Obama Attends Summit of the Americas in Colombia - Drug War is on the Agenda, But Will the US Heed Calls for Reform?
Tomorrow and Saturday, President Barack Obama will attend the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, where he and 33 other presidents will discuss Latin American affairs, including the region’s devastating war on drugs. In recent months, former and current Latin American leaders have made unprecedented calls for drug policy reform, promoting an end to the U.S.-led drug war ravishing the region.
Former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico -- who started the Global Commission for Drug Policy supporting the end of the failed drug war -- write in theHuffington Post that the criminalization and stigmatization of drug users must end, encouraging experimentation with alternative drug policies.
Similarly, in an interview with the Washington Post, President Perez Molina of Guatemala said, “The strategy that we have followed these 30 or 40 years has practically failed and we have to recognize it”
While drug war is on the summit’s agenda, it seems unlikely that the U.S. will seriously consider Latin American leaders’ alternatives to prohibition. Rather than prompt immediate change, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and President Perez Molina said that the purpose of the summit is to put the U.S. on the defensive by initiating an informed discussion about alternatives to the counter-productive war on drugs.
Washington declined to comment about the debate, though Biden recently said that “there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization,” and that “there are more problems with legalization than non-legalization.”
Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance explained the probable outcome of this weekend's Summit of the Americas in a press release:
Debates over drug policy in Cartagena will be far more lively behind closed doors than in the forums open to the public. Most presidents will probably affirm their opposition to ‘legalization’ but the more important outcome may will be an emerging consensus that the time is ripe to critically evaluate prohibitionist drug control strategies. The governments of Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica will likely be joined by others willing to commit to this process.
That said, it is safe to assume that the U.S. government will do all it can to suppress, ignore, distort and otherwise derail the emerging dialogue. U.S. officials are handicapped, however, by the remarkable failure of government agencies over the past thirty years to contemplate, much less evaluate, alternative drug control strategies. They also must contend with the fact that the United States has rapidly emerged – at the level of civil society, public opinion and state government – as a global leader in reform of marijuana policies.
It is too soon to predict that this Summit of the Americas represents any sort of tipping point in global or even regional drug control policy. But the odds are good that this gathering will one day be viewed as a pivotal moment in the transformation from the failed global drug prohibition regime of the twentieth century to a new twenty-first century global drug control regime better grounded in science, health, fiscal prudence and human rights.
Read more about the historic summit here.