The decriminalization of drugs: the debate is open
By Gualberto Rodriguez San Martin
For the first time in the history of the hemisphere, the Organization of America States VI Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena on April 14-15, put on the table, at the highest political level, the decriminalization of drugs.
The President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, opened the debate on this sensitive issue a couple of months ago, supported by some of his colleagues in Central America, recognizing that the fight against drug cartels is, in fact, a failure, as well as the idea that the drug market can be eliminated. Therefore, it was proposed to examine the decriminalization of drugs, as it was done in the past with alcohol, to discuss its regulation of production, transportation, trade and consumption. From this perspective, the global drug problem should focus on the public health issue rather than almost exclusively in the field of criminal justice, as it is at the moment.
The OAS Summit of the Americas recognized that the war against drug trafficking must be reviewed and corrected and that the U.S. strategy, based on fighting drug trafficking organizations and the eradication of coca crops is obsolete. Faced with such findings outright, the administration of President Barack Obama announced in advance of the meeting in Cartagena that it opposes any kind of drug legalization. However, only part of the hemispheric debate, which clarified that the United States had provided more than USD 31 billion to this strategy, but on his return to Washington, Obama took a surprising turn in his drug policy by presenting a National Plan giving priority to the treatment and prevention rather than the arrest and conviction of consumers. This plan corresponds, without a doubt, to the new winds that begin to blow across the continent.
Thus it appears that it begins a necessary discussion that addresses the different scenarios for increasing the effectiveness of the war against drug trafficking that on one hand, injected huge amounts of illegal money in the economy and set up an organized crime that easily corrupts many of the institutions and, on the other hand, it generates a spiral of violence and social problems, resulting in over 50.000 murders in Mexico in five years, 20.000 dead in Central America, not to mention the increase in consumption levels in the cities from North to South America.
For Central America the decriminalization of drugs appears to be a way to alert and recognize that governments have been overtaken by the forces of drug trafficking, both at the police, military and judiciary levels, while in Colombia the issue seems to be to shift the emphasis in the responsibility of the actors and make the United States clearly and critically recognize the weight of the drug demand and the role it plays as the society that consumes the drugs.
It's often heard the saying that "while the Americans consumed, the Latin Americans count the dead." Therefore, the United States can´t accept its strategy, which has favored the repressive methods, because it has failed, but it is assuming lately the necessity to rethink clearly its methods that are becoming obsolete and clearly outweighed by a complex reality.
And Bolivia: what does it think?
Surprisingly, Bolivia, one of the main producing coca paste countries is "out of the game" and lacks new and timely responses.
In a complex debate, this is no excuse for not providing solution or take sides. Bolivia, which has huge responsibility for its role as producer of drugs, rather prefers to follow the policy of the ostrich: hide its head in order not to face the problem. The worst thing is that this position appears to be deliberate, because in the years of Evo Morales's administration, who maintains his position as the union leader of the coca growers in region of Chapare, which is the main source of raw material for cocaine, the war on drugs has reduced as there are no drug trafficker arrested, it is clear that it is not convenient to attack the "illegal black economy" that fuels this illegal activity and prosperity in the country.
On the other hand, it has greatly helped the government develop the image of Bolivia's sovereignty and an anti "imperialist" policy by expelling the U.S. ambassador and the DEA, accusing them of meddling in Bolivia's internal affairs. While this is true, because through its strategy the United States had influence and penetration in previous governments and also because it was necessary to reduce the emphasis on forced eradication of coca crops, in recent years , however, coca plantations have grown at an alarming rate, along with consumption at all levels of society, particularly among young people.
Moreover, while the North played the role of "bad boy", the Europeans encouraged policies of "substitution". However, the Europeans do want to remove the cloak of "good policy" and, since the beginning of the administration of Evo Morales, the Europeans avoid being clear and definitive in identifying the coca crop quantity needed for the "traditional use", as they delay the development and publication of a study with serious foundations for which they have have signed agreements and secured enough funds.
In this context, the current government of Bolivia prefers the status quo and does not really want to address the drug problem as it attracts political and economic returns. Nor are there any policies that show the government is addressing the alarming increase in problems related to drug consumption, more violence and underworlds not recorded in statistics or social practices and justice in Bolivia. In short, there is no policy that shows a clear, explicit and effective fight against drugs and there are no fresh resources for health, education and institutional practices to tackle harmful consumption.
The decriminalization debate is open and has full and legitimate reason to be approached without hypocrisy by all governments and societies of the hemisphere and the world.