US-led 'war on drugs' questioned at UN

2012-09-27 12:04

New York - The presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala all called for a vigorous global debate of anti-narcotics laws at the United Nations on Wednesday, raising new questions about the wisdom of the four-decade-old, US-led "war on drugs".

Although none of the leaders explicitly called for narcotics to be legalised, they suggested at the UN General Assembly that they would welcome wholesale changes to policies that have shown scant evidence of limiting drug flows while contributing to massive violence throughout Latin America.

"It is our duty to determine - on an objective scientific basis - if we are doing the best we can or if there are better options to combat this scourge," Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who leaves office on 1 December after spending much of his presidency locked in a bloody battle with drug-smuggling gangs, called on the United Nations to lead a global debate over a less "prohibitionist" approach to drugs.

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina echoed Calderon's call and went even further, saying that "the basic premise of our war against drugs has proved to have serious shortcomings".

The speeches, which were a few hours apart, constituted some of the most public challenges to date of anti-drug policies that have been mostly unchanged since the 1970s.

Obama rules out changes

Mexico and Colombia are two of Washington's firmest allies in Latin America and both work closely with US anti-drug efforts.

While the subject of legalisation was discussed at an Americas-wide summit in Colombia attended by US President Barack Obama earlier this year, raising the once-taboo subject at the 193-nation meeting in New York amounts to an escalation of the debate.

Obama has ruled out any major changes to drug laws, but some US diplomats privately concede that the consensus around Latin America is clearly swinging against the status quo, and that some degree of change is imminent.

All three leaders were careful to say they were not proposing giving in to smuggling gangs that have made Latin America one of the world's most violent regions.

Mexico has been particularly hard hit in recent years, with an estimated 60 000 people killed in drug-related violence during Calderon's six-year term as he attempted to crack down on cartels.

"We won't cede an inch" to the gangs, Calderon said.

Calderon and Santos have suggested on other occasions that they might be open to legalisation of narcotics if that helped reduce violence.

Debate must be 'frank'

Colombia remains one of the world's biggest producers of cocaine despite a decade of US-sponsored eradication efforts, while Mexico has seen unprecedented violence as a transit point for drugs into the United States, the world's biggest consumer of narcotics.

An influential group of former Latin American leaders including Brazilian ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has openly advocated decriminalisation of some drugs as a way to reduce violence.

The small, relatively prosperous South American nation of Uruguay has gone the furthest, sending a bill to Congress last month that would allow the state to grow and sell marijuana.

In his comments on Wednesday, Santos described the debate over drug policy as "a discussion that the world has avoided for many years, and one we hope will produce concrete results".

"The debate on drugs must be frank, and without a doubt, global," Santos said.

Calderon repeated his calls for Washington to tighten gun controls to stop weapons flowing from the United States into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. He has also urged Washington to revive a ban on assault weapons in the United States that expired in 2004.

  • wesley.bischoff - 2012-09-27 12:20

    Regulation works... prohibition creates a black market and therefore dangerous drug lords.

      petrus.ngwenya.3 - 2012-09-27 15:26

      Agreed. When debating this, each individual must ask himself, is this argument based on emotions or facts. A firm but effective way of managing drugs, Hard or otherwise, will do much more than this "all or nothing, gung ho, let's play Rambo" stunts that are currently championed by electorial candidates.

  • cobus.benade.5 - 2012-09-27 12:25

    Save the world economy Billions - Legalise, regulate and tax it.

      wesley.bischoff - 2012-09-27 12:39

      Exactly, for there are soooo many applications for the growth and manufacture of goods obtained from marijuana and hemp, for example. Thousands of jobs would be created. Police time won't be wasted trying to catch harmless victims, and small-time drug dealers. Money won't be wasted keeping them in prison.

  • buzz.rsa - 2012-09-27 12:55

    The obvious place to start is with the legalization of cannabis. The price of prohibition is far to dear. It's great to finally see the discussion surfacing at a UN level, even if the big boys such as Obama plead convenient ignorance of the counterproductivety of prohibition. I can smell change on the wind:)

      wesley.bischoff - 2012-09-27 13:53

      So true! They are so stupid. With prohibition, they make the drug lords rich, when if they were smart, and legalised/regulate drugs, then all that money would go to government, in the form of VAT and other taxes.

  • andrew.arnesen - 2012-09-27 13:06

    Yup, if drugs were legalised and the money for the "war" pushed into educating people about the risks of drug use, there would be far less addicts and far less gang violence. Look at Portugal, as a good example, where they legalised all drugs over 10 years ago- there has been a 50% DROP in the use of marijuana instead of the predicted rise. If you make it illegal, it has "rebel" appeal...

  • tilovonbrandis - 2012-09-27 13:32

    The USA will never give up the amount of money their corporates and banks generate from the illegal trading in drugs.(since the invasion of Iran, Heroin exports have increased by from nearly nothing to flooding the global market) Also, declaring drugs as illegal allows the government and its law enforcement agencies limitless powers in society, such a surveillance, access to property, search warrants, incarceration without proof), which is very convenient for controlling social dissidents. Also, corporations convert huge amount of tax money into private money by incarcerating millions of USA citizens. In the USA, stricter drug laws are mostly lobbied by the companies running or supplying prisons.

      wesley.bischoff - 2012-09-27 14:01

      If only most countries weren't like sheep, and we could make our own decisions, and not blindly follow this pointless War on Drugs. Since it started, heroin has become more readily available on the street, become more pure (90%) and 600% cheaper than in the 70's. Well done America... clearly your war is working... NOT!

      tom.guy.37669528 - 2012-09-27 15:23

      Lol the West has become such a joke, welcome to neo feudalism people. All the economic policies being put into place only serve the elite.

  • dustin.mccrindle.5 - 2012-09-27 22:02

    OK, so we legalise marajuana, then the crack, opium, heroin

      sachasea - 2012-09-27 22:17

      I think legalization of MDMA (ecstasy) and psilocybin mushrooms, which are being shown to be much less harmful than previously thought, should come before crack, opium and heroin.

  • sachasea - 2012-09-28 00:36

    [Mexico has been particularly hard hit in recent years, with an estimated 60 000 people killed in drug-related violence during Calderon's six-year term as he attempted to crack down on cartels. "We won't cede an inch" to the gangs, Calderon said.] I see so many parallels between what's happening in Mexico and the terrible situation on the Cape Flats. [Calderon and Santos have suggested on other occasions that they might be open to legalisation of narcotics if that helped reduce violence.] I suppose this option is still light years away from our politicians thought processes. Real shame because I think it would be the best way to hit the gangs where it hurts i.e. their pockets.

  • brionyl.french - 2012-09-28 06:43

    Finally someone with balls!

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