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At Historic Summit, Obama Rejects Fed Up Latin American Leaders' Calls for Drug Legalization

This Summit of the Americas will become an historic moment in the rapidly transforming, global drug policy debate.

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AMY GOODMAN: Professor Greg Grandin, the alarming rate of drug-related violence in Central America that all are trying to deal with?

GREG GRANDIN: Yeah, I mean, it’s a direct consequence of Clinton’s Plan Colombia, which has telegraphed the violence up through—up from Colombia through Central America. It had the effect of breaking up the transportation cartels, but did little about production or consumption, so therefore just increased the incentive for cartels and gangs in Central America. This was a moment when these countries were coming out of these devastating civil wars, just trying to put their institutions, civil institutions, back together again. It was like a tsunami. And added to that was the disruptions, the dislocations of neoliberalism, first NAFTA and then the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which just created massive dislocation in the countryside and destroyed agrarian markets, and just, you know, both created this void and vacuum that the drug violence filled. I mean, these are really the two legacies of the Clinton administration.

I’m a little bit—little bit more pessimistic about the United States’s ability to respond to this. I mean, you know, the United States, what we’re seeing, what’s at play—what you see at the Summit of the America is really an international forum, foreign policy forum, that what’s on view is domestic political sclerosis. The three things the U.S. could do to improve its situation and its relation with Latin America—Cuba, normalize relation with Cuba; humanize its drug policy; and three, and then have a more kind of humane trade policy—what stops that is—and then also immigration, so four things—is domestic politics. I mean, we always have an election in the United States. There’s always short-term interests that mitigate any—against a rational long-term response. But then there’s also deep interests within the United States. There’s the military-industrial complex, which makes a lot of money on the drug war. There’s SOUTHCOM, whose whole reason for existence is the drug war in Latin America. I mean, it’s going to be a lot—it’s going to take a lot to kind of pry those interests off of this policy and lead to a more rational response, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Ethan Nadelmann, you’re speaking to us now, not from Cartagena, but from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where you’re there for the World Economic Forum regional meeting. The significance of this, following Cartagena right now?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, it was planned before people knew that this was going to be on the issue of the Summit of the Americas, but I’ll be on a panel in a few days with the president of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, with the assistant secretary of state in the U.S. for law enforcement matters in narcotics, William Brownfield, and with the Mexican interior minister, whose job it is to wage the drug war. So it’s notable that, in a forum like this, which mostly focuses on business issues, that this issue is on the agenda. It’s consistent, however, with the fact that you now see the legal business communities in places like Mexico City, Monterrey, Guatemala City, beginning to step up and say this isn’t working.

And I should also just say, Amy, I agree with the previous speaker: this is going to be very difficult to sort of bring this—keep this discussion going in an above-ground way. You know, there is a prison-industrial complex. There are vested interests and powerful bureaucracies that have spent decades trying to suppress and ignore this discussion. Already, the U.S. is trying to find ways to maneuver this discussion into places where it will get stuck in sorts of intellectual quagmires and go nowhere.