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Will Latin American Leaders Wake Up The U.S. And Revolutionize Drug Policy?

Latin Americans realize they are bearing the brunt of a war that has been imposed on them, and are increasingly eager to assert their independence.
 
 
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The so-called War on Drugs has been going on for over 40 years, but despite the colossal resources that have been thrown at this failed social experiment, the world’s appetite for illicit substances keeps heading stubbornly upward and drug-trafficking is flourishing, sowing mayhem and chaos all over the planet. To whoever is willing to analyze the issue without ideological or moralist goggles, it is painfully obvious that this doomed war is even less winnable than the war in Afghanistan (or the war in Iraq for that matter), and has been going on four times longer, at a far higher cost. The list of retired world leaders speaking out against drug prohibition and calling for a paradigm shift on drug policy is growing by the day, and includes former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and a long string of ex-presidents, ex-drug czars and top drug-warriors, most notably from Latin America. The flow of retired high-level officials coming out of the War on Drugs closet is turning into a stampede.

Unfortunately, it was so far considered political suicide for lawmakers of all nationalities, kept in tight line under the hawkish watch of the US prohibitionist-in-chief, to acknowledge the abysmal failure of the War on Drugs while they were in office. Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was a notable exception, tiptoeing over a careful legalization line even before he was elected, and keeping his stance once in office. Mexican president Felipe Calderon started his mandate with a fierce determination to tackle the problem once and for all, but nearing the end of his six-year term, and after a semi-official body count toppling 50,000, doubt seems to be creeping in. His determination was first shaken by the Monterrey massacre in August 2011, while the fast-and-furious debacle rightly infuriated him. The first expression of regional discontent came on Dec. 6, 2011, with the publication of a declaration calling for the exploration of “regulatory or market oriented options,” signed by 10 heads of states of the Central-American and Caribbean region members of the Tuxtla System for Dialogue.

But the big surprise came from Guatemala where, a few days after taking office in Jan. 14, 2012, President Perez Molina, a former general elected on a law and order platform, started talking about legalization as a way out of the War on Drugs conundrum. Following discussions with Colombian President Santos, President Perez Molina further declared on February 11 his intention to present a proposal for drug legalization in Central America at the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas. Guatemalan Vice-President Roxana Baldetti started a tour to discuss the proposal with regional leaders and garner support for it, starting with Panama, Costa Rica and Salvador on February 29.

Unsurprisingly, the move was greeted by a quick rebuke from the US government, which dispatched Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to the region on February 28, one day ahead of Roxana Baldetti’s own tour. Napolitano gained support for the continuation of the war on drugs from the presidents of Costa Rica, Salvador and Panama, three of Baldetti's prime targets. Earlier in that tour, Napolitano declared that the Mexican war on drugs was not a failure, though she came short of calling it a success. How do you spell denial? But then, if the war on Iraq is the new benchmark, the most dismal failure can be touted as success.

It is remarkable that Baldetti still managed to get the support of Costa Rica and El Salvador. On Sunday, March 3, came the announcement that the US administration is now sending VP Biden himself, a staunch supporter of the war on drugs, to tour the region.