Brazil has been struggling with drug violence for years. The problem got so bad that the country passed a law in 2006 to distinguish between dealers and users in handing out sentences, meant to reduce the overwhelming pressure on the justice and jail systems and to better single out dealers. But since then, the number of Brazilians in prison for drug charges has more than doubled and its total prison population has grown by 37 percent.
Guatemala will not fail to honour any of its international commitments to fighting drug trafficking. But nor are we willing to continue as dumb witnesses to a global self-deceit. We cannot eradicate global drug markets, but we can certainly regulate them as we have done with alcohol and tobacco markets. Drugs should be treated as public health problems, not criminal justice issues. Our children and grandchildren demand from us a more effective drug policy, not a more ideological response. Next weekend, leaders from the Americas will meet in Cartagena. This is an opportunity to start a realistic and responsible intergovernmental dialogue on drug policy.
The most important story of the Summit of the Americas was the Latin American demand to open the debate on an alternative to the ‘war on drugs’. The emergence of an increasingly independent and assertive Latin America insisting on a change of direction on drugs reflects an important shift in the terms of the relationship with the United States. Clamor for “democratization” of the debate and a search for new alternatives stems from the perception that Latin American societies pay a disproportionate price in lost lives, hijacked justice systems, abuses in overcrowded prisons, and displaced small farmers, because of the U.S.-led strategy that has prioritized stemming the supply of drugs over reducing its own demand.
Ending the consumption and the trafficking of illegal drugs is “impossible”, according to Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s outgoing president. In an interview with The Economist Mr Calderón, whose battle with organised crime has come to define his six years in office, said that countries whose citizens consume drugs should find "market mechanisms" to prevent their money from getting into the hands of criminals in Latin America.
Faced with this soiled wedge between state legislation and federal law within the United States, Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his advisors have already concluded there will have to be a significant change in their anti-narcotics policy. Weeding out the marijuana issue was prudently left to behind closed door discussions.
A study released by a respected Mexican think tank asserts that proposals to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, Oregon and Washington could cut Mexican drug cartels' earnings from traffic to the U.S. by as much as 30 percent. Opponents questioned some of the study's assumptions, saying the proposals could also offer new opportunities for cartels to operate inside the U.S. and replace any profit lost to a drop in international smuggling.
Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will vote on whether to legalise marijuana. Polls suggest that the initiatives have a decent chance of passing in Washington and Colorado (Oregon is a longer shot).The impact on Mexico could be profound. Between 40% and 70% of American pot is reckoned to be grown in Mexico. According to a recent study by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), a think-tank in Mexico City, the American marijuana business brings in about $2 billion a year to Mexico’s drug traffickers.
Colombia's chief public prosecutor has called for a referendum on whether to legalise drug consumption, in response to plans to set up a network of public centres where users can consume illicit drugs under supervision. The so-called “controlled consumption centres” are part of a drive by Gustavo Petro, the mayor of the capital, Bogotá, to reduce drug-related crime in the city.
For four years, Ciudad Juárez on the border with Texas was convulsed by daily slaughter, becoming the murder capital of the world and a shocking illustration of the Mexican government's failure to contain violence among warring drug cartels. A number of drug war experts say security has also improved because the Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman now has a firm hold on the city after squeezing out the Juarez Cartel, for long aligned with the local police.
The "pacification" of the favelas in this Brazilian city, aimed at driving out armed groups and fighting drug trafficking, has not yet become a fully effective public policy, says Eliana Sousa Silva, who has lived in one of Rio’s shantytowns for nearly 30 years. The pacification process begins when elite military police battalions are sent in to crack down on drug trafficking gangs. Once the drug mafias have been run out of the favela, permanent "Police Pacification Units" (UPPs) are installed to carry out community policing.
Latin American leaders are increasingly speaking out against prohibition. And public opinion in America, especially when it comes to legalizing pot, is shifting very rapidly. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has wrapped up a trip to Mexico and Honduras, where he held talks with Central American leaders on regional security efforts and drug trafficking. Biden’s visit comes amid an emerging rift between the Obama administration and its Central American allies on the drug war. There is a growing belief among Central American leaders that decriminalization and legalization of some drugs could help reduce the power of drug cartels and reduce the bloodshed connected to the drug war.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is advocating the international legalization of drugs even as he is moving to fight narcotics cartels with the biggest military buildup in the Central American country since its long and bloody civil war. The president said the traditional war on drugs had failed over the past half century, and that the United States' inability to deal with its drug consumption problem left Central America with no option but to promote legalizing drugs in some way.
Mexico's new president has outlined a security strategy aimed at reducing drug war-related violence that, rhetorically at least, contrasts starkly with the emphasis his predecessor placed on using force to go after the cartels. For all the changes of tone, however, it remains unclear how different the strategy will be on the ground, aside, perhaps, from more funds dedicated to social projects aimed at disadvantaged youths at risk of being sucked into organised crime.
Ioan Grillo, journalist, author of “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency”
01 November 2012
We have to face up to the hard reasons why thousands of young men (and some women) with full mental faculties have become serial killers. These reasons should be taken into account by residents of Colorado, Washington state and Oregon when they vote on referendums to legalize marijuana. The painful truth is that the monster of Mexican cartels has been pumped up by decades of Americans buying illegal drugs under the policies of prohibition. If voters do choose to legalize marijuana it would be a historic decision, but it would also open up a can of worms. The U.S. federal government and even the United Nations would be forced to react to a state’s resolution to break from the path.
Penalties for growing and selling cannabis must be toughened because a surge in the trade is driving up shootings and gang-related violence, a senior police officer has warned. According to Assistant Chief Constable Andy Ward of Merseyside police, an "explosion" in cannabis production has resulted in bitter struggles between rival gangs keen to exploit the ease by which cannabis can be manufactured and what they regard as easy money.
Latin American countries are turning to Europe for lessons on fighting drugs after souring on the prohibition-style approach of the violent and costly U.S.-led war on drugs. Until recently, most Latin American countries had zero-tolerance rules on drugs inspired by the United States. But now countries from Brazil to Guatemala are exploring relaxing penalties for personal use of narcotics, following examples such as Spain and Portugal that have channeled resources to prevention rather than clogging jails.
At the Summit of the Americas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed doubt about the war on drugs. “I think what everybody believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.” It’s admirable for a politician to admit uncertainty. And rare. Especially for a politician who has never expressed anything less than unshakable conviction in the Reaganite nostrums of drug prohibition. But Harper had good reason to be a little shaken.
The Cartagena Summit of the Americas where heads of state will meet in middle April comes at a time of acute crime crisis in Latin America and growing opposition to U.S. counternarcotics policies. President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala has called for legalizing the drug trade, following calls for drug policy reform of several former Latin American presidents. El Salvador has been reeling from allegations of a deal between criminal gangs and the government. Mexico has been overwhelmed by drug violence.
All wars end. Eventually. Even the war on drugs – resilient for so long – is starting to show signs of exhaustion. It is 42 years since President Nixon introduced the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. The act set out to reduce or eliminate the production, supply and consumption of illegal drugs. A year later, after a report revealed a heroin epidemic among US servicemen in Vietnam, the Nixon administration coined the phrase "war on drugs".
The startling, unprogrammed, and rebellious discussion about drugs that took place among hemispheric leaders in April at a summit in Cartagena, Colombia, barely mentioned addiction, because it’s too late for that. The discussion that for the first time in forty years challenged the United States’ dominance on drug issues focused urgently instead on the ways that the financial health, political stability, and national security of virtually every country in the Americas has been undermined by the drug trade.