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

by Common Dreams staff
http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/04/08-0

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.

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 do the right thing and 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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http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wQr9ezr8UeA

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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.

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.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/07/war-drugs-latin-american-lea...

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F Reality, Hallucinogenic Obama Insists US Winning War on Drugs

by Jackie Calmes

CARTAGENA, Colombia — Leaders at a summit meeting of many of the Western Hemisphere nations on Saturday discussed alternatives to what many consider a failed “war on drugs” that is too reliant on military action and imprisonment. But President Obama said flatly that “legalization is not the answer.”

The issue was placed on the agenda of the Summit of the Americas this weekend by the host, Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos. Even so, Mr. Santos suggested that he had in mind some unspecified middle ground short of fully decriminalizing the drug trade that for years has undermined societies throughout the region, notably in Colombia.

“We have the obligation to see if we’re doing the best that we can do, or are there other alternatives that can be much more efficient?” Mr. Santos said during an informal panel discussion with Mr. Obama and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil just before the summit meeting began. “One side can be all the consumers go to jail. On the other extreme is legalization. On the middle ground, we may have more practical policies.”

In his turn, Mr. Obama said, “I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places.”

But, he added, “I personally, and my administration’s position, is that legalization is not the answer.” Drug operations could come to “dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint,” he said, and “could be just as corrupting if not more corrupting then the status quo.”

The prominence of the drug-enforcement issue at the meeting, which drew more than 30 leaders from North, Central and South America and Caribbean nations, in part reflected a positive development: the increased prosperity in Latin America in recent years has made economic issues less of a problem, and at the same time has emboldened Latin American leaders to take a bigger role in setting the agenda when they meet.

Mr. Santos, in opening the meeting on Saturday afternoon, said the leaders should stop stalling in re-examining the region’s approach to the war on drugs, which he dated more than four decades back to President Richard Nixon in 1971. President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala has called for full legalization of narcotics, though no specific proposals are on the table here.

“Despite all of the efforts, the immense efforts, the huge costs, we have to recognize that the illicit drug business is prospering,” Mr. Santos told the leaders. “This summit is not going to resolve this issue,” he added. “But it can be a starting point to begin a discussion that we have been postponing for far too long.”

Mr. Obama, in his remarks at the formal session, before reporters were ushered out, said: “I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens — all our citizens — the United States will not be going in this direction.”

Earlier, on the informal panel before an audience of corporate executives and members of the nations’ official delegations, Mr. Obama had drawn applause when he said of narcotics trafficking, “We can’t look at the issue of supply in Latin America without also looking at the issue of demand in the United States.”

Latin Americans have long complained that the United States criticizes its neighbors’ antidrug efforts when it is American users and guns that stoke the drug trade and violence.

At the formal meeting, Mr. Obama said: “As I’ve said many times, the United States accepts our share of responsibility for drug violence. That’s why we’ve dedicated major resources to reducing the southbound flow of money and guns to the region. It’s why we’ve devoted tens of billions of dollars in the United States to reduce the demand for drugs. And I promise you today — we’re not going to relent in our efforts.”

Absent from the meeting was Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, who is battling cancer; officials said he stayed away on his doctors’ advice. The absence of Mr. Chávez, a fierce critic of the United States, eliminated the potential for a tense meeting with Mr. Obama. After the previous Summit of the Americas in 2009, when the two presidents were photographed shaking hands, Mr. Obama was criticized by some Republicans.

Separately, in an interview with Univision, Mr. Obama strongly reiterated a promise to seek an overhaul of immigration policy in a second term. But Mr. Obama, who also pledged in 2008 to seek a new law, said he needed more support in Congress, where Republicans have led the opposition.

“This is something I care deeply about,” he said. “It’s personal to me.”

William Neuman contributed reporting.

Copyright 2012 The New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/world/americas/obama-says-legalization...

Historic Challenge to Drug War Looms at Cartagena Summit

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA — In just a couple of days, President Obama will fly to Cartagena, Colombia, to attend this weekend’s Organization of American States (OAS) Sixth Summit of the Americas. He and the US delegation are going to get an earful of criticism of US drug policies from Latin American leaders, and that makes it an historic occasion. For the first time, alternatives to drug prohibition are going to be on the agenda at a gathering of hemispheric heads of state.

It’s been building for some time now. More than a decade ago, Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle became the first Latin American sitting head of state to call for a discussion of drug legalization. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox joined the call, albeit only briefly while still in office through some media quotes, much more frequently after leaving office in 2006. Honduran President Manuel Zelaya issued a similar call in 2008, but didn’t move on it before being overthrown in a coup the following year.

Meanwhile, drug prohibition-related violence in Mexico exploded in the years since President Felipe Calderon called out the army after taking office in December 2006. As the savagery of the multi-sided Mexican drug wars intensified and the death toll accelerated, surpassing 50,000 by the end of last year, the call for another path grew ever louder and more insistent.

In 2009, a group of very prominent Latin American political leaders and public intellectuals led by former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo formed the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, calling for a fundamental reexamination of drug policy in the hemisphere and a discussion of alternatives, including decriminalization and regulation of black markets. That was followed last year by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which includes the Latin American ex-presidents, as well as former Switzerland President Ruth Dreiffus and other prominent citizens such as Richard Branson and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, echoing the Latin American Commission’s call for reform.

As the commissions issued their reports, the violence in Mexico not only worsened, it spread south into Central America, where governments were weaker, poverty more endemic, and violent street gangs already well-entrenched. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, in particular, saw homicide rates soar in recent years, well beyond Mexico’s, as the Mexican cartels moved into the region, a key transit point on the cocaine trail from South America to the insatiable consumers of the north.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the secretary of defense under his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe, and a man who knows well just what a sustained war on drugs can and cannot achieve, has been among the latest to pick up the torch of drug reform. Santos has made repeated statements in favor of putting alternatives to prohibition on the table, although he has been careful to say Colombia doesn’t want to go it alone, and now he has been joined by another unlikely reformer, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, a rightist former general who campaigned on a tough on crime agenda.

It is Perez Molina who has been most active in recent weeks, calling for a Central American summit last month to discuss alternatives to drug prohibition ranging from decriminalization to regulated drug transit corridors to charging the US a “tax” on seized drugs. That summit saw two of his regional colleagues attend, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Panamian President Ricardo Martinelli, but no consensus was achieved, no declaration was issued, and three other regional leaders declined to show up. But that summit, too, was a first — the first time Latin American leaders met specifically to discuss regional drug law reform.

All of this has not gone unnoticed by policymakers in Washington. Vice-President Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, State Department functionaries and US military brass have all been flying south this year, reluctantly conceding that drug legalization may be a legitimate topic of debate, but that the US is having none of it.

“It’s worth discussing,” Biden told reporters in Mexico City last month. “But there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization. There are more problems with legalization than non-legalization.”

But along with discussing an end to prohibition, the Latin Americans have also offered up proposals between the polar opposites of prohibition and legalization. Options discussed have included decriminalization of drug possession and marijuana legalization to different approaches to combating the drug trade to maintaining addicts with a regulated drug supply. In Colombia, Santos has sponsored legislation to decriminalize possession of “personal dose” quantities of drugs, restoring a policy mandated by the country’s Constitutional Court but undone by a constitutional amendment under President Uribe.

And it’s not just Latin American political leaders. The calls for change at the top are reflected in a civil society movement for drug reform that has been quietly percolating for years. In fact, an international, but mainly Latin American, group of non-governmental organizations this week issued an Open Letter to the Presidents of the Americascalling for decriminalizing drug use and possession, alternatives to incarceration for non-serious drug offenses, a regulated market for marijuana, a public health approach to problematic drug use, alternative development, respect for traditional uses, and a more focused war on organized crime that is less broadly repressive than current models. In Mexico, a social movement led by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son fell victim to cartel violence, has called for an end to the violence and pressed Preident Calderon on drug reform.

After decades of US-imposed drug war, from US military operations in Bolivia in the 1980s to the multi-billion dollar Plan Colombia, with its counterinsurgency and aerial herbicide spraying, to the blood-stained Mexican border towns and the drug gang-ridden slums of Rio de Janeiro, Latin America is growing increasingly ready to strike out on a different path.

That’s what awaits President Obama and the US delegation in Cartagena. The most vibrant discussions may well take place in hallways or behind closed doors, but the US is now faced with yawning cracks in its decades-long drug war consensus.

“It’s very clear that we may be reaching a point of critical mass where a sufficient number of people are raising the questions of why not dialog on this issue, why not discuss it, why peremptorily dismiss it, why does the president laugh when the subject of drugs is brought up, is he so archly political that it becomes a sort of diabolical act to seriously discuss it, why isn’t some new direction being ventured forth?” said Larry Birns, executive director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
“It seems the public is approaching the point where it has become credible to say quite frankly that the drug war hasn’t worked. The real menace to society is not so much legalization but the failure to confront the hard fact that after decades of effort and hundreds of billions of dollars, a successful prohibition strategy has not been created, nor is there any likelihood of it being created,” he said.

“This is the first major gathering of heads of state at which alternatives to prohibitionist drug control policies, including decriminalization and legal regulation of currently illegal drugs, will be on the agenda,” said Ethan Nadelmann, head of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Arguments that were articulated just five years ago primarily by intellectuals and activists, and three years ago by former presidents, are now being advanced, with growing sophistication and nuance, by current presidents. There is now, for the first time, a critical mass of support in the Americas that ensures that this burgeoning debate will no longer be suppressed.”

“A lot of countries don’t want to do the US’s dirty work anymore — enforcing the prohibitionist policies that are unenforceable and hypocritical,” said Laura Carlson, director for Latin America rights and security in the Americas program at the Center for International Policy. “Everybody knows that it’s impossible to wipe out the illicit drug business without making it legal, and most people know that the efforts aimed at ostensibly doing that are not 100% honest and certainly not effective. Many Latin American countries don’t want the degree of US intervention in their national security that the drug war entails either,” she noted.

“Having said that, the US government is determined to put down any talk of alternatives and particularly alternatives that begin with regulation rather than prohibition. The recent visits of Napolitano, Biden, [US State Department Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William] Brownfield and the military leaders all carried that message,” the Mexico City-based analyst continued. “Small and dependent countries — El Salvador is the example here, after reversing its position on legalization — are afraid to stand up to the US on this, and progressive countries don’t seem to want to get involved, both because they find the issue a political hot potato and because they are focusing efforts on strengthening alternative organizations to the OAS.”

“I think the US strategy of Brownfield and the State Department will be to say that legalization was brought up and rejected by the Latin American leaders,” offered Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. “They will use dichotomous rhetoric, they will try to maneuver the discussion into either prohibition or heroin in vending machines, but this is about the whole spectrum of regulatory possibilities. That’s what we need to be talking about instead of that false dichotomy.”

Still, to even deign to discuss policy alternatives to prohibition is a notable step forward for the US, even if it is only to dismiss them, Nadelmann argued.

“The shift in the public posture of the US government — from rejecting any discussion of legalization to acknowledging that ‘it is a legitimate subject of debate’ — is significant, notwithstanding the clear caveat by the Obama administration that it remains firmly opposed to the notion,” he noted. “That said, it is safe to assume that the US government will do all it can to suppress, ignore, distort and otherwise derail the emerging dialog. US officials are handicapped, however, by the remarkable failure of government agencies over the past thirty years to contemplate, much less evaluate, alternative drug control strategies. They also must contend with the fact that the United States has rapidly emerged — at the level of civil society, public opinion and state government — as a global leader in reform of marijuana policies.”

The discussion on drug policy at Cartagena isn’t taking place in a vacuum, and there is at least one other issue where the US finds itself at odds with its host and most of the region: Cuba. The US has once again insisted that Cuba not be allowed to attend the summit, and President Santos reluctantly acceded, but the whole affair leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Latin Americans. Ecuadorian President Correa is not coming because of the snub, and the issue only plays into hemispheric discontent with Washington’s war on drugs.

“The US won the day in persuading Santos not to invite Cuba,” said Birns, “but the political cost of that action is high, and the whole drug issue is twinned to it, not because Castro has an enlightened position on drugs, but because of anti-Americanism in the region. This means Cartagena is the city where a lethal blow against the status quo will be achieved.”

“The United States is not going to listen,” said Birns, “but this era of non-discussion of drug legalization and refusal to countenance the possibility of dialog on the issue may be coming to an end. More and more people who aren’t known as drug reform crusaders are coming forth and saying it’s not working, that we need another approach, and that’s probably decriminalization and legalization. We’re very much closer to liberation on this issue than we’ve ever been before.”

“Liberation” may now be within sight, but diplomatic dissent is not yet close to being translated into paradigmatic policy shifts. Whatever discussion does take place in Cartagena this weekend, don’t expect any official breakthroughs or even declarations, said Carlson.

“I am not optimistic about there being any formal commitment, or perhaps even mention, of legalization per se,” she said. “The implementation group for the Sixth Summit is already working on the final declaration and it contains a section on ‘Citizen Security and Transnational Organized Crime.’ I think that as far as it will go is to state that transnational organized crime is a growing problem and that the nations of the Americas agree to work together, blah, blah, blah,” she predicted.

“The United States will reiterate its ‘shared responsibility’ and commitment, but will not mention the need to change a failed model,” Carlson said. “There will be more rhetorical emphasis on social programs for ‘resilient communities’ and especially on police and judicial reform, although the former will not be reflected in what are largely military and police budgets. I think the best we can hope would be a mandate for a policy review and a commitment to continue to discuss alternatives. The specific proposals to legalize transit, to create a regional court for organized crime cases and US payment for interdictions will not likely be resolved.”

“This is a long process, not an immediate objective,” said Tree. “In Central America, it’s going to take a year or two of thoughtful — not sensational — media coverage. When people see anarchy, they want order. With a more thoughtful dialog, we can begin to get traction.”

“It is too soon to predict that this Summit of the Americas represents any sort of tipping point in global or even regional drug control policy,” Nadelmann summed up. ”But the odds are good that this gathering will one day be viewed as a pivotal moment in the transformation from the failed global drug prohibition regime of the twentieth century to a new 21st century global drug control regime better grounded in science, health, fiscal prudence and human rights.”

We’ll see what happens this weekend, but at the very least, the taboo on serious discussion of reforming the drug prohibition regime at the highest levels has been shattered. Look for a report on the summit itself next week.

©2012 The Daily Chronic. Reprint for Non-Commercial Use Only

http://www.thedailychronic.net/2012/10990/historic-challenge-to-drug-war...

Latin Am. Challenges Failed US/Canada Policies on Drug War, Cuba

Unified Latin America Challenges Failed US/Canada Policies on Drug War, Cuba, and Finance
'Last Summit of the Americas without Cuba' sees alternative rise to challenge hegemony of US policy

by Constanza Vieira

CARTAGENA DE INDIAS, Colombia - "What matters at this summit is not what is on the official agenda," said Uruguayan analyst Laura Gil, echoing the conventional wisdom in this Colombian port city, where the Sixth Summit of the Americas ended Sunday without a final declaration.

The Fifth Summit, held in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, in 2009, had a similar outcome.

At the Sixth Summit, which opened Saturday Apr. 14, the foreign ministers failed to reach prior agreement on a consensus document.

Key points of discord were the continued U.S. embargo against Cuba and Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

Gil, an expert on international relations who lives in Colombia, told IPS that "a consensus on drugs seems to be forming among the countries of Latin America."

"These three issues are precisely the ones that are dividing the hemisphere in two, or confronting the countries of Latin America with the United States and Canada," she said.

"The Summit of the Americas process is in crisis. What the Sixth Summit clearly shows is that certain issues cannot be put off any longer, particularly that of Cuba," excluded from the Americas summits due to pressure from the United States, she added.

In Gil's opinion, "there will not be another summit without Cuba. Either Cuba is included, or there will not be a summit at all. The absence of (Ecuadorean President Rafael) Correa is a red alert," she said, referring to the Ecuadorean president's promise not to attend any further hemispheric meetings to which Cuba is not invited.

According to the expert, "Colombia positioned itself as a bridge, able to facilitate relations between contrary ideological blocs. But from this position, Colombia cannot work miracles.

"This summit reminds us that ideologies are still a force to be reckoned with. The limitations are plain to be seen," she said.

The Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Roy Chaderton - a former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia and the U.S. - told the Colombian radio station RCN Radio: "This is a rebellion by Latin American democracies against U.S. and Canadian hegemony."

Canada and the United States were left in isolation in a vote on a resolution to put an end to Cuba's exclusion, which was split 32 against two, at a meeting of foreign ministers that was to approve documents to be signed by the presidents.

In addition to Correa, Haitian President Michel Martelly and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega were also absent, having sent last-minute cancellations. Ortega led a rally in Managua in solidarity with Cuba Saturday Apr. 14.

On Saturday morning it was announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would not be attending the summit, due to the treatment for his cancer.

At the end of the first day's meetings, the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) released a declaration in Cartagena stating that they would not attend any further summits without the participation of Cuba.

ALBA is made up of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela.

The host's speech

At the opening ceremony of the Sixth Summit, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos did not mince words. He exhorted delegates "not to be indifferent" to the changes occurring in Cuba, which he said were ever more widely recognized and should be encouraged.

"It is time to overcome the paralysis that results from ideological obstinacy and seek a basic consensus so that this process of change has a positive outcome, for the good of the Cuban people," he said.

"The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective," Santos said.

As for Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, Santos recommended supporting the agenda of the Haitian government, instead of pushing "our own agendas."

He also said that "Central America is not alone." Organized crime must be combated, but anti-drug policy should be focused on "the victims," including "the millions" locked up in prisons, Santos said.

This summit will not find an answer to Latin America’s calls for facing up to the failure of the war on drugs, "of this I am completely certain," he said.

Militarization marches on

U.S. President Barack Obama let it be understood that his country would tolerate flexibilization of Latin American anti-drug policies, saying "I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places."

But he flatly rejected legalization.

"I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens - all our citizens - the United States will not be going in this direction," Obama said on Saturday.

He also announced that the U.S. government would increase its aid to the war on drugs led by "our Central American friends" and pledged "more than 130 million dollars this year."

Colombian expert Ricardo Vargas of Acción Andina, a local think tank, summed up the U.S. position: "'You may decriminalize drugs, but that will not eliminate the mafias. And we will be there'," with a military presence as soon as drug shipments cross the borders, he told IPS.

The People's Summit

From another part of the city of Cartagena, Enrique Daza, the coordinator of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, a movement of social organizations that organized the Fifth People's Summit, held in parallel to the Summit of the Americas, announced their "satisfaction" at the same time as President Santos received a standing ovation in the auditorium where the heads of state were gathered.

"They were not able to keep our demands hidden," Daza said at the close of the counter-summit.

The alternative summit rejected the United States' "imposition of its agenda" at the Summits of the Americas, and demanded an end to militarization based on the pretext of the war on drugs, which in fact ends up criminalizing social protest, he said.

In its final declaration, the People's Summit castigated the United States and Canada for insisting on the promotion of free trade treaties with other countries of the continent.

Canada came in for heavy criticism for fomenting a "predatory model" for the operations of its mining companies in Latin America. "The rights of investors cannot take precedence over the rights of people and of nature," the final declaration says.

The gathering of social movements, left-wing groups and human rights, indigenous, environmental and women’s organizations also launched a veiled attack on socialist governments in Latin America.

While recognizing the efforts of bodies such as ALBA and the fledgling Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the declaration expressed that "progressive and left-wing" governments in the Americas should take steps against the extraction of natural resources and the concentration of land ownership.

On the positive side, the People's Summit proposed independent integration within the region, and knowledge and respect for the contributions of indigenous people and peasant farmers to the art of "good living" and a culture of peace.

© 2012 IPS North America
http://www.ipsnews.net/

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