Latin America Tempted to Decriminalize Drug Use
Here’s something that could give the next White House occupant cold sweats. In the last two weeks, no less than three Latin American leaders have declared themselves in favor of one or another form of drug use decriminalization. And not for cannabis only.
Against all expectations, it was Mexican president Felipe Calderon who launched the party October 1. Having thrown himself into a bloody war against the cocaine cartels with United States support, Calderon proposed decriminalizing use of all narcotics (grass, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine).
In concrete terms, anyone found in possession of small quantities of drugs (0.5 g of cocaine or 2 g of marijuana), and who would agree to treatment in consequence, would not be bothered by the authorities. In the case of rejection of the treatment option, the recalcitrant would simply be fined.
That is certainly still far from the free sale of a hit in the drug store, but considering the source, it’s an enormous step. And yet, it has gone almost totally unnoticed. Yet, the reason for it is quite simple : the attorney general’s offices are so overwhelmed with their fight against the big cartels that they no longer have time to spend on simple consumers, whose numbers are exploding. According to a recent government study, the country today numbers some 300,000 addicts to different drugs.
A similar measure had been proposed to the Mexican Congress two years ago, but in the end remained a dead letter - among other reasons, because of pressure from Washington.
An Experimental Escape Route in Colombia in the 1990s
It’s not the first time that - in the face of the scope of the violence attributable to narcotics traffic - a country has allowed itself to be tempted to decriminalize consumption in order to concentrate on the big fish. In the middle of the 1990s, the Colombia of the Medellin and Cali cartels had similarly decided to decriminalize possession of small quantities of drugs (1g of cocaine, for example). An experiment that came to an abrupt end, then also in part due to pressure from Washington.
But this time, the initiative seems to be taking on significance. Some days after Calderon’s declaration, also in Mexico, OAS (Organization of American States) Secretary General, Chilean José Miguel Insulza, seemed to take off from the proposal in front of a floor of American security ministers, but using language that was more diplomatic :
« When a policy [repression, e.n.] has, finally, not succeeded in 25 or 30 years, it is necessary to revise it, to adjust it. I don’t know in what direction, but we must find one. »
Honduras President Manuel Zelaya went much further on Monday in front of officials from 32 Latin American countries responsible for the war against drugs, who were meeting in Tegucigalpa :
« Trafficking in arms, drugs and people (...) are international plagues with very strong economic ramifications and prevent us from using the effective ripostes that we would have available in a normal situation of legality. »
He explained afterwards that users must be considered « like sick people » :
« Rather than hunting down and killing traffickers, we could invest the resources we now spend on that to education and training. »
The Most Violent Region in the World.
If one adds to this panorama the 2005 year-end election in Bolivia of Ayamara Indian Evo Morales, formerly a leader in the cocaleros’ - coca planters’ - union, and that both the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan presidents are ever more frontally opposing the « total war » on drugs Washington intends to conduct in Latin America, it seems that the wind is in the process of turning on the subcontinent.
The endemic violence that rages there, notably in connection with narco-trafficking, is perhaps no minor factor in this succession of new stances on the matter. Latin America, in fact, holds the global record for the percentage of homicides : around 100,000 murders a year, or five times more on average than the rest of the planet.
A major legal obstacle remains on this path to decriminalization : UN conventions prohibiting any experiment of this kind. And a political obstacle perhaps even more important : it’s not certain Washington will watch its neighbors decriminalize without saying anything, even as the United States spends billions of dollars annually to « help » them fight against a traffic that feeds, above all, the US domestic market. Unless the election of a candidate who has tried cocaine should change the position of the White House.
Translation : Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher
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