In Latin America’s latest challenge to Washington’s “war on drugs,” Ecuador has quietly begun releasing thousands of convicted cocaine smugglers. The move is a result of the country’s new criminal law, which took effect August 10. It treats “drug mules” who commit the low-profit, high-risk offense more as vulnerable people exploited by cartels than as hardened criminals. Around 500 mules have already been freed and at least another 2,000 are expected to follow, says Jorge Paladines, national coordinator of the Public Defender’s Office.
The West Africa Commission on Drugs says drug cartels are undermining the region by using it to transit cocaine. The commission, headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, says the cartels should be tackled but that punishing the personal use of drugs does not work. It argues that current policies incite corruption and provoke violence. Drug trafficking and consumption have become major issues in West Africa since the turn of the century. (See also: West Africa needs to look at partially decriminalising drugs, says thinktank)