A historic first: Latin American leaders call for drug decriminalization debate

By | 03.27.12 | 4:13 pm

A marijuana plant (Pic by LancerenoK, via Fotopedia)

Current and former Latin American leaders are calling for alternatives to existing U.S. drug war policies that have failed and led to more violence and corruption.

CNN reported that Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina “made a formal pitch to his fellow Central American leaders over the weekend, urging them to sign on to a regional security plan that would include legalizing drugs.” CNN added that “Perez Molina said Saturday that the leaders aimed to bring up the issue at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, next month.”

Foreign Policy‘s Adam Siegel writes that “a number of Latin American leaders say they’re ready to discuss major shifts in regional anti-drug policy. Some of them have begun talk of ‘decriminalization’ — and they want to do it at the Summit, where the United States will have no choice but to talk up the merits of the prohibition policies it has long favored.”

Cesar Gaviria, the former president of Colombia and a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said Tuesday that U.S. drug war policies are a failure because “‘prohibition’ is a mechanism that only deals with moral prejudice and not reality.”

Gaviria adds that while U.S. leaders do not want to discuss the issue, other countries, including Colombia, “provide the dead,” adding that American leaders “may prefer to not talk about this issue. We cannot accept that. … We cannot be condemned to live in war because the Americans don’t want to talk about this issue. Nobody is speaking in favor of the war on drugs.”

Gaviria adds that he does not have high expectations about what will happen at the Summit of the Americas, but the fact that the presidents of Colombia and Guatemala have spoken about legalization “legitimizes the debate.”

For Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, ”the rapid evolution of this debate is nothing short of remarkable. It has progressed in just a few years from the advocacy of activists and intellectuals, to distinguished former presidents, and now to current presidents demanding that all options, including decriminalization and legalization, be seriously evaluated and debated.”

Perez recently said on the Spanish-language news program Al Punto that the current struggle against drug trafficking does not work.

“Forty years of fighting drug dealers in Guatemala, Central America, Colombia, Mexico has a been a path of death, destruction, criminalization. It is time to talk about something else, other alternatives, and one of those alternatives is decriminalization,” Perez said.

Perez added that it is necessary to talk about all illegal drugs and not just marijuana, because cocaine and heroine production, distribution and consumption have brought huge problems. He added that the drug cartels are not happy with decriminalization because it would hurt their income. He was clear that the effort must include other countries.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said in a recent video that it is time to break the taboo and join “an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies,” in opposition to “eradication of production, interdiction of narcotic shipments and criminalization of consumption, that have failed with disastrous consequences.” Watch here:

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