Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Future of the Latin American drug war

One potential sign that a policy is a failure is when the government has to keep insisting that it's not a failure. Janet Napolitano is in Mexico and Central America:

Ms Napolitano denied the drug war of the US and Mexico was a failure but rather "a continuing effort to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs".

This isn't really an answer. Any policy by definition is an "effort." The question is whether that effort is achieving its stated goals, and in the "drug war" it is really hard to find evidence to that effect. It is rather sad that Napolitano, whose job centers on monitoring such things, can't come up with a better answer.

No one knows where the decriminalization debate in Latin America is going, but once again the United States is  isolating itself by refusing even to engage it. At the very least, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to provide evidence about which components of its policy are clearly working and which are not.

Given the statements by Otto Pérez Molina, the Latin American drug war is gradually transcending ideology. As a result, in the future I can envision some type of regional initiative, based not on decriminalization per se but a broad rethinking of Latin America's priorities and policy options. Presidents in the region are very far from consensus on the issue, but I can still see them coming together with discussions that the United States government still considers taboo. Self imposed isolation would be the likely result.


KevinJ 10:26 PM  

I think the issue here is so overwhelming that many people are at a loss as to how to even begin to tackle the problem. Do we do something about demand in the US? Should we legalize drugs? Etc. However, at this point, the drug war is an institution. Cartels are quite popular in many areas of Mexico and employ a whole lot of people. And the Cartels have been playing a role that makes them look like heroes of the poor, siding with them against large landowners and the like. But even if, say, the drug war ended tomorrow and everything was legalized - the cartels would still be there. Just like the end of Prohibition in the US didn't kill the mafia.

I'm not trying to argue that it's hopeless, but what I am saying is that perhaps it's time for us in the US to admit 1) the drug war has been a massive failure, measured by any standard; and 2) that demand for drugs is no longer a solely US-centered problem, but regional, as many Central American countries have become consumers.

RGS 6:29 PM  

I would argue that there is some consensus in Latin America about the drug war. Drawing upon the Global Commission on Drug Policy Report, (http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/Report) I think that all agree the war is a failure (First line of report: "The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world."). I see this is a reflection of LA political leaders' thinking because of the Commission's membership - which included Ernesto Zedillo (former President of Mexico), Cesar Gaviria (former President of Colombia), and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former President of Brazil), as well as Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes. While the rejection of the war approach is clear & strong, the recommendation is more nuanced: "End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others. ... Encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs to undermine the power of organized crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens."

KevinJ 8:03 PM  
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KevinJ 8:04 PM  

RGS, it's really sad that they had to figure this out after they left office, when they don't have the power to do anything about it. I think something that needs addressing here is the fact that within US gov, there are very few willing to admit the failure of the war. Also, I would question whether the inclusion of Vargas Llosa and Fuentes on the Commission is really necessary/helpful - exactly what role did they play?

RGS 11:38 AM  

KevinJ - Actually the statements by "former officials" is fairly typical with regard to condemning the drug war. The Global Commission, for instance, had former Secretary of State George Schulz on it. (Government officials in the US who are open opponents of the drug war are inevitably "former".) I think that the stature of the former officials on the Commission (as well as their reputation for being "level-headed" & "pro-US") was meant to signal how broad-based the view of the drug war as failure had become.

The inclusion of Fuentes & Vargas Llosa reflects the persistence of the idea of a public intellectual in Latin America - something that has never been very common in the US!

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