Relationships with countries racked by drug violence and organized crime should focus more on economic development and less on the endless battles against drug traffickers and organized crime capos that have left few clear victors. The countries, Mexico in particular, need to set their own course on security, with the United States playing more of a backing role. That approach runs the risk of being seen as kowtowing to governments more concerned about their public image than the underlying problems tarnishing it.
An average of five people were killed by police every day in Brazil last year, according to an annual security report, revealing an entrenched culture of violence within the country's security forces. Brazil's Forum of Public Security joined forces with US non-governmental organization (NGO) Open Society Foundations to conduct an in-depth study of police killings as part of its annual report, concluding that the country's security forces are beset by a "culture of violence."
This is at the heart of the awakening in Latin America, a feeling that drugs prohibition has allowed rich and powerful cartels to rise to such prominence that they threaten the institutions of the state – the police, the judicial system, the army, the media, and the body politic. In Latin America it is not about rehab and criminality, it is about an existential threat to the state.
There was a lot of drug-war hand-wringing in the U.S. leading up to President Obama’s visit to Mexico. That’s because Mexican President Peña Nieto is in change-the-conversation mode: he wants Washington to focus less on his country’s awful drug violence – some 60,000 narco-related murders in the past seven years, with little sign of abating – and more on its robust economic potential. The fear in some Washington circles is that Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which in its dictatorial 20th-century heyday was every drug lord’s cuate, or best buddy, is putting the fight against Mexico’s vicious cartels on the back burner.
Human Rights Watch called Mexico's anti-drug offensive "disastrous" in the report Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored, that cites 249 cases of disappearances that the group says mostly show evidence of having been carried out by the military or law enforcement. The report says the "enforced disappearances" follow a pattern in which security forces detain people without warrants at checkpoints, at homes or work places, or in public. When victims' families ask about their relatives, security forces deny the detentions.
Mexico's new administration has offered the first details of its new strategy in the country's war on drugs, saying the government will spend $9.2bn this year on social programmes to keep young people from joining criminal organisations in the 251 most violent towns and neighbourhoods across the country. The government will flood those areas with spending on programmes ranging from road building to increasing school hours, said President Enrique Peña Nieto and Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, the interior secretary.
For years the country was largely untouched by the brutal cartels that control the drug trade in Latin America. But an eight-year-old boy is proof those days are over. As little more than a transit-route, Argentina had escaped the worst of drug-related violence that has plagued many South American countries for decades. Now, the effects of the drug trade are increasingly visible – particularly in Rosario, which is acquiring the inauspicious title of Argentina’s “narco” capital.
Gang-outreach schemes, community centers,employment projects andconstruction programs aimed at transformingchaotic urban jungles. “There is a complete lack of focus,” says Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former member of Mexico’s intelligence agency. “It is such a mishmash of different programs that we will not know what works and what doesn’t. It is setting up itself for being a major waste of money.”
Ten police in Rio de Janeiro have been charged with the torture and killing of a resident of the city's biggest favela in a case that has highlighted anger about extrajudicial killings. For more than two months, Amarildo de Souza was simply classified as "missing", but the suspicious circumstances of his disappearance and the notorious record of Rio's police sparked demonstrations that forced the authorities to respond.
Homicides have fallen 65 percent in the Rio de Janeiro favelas where Police Pacification Units have been installed during four years of the flagship scheme -- an impressive figure, but one that could just indicate a displacement of violence to other regions. A study by Rio's Public Security Institute (ISP) looked at 22 Rio neighborhoods where Police Pacification Units (UPPs) have been in operation for more than a year.
Rio de Janeiro’s Pacification Police Units (UPP) are celebrating their fifth year in 2013. They do so with generally positive approval ratings from the media and society as a whole. A recent study by Instituto Data Favela indicates that 75% of favelas inhabitants approve of the UPPs. Notwithstanding major crises and criticism, the UPP constitute the single most important public security initiative in the state. And yet the persistent informality of the UPP may eventually undermine its sustainability. (See also: Rio slum pacification police accused of torture, murder)
As a law enforcement professional, I was waiting impatiently for the government’s recommendations for fighting gang crime. I’ve been especially impatient to see what kind of initiative they would come up with to attack the root of the problem: the cannabis trade. My disappointment when they announced what it was as great as my impatience had been. The right approach would have been to rob criminals of their source of income.
After more than four decades of a failed war on drugs, calls for a change in strategy are growing louder by the day. In Latin America, the debate is positively deafening. Statesmen from Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Uruguay are taking the lead for transformations in their own drug regime, which has set a strong dynamic of change across the region and around the world. Their discussion has expanded to the US, where public opinion toward regulation is also changing. (See also: Western leaders study 'gamechanging' report on global drugs trade)