Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was president of Brazil from 1995-2003, speaking at an event on June 2, 2015. (Photo: Chatham House/flickr/cc

War on Drugs 'Is an Unmitigated Disaster': Former Latin American Heads of State

Former leaders write in op-ed that solution must include decriminalization and promote 'the health and welfare of humanity'

Andrea Germanos

"The 'war on drugs' is an unmitigated disaster."

That's the resounding judgement of three former Latin American heads of state who write in an op-ed published Friday in the Los Angeles Times that the best way to approach the problem is one that puts health and human rights first.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo, former president of Mexico, describe how an upcoming special session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) on global drug policy already appears to be a missed, historic opportunity.

A draft declaration crafted to be adopted by UNGA members at the April 19 meet ignores the "comprehensive failure of the current drug control system to reduce supply or demand" and "perpetuates the criminalization of producers and consumers."

Further, the group behind the declaration, the U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs, refused input during the negotiation process from stakeholders and experts including civil society groups, the three men charge, rendering negotiations "neither transparent nor inclusive."

A better solution for member states to pursue, they write, is one "that actually promotes the health and welfare of humanity," stops "the criminalization and incarceration of drug users," and ends the "medieval practice" of death penalty for drug-related crimes.

The World Health Organization must also be allowed "to review the scheduling system of drugs on the basis of science, not ideology." In addition, governments must control and regulate drugs, they write, and point to successes that approach brought to Portugal and Uruguay.

Cardoso is also the chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), a five-year old group whose members include former UN head Kofi Annan, other former heads of state, human rights experts, and renowned authors, which has previously described the failures of the war on drugs.

The GCDP, whose members also include Gaviria and Zedillo, issued a statement Friday outlining the same concerns regarding the "disappointing" process leading up to the special session.

The "opportunity to achieve more humane and effective drug policy [at the upcoming UNGASS] is at risk," the statement reads, adding that the outcome document has "no recognition of the failures of the present system to reduce supply and demand."

But hope is still possible from the meeting, it states, "if heads of state lay the foundations for a more effective global drug control system that puts peoples' lives and dignity first."

As Ivan Šimonović, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, put it last month: "People do not lose their human rights because they use drugs."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Wyden Warns Millions of Poor Families Could Be 'Denied' Child Tax Credit Unless IRS Acts

Without urgent fixes to a shoddy online application portal, Wyden said, many of "America's most vulnerable communities" will not receive the expanded monthly benefit.

Jake Johnson ·


In Pre-Sentencing Letter, Drone Whistleblower Daniel Hale Says Crisis of Conscience Motivated Leak

"I came to believe that the policy of drone assassination was being used to mislead the public that it keeps us safe... I began to speak out, believing my participation in the drone program to have been deeply wrong."

Brett Wilkins ·


Landslides in India Kill 100+ as Monsoon Rains Pummel Nation

"We have been talking about climate change and it is happening," said one of the country's top environmental officials.

Kenny Stancil ·


150 Voting Rights Groups Warn Biden Against Attempting to 'Out-Organize Voter Suppression'

"Every American deserves and should be able to rely on a baseline level of voting access... Only passage of both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act can make this aspiration a reality."

Julia Conley ·


'A Day of Shame': Australia Lobbying Thwarts Push to List Great Barrier Reef as Endangered

Greenpeace Australia called Friday's World Heritage Committee vote "a victory for one of the most cynical lobbying efforts in recent history."

Jake Johnson ·