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.
Dan Werb, Greg Rowell, Gordon Guyatt, Thomas Kerr, Julio Montaner, Evan Wood
01 April 2010
This report consists of a scientific review that illustrates the relationship between drug law enforcement and drug-related violence. Violence is among the primary concerns of communities around the world, and research from many settings has demonstrated clear links between violence and the illicit drug trade, particularly in urban settings. While violence has traditionally been framed as resulting from the effects of drugs on individual users (e.g., drug-induced psychosis), violence in drug markets and in drug-producing areas such as Mexico is increasingly understood as a means for drug gangs to gain or maintain a share of the lucrative illicit drug market.
The city of Copenhagen should be growing its own weed, said its mayor. According to Social Democrat Frank Jensen, the Danish capital can only get a grip on its huge trade in Cannabis if the state itself muscles in and displaces the pushers. Aware that a municipal government peddling its own grass might sound a little crunchy, Jensen is emphasizing the proposal's seriousness. "This isn’t a hippie proposal," he told newspaper Berlingske. "It's being discussed by people in suits and ties." (Editorial: Legalize marijuana on a trial basis)
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.
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)
Latin America has emerged at the vanguard of efforts to promote debate on drug policy reform. For decades, Latin American governments largely followed the drug control policies and programs of Washington’s so-called war on drugs. Yet two parallel trends have resulted in a dramatic change in course: the emergence of left-wing governments that have challenged Washington’s historic patterns of unilateralism and interventionism and growing frustration with the failure of the prohibitionist drug control model put forward by the US government.
Remarkable drug policy developments are taking place in Latin America. This is not only at the level of political debate, but is also reflected in actual legislative changes in a number of countries. All in all there is an undeniable regional trend of moving away from the ‘war on drugs’. This briefing explains the background to the opening of the drug policy debate in the region, summarises the most relevant aspects of the ongoing drug law reforms in some countries, and makes a series of recommendations that could help to move the debate forward in a productive manner.
Mexico has occupied the limelight when it comes to media attention focusing on drug-related violence in Latin America. However, it is actually Central America's Northern Triangle – consisting of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – currently experiencing much higher rates of violence and increasing Drug Trafficking Organization (DTOs) activity, thus providing an illustration of the 'balloon effect' previously experienced by Mexico itself after the implementation of Plan Colombia which was conceived at the end of the 90's. Together the countries of the Northern Triangle now form one of the most violent regions on earth.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.