The story of the Mexican drug war has generally focused on the violence perpetrated by drug cartels and the apparent inability to bring so many criminals to justice. Unfortunately—while it’s true many have evaded justice—there remain many more people who use drugs and those with very low levels of involvement in the drug trade, who have been swept up in recent crackdowns.
Latin American drug policies have made no dent in the drug trade; instead they have taken a tremendous toll on human lives. In 2009, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Transnational Institute (TNI) embarked on an ambitious project to document the real impact of Latin America’s “war on drugs” and to show its human cost through the video testimonies of the victims themselves.
The United States has exported a counter-productive and destructive model to Latin America through the drug war. This is made clear in Systems Overload, a report released in May by the Transnational Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America.
Sembra proprio che non debbano esserci limiti ai disastri della guerra alle droghe, sulla quale ingrassa il narcotraffico con tutte le sue conseguenze: i mille morti al mese nel solo Messico; le carcerazioni massicce in molti paesi per reati minori o per trasgressioni che neanche dovrebbe essere previste dalle norme penali; il crescente traffico di armi sempre più potenti vendute dagli USA ai narcotrafficanti, soprattutto quelli dell'America latina (al confronto la micidiale artiglieria esibita nel film dei fratelli Coen, "Non è un paese per vecchi", è già diventata un gingillo come il nostro vecchio modello '91); il dilagare in tutte le città del mondo della acquisizione da parte delle organizzazioni criminali di ogni tipo di imprese e di esercizi a scopi di riciclaggio (in molti bar e ristoranti a Roma ormai non si contano più gli scontrini emessi a vuoto per "lavare" denaro sporco); e chi più ne ha più ne metta.
A comparative study on the impact of drug policies on the prison systems of eight Latin American countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay – reveals that drug laws have contributed to the prison crises these countries are experiencing. The drug laws impose penalties disproportionate to many of the drug offenses committed, do not give sufficient consideration to the use of alternative sanctions, and promote the excessive use of preventive detention. The study Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America, published today by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), found that the persons who are incarcerated for drug offenses tend to be individuals caught with small amounts of drugs, often users, as well as street-level dealers.
Martha Ines Miravete was a stage actress in Buenos Aires. She recalls how, in 1994, a man changed her life by inviting her to participate in a video project in Brazil. She was excited at the opportunity for new work and the chance to travel for the first time. But, she was stopped at the airport, the luggage was searched, and cocaine was found.
In the last few years, many Latin American countries face a dilemma – imported from Western countries – of conceding some if not all of its penitentiary services to large national and/or international companies. Such a step calls into question whether or not the State should hand over legal authority, including the duty of sanctioning, guarding and rehabilitating the offenders.
On September 29, 2010 the Associated Press (AP) published an article entitled Ecuador: Almost 3,000 Detained for Narco-Trafficking in Eight Months. The article, which states how many were arrested for possession and how many for international trafficking, insinuates that such large numbers of people detained on drug charges indicates that Ecuador is playing a key role in decreasing the amount of illicit drugs that are trafficked in the Andean region. However, the key questions to ask after reading the article are: who are these 3000 people and has their detention led to an actual decrease in the movement of drugs through Ecuador?
Almost 75 percent of the prison population in Bolivia remains in jails without a sentence. One third of the inmates are incarcerated due to the draconian character of Bolivian drug law, Law 1008 (Ley 1008). Although Evo Morales’ government announced that it would modify the law, the modifications have been centered around the regulation of coca cultivations, not on the tremendous repercussions of the law on the prison situation and the criminal justice system.