18th May 2012
Dear LAB supporter and friend
The problem of the drugs trade has taken centre stage in Latin America. Since the time when drugs were only a police and law and order matter to the present debate about the possible legalisation and control of certain drugs, much water – and blood – has passed under the bridge. It is 40 years since the then USA president Richard Nixon coined the term “war on drugs”. During the past four decades, drug trafficking has increased, corruption has become rampant and Mexico and Central America have become the centre of a tug of war among drug cartels. Last year the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a damning report on the so-called “war on drugs”, which concluded simply that it had failed. Nobody can suspect the commission’s members of being friends of the cartels: Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo (former presidents, respectively of Brazil and Mexico), César Gaviria, authors Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes, and British businessman Richard Branson. They simply reported the facts, and those were devastating enough: death, instability, corruption.
More recently, César Gaviria, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Ernesto Zedillo have published an article in the Huffington Post arguing that “The taboo that has long prevented open debate about drug policies has been broken — thanks to a steadily deteriorating situation on the ground and the courageous stand taken by presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica.” Read more.
LAB’s Javier Farje examines this new approach. While some countries, like Argentina and Mexico, have introduced some reforms, these have not been enough because they have not tackled the main problem which is, as the OAS says, that drug trafficking threatens Latin America’s democratic process. Read more.
Raul Sohr is a respected Chilean journalist and analyst of international affairs. In an interview with LAB’s Mike Gatehouse, he says that the term “war on drugs” is an “aberration” and it has misled governments into involving the military directly, with disastrous consequences. As a result, in countries such as Colombia and Mexico, says Sohr, the armed forces have become both corrupted and discredited. Read more.
On the libertarian right, calls for legalisation of drugs are nothing new. From the far-right Cato Institute, Costa Rican political commentator Juan Carlos Hidalgo presents ‘Ten reasons to legalise drugs’. Read more
Researcher Talli Nauman argues strongly that the US approach to combating drug-trafficking has failed. Despite millions of dollars poured into Plan Colombia, this country still produces, says Nauman, 95% of the cocaine seized in the USA. The war among drug cartels in Mexico, which is causing death and destruction, is spilling into Central America. Nauman believes that the USA has to change its policies in Central America in order to help these countries fight the Mexican drug cartels. Read more.
The activities of Mexican drug cartels in Central America are affecting almost all the countries in the region. In Guatemala, whole towns are controlled by those gangs. However, Costa Rica, the most stable Central American democracy, and a country without an army, has seen consumption of drugs double in the last few years. Violent crimes related to drugs have also increased. For a country which relies heavily on tourism, this is indeed very bad news, and many Costa Ricans fear that things will get even worse. Read more.
However, militarisation continues: Spanish daily El País reports that Guatemala has decided to deploy elite troops to the border with Mexico in order to fight Mexican drug cartels, which have taken control of many towns in the area. Read more.
The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful lobbies in the USA for the “right” to own arms. They use an article in the US constitution originally designed to promote individual and community self-defence against the overweening power of state and colonial armies. Led at some point by the late Charlton Heston, the NRA resists any attempts to limit the ownership of machine guns and pistols. According to Mexican President Felipe Calderón, most of the 140,000 weapons confiscated during his government were legally acquired in arms shops in the USA. There are thousands of such stores operating close to the US-Mexican border. Read more.
As we prepared this newsletter, we reached two clear conclusions: the existing ‘war against drugs’ model of prohibition, criminalisation and, where necessary, military intervention has failed and commands less and less support. But no-one has a clear idea about what to do instead, or how to undo the damage wrought by 40 years of a misguided ‘war’. LAB would like to invite our partners and readers in the region to contribute their ideas and details of their own experience. We will publish a follow-up newsletter in a few weeks, aiming to carry the voices of those on the front-line.
We are particularly interested in:
1. Would partial decriminalisation of ‘soft’ drugs such as marijuana significantly affect the drugs trade?
2. What would be the effect on local, especially urban communities of full legalisation of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, and how could their use be minimised?
3. What can be done to help producers of drug crops to earn sufficient and stable income from production of food and other non-drug crops?
4. How can the massive corruption by the drugs trade of state and local government institutions be combated?
5. How can local communities be empowered and funded to combat drug use, violence and drug-related gang culture without resort to vigilantism?
6. What can and should the US government do to regulate and constrain the demand for drugs which fuels the trade?
Durante a formulação desta newsletter chegamos a duas claras conclusões: o presente modelo de proibição, crimilalisação e, onde necessário, intervenções militares da “guerra contra as drogas”, falhou e apresenta cada vez menos apoio diante da complexidade do problema levantado. Mas ninguém tem uma idéia clara do que fazer no lugar, ou de como desfazer os danos e problemas causados por esses 40 anos de guerra enganosa. O LAB gostaria de convidar os nossos parceiros e leitores na América Latina para contribuir com suas idéias e detalhes sobre suas próprias experiências. Será publicado uma newsletter de continuação dentro das próximas semanas, visando trazer as vozes daqueles que estão na linha de frente.
Estamos particularmente interessados em:
1. A discriminalização parcial das drogas ‘suaves’, tais como a maconha, afetariam significativamente o trafico de drogas?
2. Qual seria o efeito local, especialmente em comunidades urbanas, da legalização integral de drogas pesadas tais como a heroína e a cocaína, e como poderia ser minimizado o seu consumo?
3. O que pode ser feito para ajudar os agricultores de drogas a ganhar um salário suficiente e estável com a produção de comestíveis e outras safras de produtos não narcóticos?
4. Como poderia ser combatida a enorme corrupção dos agentes de estado e de organizações governamentais locais desenvolvida através do trafico de drogas?
5. De quais maneiras poderiam ser apoiadas as comunidades locais, economicamente ou não, para combater o uso de drogas, a violência e a cultura de quadrilhas relacionadas com as drogas sem resultar em vigilância?
6. O que poderia e deveria ser feito pelo governo dos EUA para regular e coagir a demanda por drogas que mantêm o seu comercio?
Mientras preparábamos este boletín, llegamos a dos conclusiones claras: la actual “guerra contra las drogas”, el modelo de prohibición y, en los casos en que era necesario, la intervención militar, han fracasado y tiene ahora de cada vez menos apoyo. Pero nadie tiene una idea clara de la solución, o de cómo reparar el daño provocado por 40 años de una “guerra” descarriada. LAB quiere invitar a nuestros socios y lectores en la región a que contribuyan con sus ideas en base a sus propias experiencias. Nosotros publicaremos un boletín subsecuente en unas semanas, con el objetivo de tener las voces de quienes están en la línea de frente.
Estamos particularmente interesados en los siguientes interrogantes:
1. ¿Afectaría de manera significativa al tráfico de estupefacientes la descriminalización de drogas “blandas”, como la marihuana?
2. ¿Cuál sería el efecto en las comunidades locales, principalmente las urbanas, la legalización total de las drogas duras como la heroína y la cocaína, y cómo se podría atenuar su impacto?
2. ¿Qué se puede hacer para ayudar a los productores de hoja de coca a que obtengan un ingreso suficiente y estable de la producción de alimentos y otros productos no relacionados con las drogas?
4. ¿Cómo se puede combatir la gran corrupción que existe en las instituciones gubernamentales estatales y locales como consecuencia del tráfico de drogas?
5. ¿Cómo se puede dar poder y financiamiento a las comunidades locales para que combatan el consumo de drogas, la violencia y la cultura de las pandillas vinculadas a las drogas sin que se dependa del “vigilantismo”?
6. ¿Qué debería hacer el gobierno de Estados Unidos para regular y contener la demanda de drogas que alimenta su tráfico?
Commentator Raul Zibechi (‘Latin America: What Comes After the Back Yard?) analyses the outcome of the recent Summit of the Americas, and how it set the seal on recent US failures in the region, including in the ‘war on drugs’. Read More.
In Bolivia, the march of those opposing the Tipnis highway is making slow progress. Read More.
Meanwhile, land disputes continue to figure prominently in the region. A representative of the Kichwa indigenous people of Rukullakta, Ecuador, travelled to Calgary, to present a letter denouncing the plans of Canadian mining giant Ivanhoe Energy to drill for oil in the rainforest Read more.
From Paraguay comes a denunciation of how the media ignored recent floods in the Chaco and the disastrous consequences for local people Read more.
In Chile, Canadian mining company Barrick Gold confronts continuing protests over its plans for the Pascua Lama gold mine in the Huasco Valley Read more.
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Best wishes from
The LAB team