You should be more flexible because this is very urgent. It's a matter of life and death. The problem is there is no humanity; You're following orders, I understand;

It's frustrating work, but Alicia Romero wants to keep this mother focussed on the task ahead.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): It's what we always say. Get stronger. You have to start getting stronger. How? With knowledge. Knowing what's going on, what the treatment is. What we are dealing with.

'Mothers Against Paco' has become a major force in the battle to contain the drug, but sadly its office is full of stories of how Paco tears families apart. Maria Ines dropped in for a visit. Her eldest daughter was 19 years old when killed by her Paco-using boyfriend.

MARIA INES (Translation): He shot her in the chest in his house; in her boyfriend's house, because she wanted to go dancing. He was a; how do you say it? A pusher, he sold drugs. Paco. He and his whole family. I didn't know that. That's why I say there were things my daughter hid from me. That day she decided to go dancing, and he shot her with a 9mm - in his bedroom.

As if that wasn't enough the 14-year-old son has also been a victim of kids craving a fix.

MARIA INES (Translation): They put a gun to his head and robbed him. What can you do about that? You call the police and they're never there. Since 2004 it's been hell. Going for a walk is like walking in hell lately, but;it's because of the Paco problem.

Isabel Vas Quez is another of the leading Mothers, she's paid a terrible price for her activism, when recently she lost her son whose face adorns posters. Emanuel had been helping the Mothers with their antidrug campaign.

ISABEL VAS QUEZ (Translation): He was almost 2 metres tall, he was huge. We felt protected by him.

The 'Mothers Against Paco' movement was starting to take off. They even managed to demolish a notorious drug house.

ISABEL VAS QUEZ (Translation): With the destruction of that house we proved we could unite and organise ourselves. Many doors opened to us. I think we even made Paco part of the political agenda.

Then in February last year, her son was shot dead.

ISABEL VAS QUEZ (Translation): It left a great big hole in my heart.

REPORTER: Why did they kill him?

ISABEL VAS QUEZ (Translation): I think because of what we were doing. The murderers don't want the kids organised. There's money at stake and it takes away their power because the more the kids; are addicted the more they have them under their control.

For their newest client, there are no answers yet. All the Mothers can do is to prepare her for the battle ahead.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): You have to be firm because this is no ordinary illness. We have to be behind them, we have to know what doors to knock on and we have to be organised. You knock first, then I call and another of us calls;There are lots of us;. We have to get an answer eventually.

Increasingly it's not just mothers from the slums battling Paco, it's now a growing problem in the middle classes. In fact, it's getting so common, it's the subject of this newly released feature film. Paco is about the upper middle class son of a Senator who tries the drug with a girlfriend and soon gets hooked.

DIEGO RAFECAS, FILM DIRECTOR: We research two years, we stay with a lot of people smoking, no smoking, the mothers, politicals. We saw the commentarys, we stay with them, we go to the streets, we saw a lot of things.

The film's director, Diego Rafecas also knows what it's like to be an addict.

DIEGO RAFECAS: The Paco doesn't exist when I was a child and I have the experience, deep experience with the drugs, and I was in a psychiatric place for the rehabilitation 7 months.

REPORTER: Was it cocaine?

DIEGO RAFECAS: Yes, cocaine, LSD, heroin, everything - Mustard, mayonnaise.

Diego Rafecas calls Paco a drug of extermination and believes it was introduced by dark forces who want to subdue the population of the crime-ridden slum.

DIEGO RAFECAS: They take out the cocaine, take out the one smoke, and the pills, and give Paco. So the people are dying.

REPORTER: Do you believe that? Do you believe that - that sounds like a conspiracy theory.

DIEGO RAFECAS: I don't believe that, I know that.

Whether that's true, it's hard to prove. In his film, the Senator's anguish as her son hits rock bottom and a real-life drama played out across this city every day.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): No chains. We don't need to tie him up. We have to be there restraining him. Sometimes you don't need to talk, just listen. Get it? This is the time to listen.

Today Alicia Romero is at a new community education centre that the 'Mothers Against Paco' are supporting. It's a place where young people can get educated as well as find sanctuary from Paco, because their homes no longer offer that.

GIRL 1 (Translation): At my house you just go to the footpath and you see them coming to buy.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): And how they sell their stuff.

GIRL 2 (Translation): I have cousins who take Paco. They steal things from their mother and then sell them.

Alicia Romero informs the class's teacher of her plans to hold work shops here.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): You have to be strong to say no. That's why we also want to give them the tools so they can say no. The preventative team that's coming to talk about it will deal with that.

For the teacher the work shops can't come soon enough. She's concerned for one of her students, whose uncle is giving her drugs. As we leave Alicia Romero confides she knows the case the teacher was talking about, and she's at a loss about what to do.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): He sells Paco. Many reported him; but they couldn't get him kicked out. His mother, this guy's mother who is in fact her grandmother doesn't believe it. Besides they live off the money he brings in. It's difficult for them to accept that he sells. It's all very complicated.

After all the terrible stories, Alicia Romero feels I should see something positive, and takes me to meet Agila, she's dealt with her son Walter's addictions for 16 years, first cocaine, then Paco.

AGILA (Translation): He was very very thin. I was afraid to go into his room for fear of finding him dead. I used to ask my husband to go and check that he was all right. He consumed so much;

Walter says his worst moment was going to buy his son a birthday present and spending the money on Paco instead. He returned home three days later. Although it may be wishful thinking Walter claims he has no lasting health problems.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): You have an exceptional body.

WALTER (Translation): Some kids have psychological and neurological issues. Not me. I always ate well...

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): Because of your mother?

WALTER (Translation): Of course! She looked after me. She was always there.

ALICIA ROMERO (Translation): Right.

AGILA (Translation): Today, thank God, and thanks to the Mothers and their struggle, which I have now joined... my son is well.


Reporter/Camera
DAVID O'SHEA

Producer
AARON THOMAS

Fixer
NICK OLLE

Researcher
MELANIE MORRISON

Editor
ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS

Translations/Subtitling
JORGE TURINI

Original Music Composed by
VICKI HANSEN


1st August 2010