Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Failing WOD and Latin-America

On April 14-15, 2012 the Sixth Summit of the Americas was held in Cartagena , Colombia. The 34 Heads of State of all OAS member countries, addressed the central theme, “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity", which focuses on the role of physical integration and regional cooperation as a means to achieve greater levels of development and to overcome the Hemisphere’s challenges in several key areas including poverty and inequalities, citizen security, disasters and access to technologies. The Summit, which occurs every three years, offers the opportunity for countries to jointly define a hemispheric agenda at the highest level to address urgent challenges and propel positive change. One of the hottest issues (but that wasn't presented as such on the agenda) was the negative effects of the War On Drugs, that is destabilizing a growing number of OAS states. Quite a number of Latin American countries have decriminalized the use of illicit drugs in the last years. A few have even said they would like to legalize production and transport of some illicit drugs. In the last months pressure has been built up on the US to start discussions on the failing WOD. On March 6-7, 2012 US Vice President Joe Biden visited Mexico and Honduras to discuss the WOD. In Honduras Biden also met the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala (It's said the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua stayed away because the US asked them to).

The Dilemma

Juan Manuel Santos
Felipe Calderón
In the last three years many OAS members said the WOD is a dead end and they wanted to decriminalize and/or legalize illicit drugs. Washington often reacted harshly and succeeded in delaying or adjusting such plans. For most Latin America countries, that are still young democracies with fragile government institutions, it's a serious dilemma. On one hand they receive US monies and military support to combat illicit drug trafficking and production, US aid for social programs and a huge influx of drugs monies that is boosting the domestic economy on the other hand they suffer all the negative WOD side effects (violence, increase of already existing corruption and impunity, aerial fumigation and so on) that are leading to destabilization of the country. It seems that more and more Latin American countries are realizing now that the disadvantages have become worse than the benefits. The biggest surprise in Cartagena was that President Santos from Colombia suggested OAS members to consider alternatives including regulating marijuana and even cocaine the way that alcohol and tobacco are. This must have come as a surprise to the US, because Colombia still receives lots of US-aid and support to fight the WOD. Colombia has become even a regional counter-narcotics base with US support. Mexican president Caldéron's (a strong WOD fighter) calling for a frank and open discussion of alternatives to US-style war on drugs, was also surprising. Guatemala's president Perez Molina's remarks about legalizing drug transports could even be called offensive.

President's Obama's Quotes at the 6th Summit
Obama said the following (amongst other things) at the opening plenary on saturday 14th april regarding the WOD:

    ....Second, our shared security. Across the region, governments and security forces have shown extraordinary courage against the narco-traffickers and gangs that threaten our people. Leaders like Colombia, Chile and Mexico are sharing their security expertise with neighbors. As your partner, the United States has increased our support - from speeding up the delivery of equipment and training to Mexico to strengthening security cooperation in Central America and the Caribbean. Today, I can announce that the United States will increase our commitment - to more than $130 million this year - to support the regional security strategy led by our Central American friends.
    This is a very difficult fight. I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens - all our citizens - the United States will not be going in this direction. Here in Cartagena, I hope we can focus on our mutual responsibilities. As I’ve said many times, the United States accepts our share of responsibility for drug violence. That’s why we’ve dedicated major resources to reducing the southbound flow of money and guns to the region. It’s why we’ve devoted tens of billions of dollars in the United States to reduce the demand for drugs. And I promise you today - we’re not going to relent in our efforts....
Later on the day in a public discussion at the Hilton Hotel in Cartagena, Obama made the following remarks (amongst other things) :

    .....we can't look at the issue of supply in Latin America without also looking at the issue of demand in the United States.....I think the American people understand that the toll of narco-trafficking on the societies of Central America, Caribbean, and parts of South America are brutal, and undermining the capacity of those countries to protect their citizens, and eroding institutions and corrupting institutions in ways that are ultimately bad for everybody....And I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places....legalization is not the answer; that, in fact, if you think about how it would end up operating, that the capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint could be just as corrupting if not more corrupting then the status quo.....Nevertheless, I'm a big believer in looking at the evidence, having a debate.  I think ultimately what we're going to find is, is that the way to solve this problem is both in the United States, us dealing with demand in a more effective way, but it's also going to be strengthening institutions at home....
So the good news is that Obama - sort of - admitted the WOD turned out to be a failure and he is now willing to discuss options. On the other hand he said that he is convinced that legalization will not be the solution and therefore can't be discussed. Isn't that a kind of odd if you say you're willing to discuss something and at the same time you're ruling out possible solutions/options at forehand? The helping hand of Obama looks like a small step on a very long road...

The WOD's Future

What does this all mean to the future of the WOD and Latin America?
While Obama said in Cartagena his intention is to try to decrease demand in the US by increasing the 2012 budget considerably, he is also proposing in its 2013 federal budget, to cut counter-narcotics aid to Latin America by 16 per cent. Of course this discussion at the Summit of the Americas could be a joined setup to get more US-monies to spend on the WOD in Latin America, but my guess is that Latin American countries are really teaming up to legalize transport and production of illicit drugs because they have to, if they don't want to become failed states. Guatemala already said this and other countries will follow. The US just have to close its borders and face the WOD on its own soil or legalize/regulate illicit drugs too. However legalizing and regulating can't be done overnight and isn't easy either, but in my view it is unevitable:

I won't try to repeat the entire drug legalization debate here in this blogpost, but I will mention the most important arguments. The human body produces several natural substances in the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, brain and other organs that can induce special sensations like strength, energy, self-assertion, focus, enhanced motivation, pain relief, euphoria, lust, love, etc.. These substances are called adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and many others. Normally these substances are only released in special circumstances like danger, fighting, sex, pain or giving birth.  No matter what, the human brain will always have these substance receptors and react on it by inducing special sensations. Thousands of years ago the human race was already aware, that oral use of special plant extracts or substances could induce these sensations  in the human brain as well. All known ancient civilizations have used alcohol, the Maya's used cocaine, the Sumerians and Chinese were using opium, cocaine was found in Egyptian mummies. Almost all ancient civilizations used drugs for pleasure or for religious reasons. Unfortunately this ancient and modern knowledge of recreational drugs can not be erased. Therefore I think that the necessity for recreational drugs in modern society can not be neglected, repressed or eliminated by law or by any other means. So being a government you can only regulate and legalize illicit drugs to minimize the damage to society. It's not going to be easy, but it is basically not different than the regulation of tobacco, alcohol or prescription drugs. Think for instance of safe-use testing; certification of production, distribution and retail; education; law enforcement; international cooperation.

Besides, in modern society as it exists today, drug enforcement will be nearly impossible and get ever more expensive, because new designer drugs will be invented in the near future almost every day and overflow the market. In an unregulated/not legalized market these drugs will be designed with high addictiveness to maximize profit. The labs that produce these drugs will be refrigerator size. Party pills are already produced in small clandestine "mom and pop" labs. If nothing is being done, these latest developments will lead  to more organized crime and drug wars in the US, ever higher crime rates and eventually disruption of society.

More to read...

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