Friday, February 13, 2009

Former Latin American Presidents call for a ‘paradigm shift’

The Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, convened by former presidents Fernando Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico in order to evaluate the impacts of the 'war on drugs', has released a statement this week saying that prohibition has failed and calling for a 'broad debate about alternative strategies'.

They argue that,
'Prohibitionist policies based on eradication of production.... [and] criminalization of consumption have not yielded the desired results.'
The statement highlights some of the negative consequences of the 'war on drugs':
  • A rise in organised crime caused by the international narcotics trade

  • A huge growth in drug-related violence affecting the whole of society but particularly the poor and the youth

  • The criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime, including the 'infiltration of democratic institutions by organised crime'

  • The corruption of public servants, judicial systems, governments, and those in charge of enforcing law and order

The commission calls for an open and honest debate on drug policy arguing that:

‘Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. The whole issue has become taboo which inhibits public debate….
Hence, breaking the taboo and acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for opening up the discussion about a new paradigm leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies….
The way forward lies in acknowledging the insufficient results of current policies and, without dismissing the immense efforts undertaken, launching a broad debate about alternative strategies….

They also argue that drug policy must be evidence-based:

‘A new paradigm to address the drug problem must be less centered on repressive measures and more regardful of national societies and cultures. Effective policies must be based on scientific knowledge and not on ideological biases. This effort must involve not only governments but all sectors of society….’
Some serving Latin American presidents have gone further, explicitly calling for decriminalization of possession for personal use (see blogs on Kirchner's call for decriminalisation and Zelaya's statement on legalisation). However the experience of former Mexican president Vincente Fox who was persuaded by US officials to carry out u-turn when he suggested a similar policy may have chastened the authors of this report.

The commission ends on a positive note, saying:
‘The inauguration of the Barack Obama Administration offers a unique opportunity to reshape a failed strategy and engage in the common search for more efficient and humane policies.’
It would have been welcome to see some of those 'efficient and humane policies' explored in more detail. None the less, this is another indication that the policy climate in the Americas is shifting in the positive direction, and even if the longer term answers are not yet fully formed the new tone of pragmatism and critical engagement is all for the good.

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