VIDEO: Drug war policy an important topic for Summit of the Americas

By | 04.10.12 | 11:25 am

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (Pic by World Economic Forum, via Flickr)

Another Latin American president has called for a conversation about the U.S.-sponsored war on drugs during the sixth Summit of the Americas, which takes place next week in Cartagena, Colombia.

Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday that he calls for an open debate about whether to continue the current war on drugs or explore other routes, including legalization.

“If a form of depenalization, and at the same time fighting drug trafficking, is less expensive and better for society, then we can make a joint decision, because this is multinational problem that not one or a small group of countries can resolve,” Santos said. ”We’ve spent a lot of time talking and not doing much. … What we have is not the best and we must find less expensive and more efficient alternatives. If there are none then lets move on with what we have.”

According to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, “the President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 National Drug Control Budget [.pdf] requests $26.2 billion to reduce drug use and its consequences in the United States. This represents an increase of $322.6 million (1.2 percent) over the FY 2010 enacted level of $25.9 billion.”

The Florida Office of Drug Control’s 2010 report (.pdf) indicates that the state’s drug control funding was $301.6 million, an increase over 2009.

The report calls cocaine the “primary drug threat within Florida,” and states that “South Florida is a primary U.S. point of entry for South American heroin, often through Miami International Airport.” It also indicates that “prescription drug abuse is the most threatening substance abuse issue in the State of Florida.”

The president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, wrote this weekend in the The Guardian that “facts are what we need to concentrate on when considering drug policy options. When we analyse drug markets through realistic lenses (not ideological ones as is pretty much customary in most government circles these days), we realise that drug consumption is a public health issue that, awkwardly, has been transformed into a criminal justice problem.”

In late March, Perez Molina called for a debate on alternatives to the drug war, alternatives that could include legalizing drugs, at the upcoming Cartagena summit.

Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, said in March that “the prohibition of drugs has probably done 100 times more harm to our country and our people than alcohol prohibition did and that was devastating.”

Downing is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, LEAP, which is “made up of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities who are speaking out about the failures of our existing drug policies.”

In a recent video, Downing said, “We’ve always said, especially the [Drug Enforcement Administration], ‘Let’s cut the head off this snake, and we will win this war on drugs.’ We’ve been cutting the heads off of snakes for 40 years, and there are no snakes out there. It’s a starfish; you cut an arm off and it regenerates”:

El Espectador, a Colombian daily, targeted by Colombian drug cartels in the 1980s, wrote Sunday:

This war on drugs has failed. Despite the increase of resources and sanctions to eliminate the offer of illegal drugs, the market is well supplied. The war has had grave collateral effects, because it has filled jails in the United States and Latin America with people who have committed no violent crimes. They were simple consumers or low level dealers.

Michael McKinley, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, highlighted in El Espectador on Monday ”the importance of reviewing 40 years of the war against drugs and the impact drug dealing has had on security in Mexico and Central America.”

“We recognize the importance of this debate, we recognize that many countries suffer and have to continue to fight this scourge in the best way possible,” McKinley said, adding that the U.S. has a great responsibility for the problem because it is the main consumer country.

El Espectador added that McKinley defended the “great successes” of the war on drugs, and “policies against drug dealing are important.”

The Miami Herald reported in early March that Vice President Joseph Biden said during a visit to Mexico and Central America “‘there is no possibility’ that Washington would heed a growing call by some Latin American presidents to move toward drug legalization.”

“Even if drug legalization might have benefits like reducing prison populations, it also would engender health problems, expand drug usage and even create bureaucracies for drug distribution,” Biden said.

Follow Marcos Restrepo on Twitter


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