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'War on Drugs' Has Failed, say Latin American Leaders

- Common Dreams staff

On April 14 and 15, heads of state and government from across the Americas, including U.S. President Barack Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts, will gather for a two-day 'Summit of the Americas' in Cartagena, Colombia, and the 'War on Drugs' will top the agenda.

On July 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared what has come to be called the "War on Drugs" Latin America's leaders are unified in calling the 'War on Drugs' a failure and in seeking alternatives to prohibition.

However, nobody expects the Barack Obama administration to provide leadership on the issue in an election year.

In 2004 Obama said: "The war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our marijuana laws… we need to rethink how we operate the drug wars." Since then, he has shown little appetite to engage in the debate.

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The Guardian reports:

Watershed Summit will Admit that Prohibition has Failed, and Call for More Nuanced and Liberalized Tactics

A historic meeting of Latin America's leaders, to be attended by Barack Obama, will hear serving heads of state admit that the war on drugs has been a failure and that alternatives to prohibition must now be found.

One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. "This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes," he said.The Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia is being seen by foreign policy experts as a watershed moment in the redrafting of global drugs policy in favor of a more nuanced and liberalized approach.

Otto Pérez Molina, the president of Guatemala, who as former head of his country's military intelligence service experienced the power of drug cartels at close hand, is pushing his fellow Latin American leaders to use the summit to endorse a new regional security plan that would see an end to prohibition. In the Observer, Pérez Molina writes: "The prohibition paradigm that inspires mainstream global drug policy today is based on a false premise: that global drug markets can be eradicated." [...]

One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. "This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes," he said.

Latin America's increasing hostility towards prohibition makes Obama's attendance at the summit potentially difficult. The Obama administration, keen not to hand ammunition to its opponents during an election year, will not want to be seen as softening its support for prohibition. However, it is seen as significant that the US vice-president, Joe Biden, has acknowledged that the debate about legalizing drugs is now legitimate.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the global commission on drug policy, has said it is time for "an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies", a view shared by George Shultz, the former US secretary of state, and former president Jimmy Carter.

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