Latin American leaders have joined together to condemn the U.S. government for soaring drug violence in their countries, blaming the United States for the transnational cartels that have grown rich and powerful smuggling dope north and guns south. Alongside official declarations, Latin American governments have expressed growing disgust for U.S. drug consumers — both the addict and the weekend recreational user heedless to the misery and destruction paid for their pleasures.
The "take-over" of Rocinha, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, by heavily armed police and military units was seen by some as a media spectacle and by others as part of a successful strategy of regaining state control over an area ruled by armed drug gangs. Less than three hours after 3,000 police and soldiers occupied the favela or in the south of the city, Rio de Janeiro state Secretary of Public Security José Mariano Beltrame announced the "recovery of the territory" by the state.
The police blitzes in this Olympic city’s biggest slums are meant to show the world that Rio is winning the fight against violent drug gangs that have ruled the shantytowns for decades. With this weekend’s occupation of the Rocinha slum, home to 100,000 people, authorities secured key areas near athletic events planned for the 2016 Games. Since the security program began three years ago, 19 permanent “police pacification units,” or UPPs, have been created. The problem is of such scale that even the main architect of the program acknowledges that policing alone will not halt the drug trade. Instead, the goal of the invasions is to win back strategic territory and take guns away from the gangs.
This contradicts one of the central tenets of the War on Drugs, which is that the psychopharmacological effects of drug use lead to criminal behavior. Most studies show that it's in fact the competition of an unregulated market that encourages the majority of violent crime. This concept was evidenced during the prohibition era in the 1920s, a time that coincided with an increase in crime, corruption, and contempt for law.
A new coalition of high-profile health, academic and justice experts is mounting a campaign to legalize and regulate marijuana in British Columbia, arguing the policy change would reduce gang violence and convert criminal profits into new tax revenues. The push comes as the federal Conservative government moves to pass polar opposite legislation, an omnibus crime bill aiming to toughen penalties for drug traffickers along with other law-and-order measures. Calling itself Stop the Violence BC, the group released it first report and is pledging to issue further scientific research, poll results and hold public forums in an effort to pressure politicians towards its cause.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday turned up pressure on the United States to curb demand for illicit drugs, hinting that legalization of narcotics may be needed to weaken the drug cartels. Mexico, which has been racked by a bloody conflict between the government and drug cartels, is paying the price for its proximity to the United States, Calderon said in a speech to the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) translated the article La raíz de la violencia by Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez that was originally published in Spanish in the June 2011 edition of the Mexican magazine Nexos. Guerrero’s article, "At the Root of the Violence," deserves as wide an audience as possible. The author makes a compelling case for shifting to a strategy of "deterrence" to reduce the horrific violence that has been spreading in Mexico.
The central statistic of Mexico's violent drug war – 40,000 gangland murders in the past five years – is repeated so often it almost fails to alarm us anymore. But what happened last Thursday, Aug. 25, in the northern business capital of Monterrey – 52 innocent people massacred after gangsters set fire to a casino, presumably in a drug-cartel extortion operation – left even President Felipe Calderón sounding distressed. So agitated, in fact, that drug-war analysts believe Calderón, in his speech the next day, signaled a change in philosophy and told the U.S. to think about legalizing drugs as a way of weakening vicious drug traffickers.
Part of the solution to end drug violence in Mexico should include legalizing drugs like marijuana for personal use, according to former President Vicente Fox. "In order to get out of this trap (of drug violence caused by organized crime), I'm specifically proposing the legalization of the drug," Fox said. He also said the Mexican government should "retire the army from the task of combating criminal gangs."
War, as I came to report it, was something fought between people with causes, however crazy or honourable: like between the American and British occupiers of Iraq and the insurgents who opposed them. Then I stumbled across Mexico's drug war – which has claimed nearly 40,000 lives, mostly civilians – and all the rules changed. This is warfare for the 21st century, and another creature altogether.
Four decades after Washington declared its "war on drugs" and began to spread the doctrine south of the U.S. border, the government of the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro decided to shift away from that approach towards a strategy focused on community policing. The new focus has already produced results in some of the city’s favelas or shanty towns, which were long off-limits to outsiders, including police. The process began in 2009 with the installation of "Police Pacification Units" (UPPs) in the favelas.
Police efforts to fight drug gangs tend to lead to more violence and an increase in murders, according to a new international study. The authors, writing in the International Journal of Drug Policy, admit they were surprised by their own findings. Their hypothesis was that the results "would demonstrate an association between increased drug law enforcement expenditures or intensity and reduced levels of violence". But that's not what they showed. Instead, they report: "From an evidence-based public policy perspective and based on several decades of available data, the existing scientific evidence suggests drug law enforcement contributes to gun violence and high homicide rates and that increasingly sophisticated methods of disrupting organisations involved in drug distribution could paradoxically increase violence."