Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Transit countries count the costs of the war on drugs

Everyday there are gruesome stories coming out of Mexico about the bloody costs of being a transit country for drugs from Colombia to the US.

The bodies pile up, corruption increases and the government has to look at new ways to limit the impact of the war on drugs including decriminalising the possession of drugs.

Juan Camilo MouriƄo, a Mexican government minister, said,

‘The risk of drug money in campaigns is, of course, a latent risk... The police are infiltrated and as long as they are infiltrated we cannot, fully, guarantee security or secure people’s confidence.’

In recent poll by the BBC World Service 44% of Mexicans polled said that they would consider legalising drugs and 80% said the government should consider seeking alternatives to the current system in order to end the problems associated with the war on drugs.

And it’s not just Mexico that is feeling the heat. As the UN prepares to leave Sierra Leone, there are fears that the fragile peace isn’t strong enough to prevent a slide back to the chaos of the 1990’s. In August the president was forced to suspend his transport minister in connection with an investigation into a major drugs seizure worth $400 million.

UN mission chief in Sierra Leone, Michael Schulenburg admits that,

‘I would say today that the exposure to the international drug trade is the single biggest risk affecting the future of Sierra Leone… If the drugs cartels do become established, the implications for Europe and West Africa will be severe. For Sierra Leoneans, the effects could be catastrophic.’

And its not just countries in Central America and West Africa that are threatened by the huge amounts of money that enter their economies due to the illegal drugs trade, Central Asia is also feeling the pressure.

The notoriously secretive government of Turkmenistan has acknowledged that a shoot-out in the capital in September was as a result of efforts to ‘neutralize’ a drug gang. Whilst details are sketchy, the government has admitted that a number of security officers were killed. An analyst at Jane’s Information Group said,

‘The government is likely to portray the drug traffickers to have been small and disorganized, but reports that several – possibly 20 or more – members of the security services were killed suggests that the group was well organized and well armed.’

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, chief of the Europe and Asia departments at the UNODC has also acknowledged the threat,

We are increasingly worried about the activity of drug lords, not only within Afghanistan but in all of the countries neighbouring Afghanistan, including Turkmenistan… The situation in Turkmenistan in regard to drug trafficking is indeed of concern to the international community.’

The real cause of these problems is not the drugs themselves, but the prohibition of them which turns naturally occurring plants into commodities worth literally more than their weight in gold. This combined with poverty and instability in transit countries and high levels of demand in consumer countries creates an explosive situation whereby drug money can be used to buy almost anything, or anyone.

As the executive director of the UNODC admitted earlier this year, these are the real ‘unintended consequences’ of the drug control system.

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