Some Latin Leaders Want New Approach To Drug War
Juan Forero
Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 2:57 PM
Font size: A | A | A | A |

The war on drugs is now decades old, with no end in sight. A number of Latin American presidents say it's time to consider alternatives, including legalization. They plan to raise the issue when more than 30 leaders from the Americas gather this weekend in Colombia, but the U.S. has made clear its opposition to legalization.

   
A man makes a joint during a march last month in Guatemala City, Guatemala, calling for the decriminalization of marijuana.
A man makes a joint during a march last month in Guatemala City, Guatemala, calling for the decriminalization of marijuana.
Johan Ordonez | AFP/Getty Images

When President Obama travels to Colombia this weekend for the Summit of the Americas, he'll be stepping into a vigorous debate about the drug war that could be awkward for the United States.

Some Latin American leaders, who also happen to be strong U.S. allies, say the American-sponsored war on drugs is failing and that new options need to be considered.

One proposal they want to discuss is legalizing some drugs — a move the U.S. strongly opposes.

Over the past four decades, the drug war has become increasingly bloody, and violence is now numbingly common across much of Central America and northern Mexico.

That's prompting widespread disenchantment with the current approach –- which involves widespread prosecution of drug users and military-style tactics against drug gangs.

The campaign started with former president Richard Nixon, who said: "We must wage what I have called total war against Public Enemy No. 1 in the United States, the problem of dangerous drugs."

Since then, that war has been taken to the drug cartels across the Americas, with heavy U.S. funding.

Looking For New Options

But now, some presidents, including Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos, are asking if there isn't another way.

Santos told NPR he's putting the issue up for debate at the Summit of the Americas in the Colombian coastal city of Cartagena. Obama will be one of more than 30 leaders at the summit.

"It's been the same approach and the same policies," Santos said. "And where are we? This is what we have to ask ourselves. Are we in the ideal place? Or should we at least contemplate alternatives?"

Santos is no critic of the United States. He's one of Washington's closest allies and a former defense minister known for his hawkish reputation on security issues.

And he's not the only one proposing a new approach.

The most forceful proponent of that line has been Guatemalan President Otto Perez, a former military man who has fought traffickers for years.

After taking over the presidency earlier this year, Perez told NPR that he came to the conclusion that the drug war is failing. Drug trafficking has expanded and corruption has tainted government institutions, including the judicial system.

He says as long as such big demand for cocaine exists in the U.S., drug trafficking will continue.

U.S. Officials Oppose Legalization

American officials declined to comment on the record. Privately, they said that U.S. efforts in Colombia over the last decade have reduced cocaine production and that cocaine consumption in the U.S. has fallen.

Vice President Joe Biden has said publicly that while the U.S. will debate with Latin American presidents at the summit, there is no possibility that the administration will shift gears on drug legalization.

Ethan Nadelmann, who directs the Drug Policy Alliance, which is based in New York, and has advised some Latin American leaders, says what those leaders want to debate is more nuanced.

"They're not saying legalize everything today, like alcohol and tobacco," he said. "They know that's not possible. What they are saying is we need to give the same consideration to alternative, regulatory and non-prohibitionist and public health policies in the future as we've given to the failed drug war strategies of the last 40 years."

Indeed, Latin American leaders, including the former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, are talking about decriminalizing drug possession and providing more intensive treatment to wean heavy drug users off drugs. There's also talk about legalizing marijuana.

"If we find that there is a better alternative that will take away the profits from the criminal organizations and that maybe you can address the problem of consumption in a more effective way, then everybody will win," said Santos, the Colombian president. "And this is what I want, a discussion without a specific proposal." [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]



This article is filed in: World News, Home Page Top Stories, News

Also in World News  
EU Human Rights Court Could Be Last Stop For German Claiming CIA Kidnapping
Khaled El-Masri says he was mistakenly flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan by the CIA.

Civilians Flee, Soldiers Dig In On Sudanese Frontier
The U.N. is threatening both Sudans with sanctions if they can't reverse their escalating feud.

How To Address France's New, Unmarried First Lady
France's new president was inaugurated Tuesday, and he's moving into the presidential palace with his longtime "companion." Host Michel Martin and the Beauty Shop ladies weigh in on political protocol when it comes to heads of state, politicians and their unmarried significant others.

At Trial, Serb Gen. Mladic Taunts Survivors With Throat-Cutting Gesture
Charged with 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, he remains defiant.

Atlanta Opens New International Terminal
Officials hope the facility means more international businesses will choose to locate in Georgia.

Comments  
Post a Comment