Tag Archives: Central America

Luis Fernando Carrera: “Drug Trafficking Needs to Become Subject of the Public Debate”

25 Jun

Latin and Central American states have been displaying newly gained self-confidence when it comes to addressing a very pressing issue, that is, International crime related to drug trafficking and consumption, to the detriment of this region of the world for the past four decades. The recent political pathway demonstrates the will and the capacity to find solutions within the Latin and Central American context, and with it the political and ideological departure from the War on Drugs. The latter, a campaign waged under the aegis of the U.S. government over the last four decades. The present campaign is based on a combination of prohibition, military aid and military intervention in alliance with participating countries. Unfortunately it has generated often questionable results, and has become a larger target for external, as well as internal criticism.

Virgin Group founder and investor Richard Branson wrote in an Op-ed piece for CNN in December last year, “About 40,000 people were in U.S. jails and prisons for drug crimes in 1980, compared with more than 500,000 today. Excessively long prison sentences and locking up people for small drug offenses contribute greatly to this ballooning of the prison population. It also represents racial discrimination and targeting disguised as drug policy. People of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than white people — yet from 1980 to 2007, blacks were arrested for drug law violations at rates 2.8 to 5.5 times higher than white arrest rates.”

Today, Latin American countries face more severe problems related to drug trafficking than before the U.S. initiative began. The prisons are overpopulated with small-scale drug offenders, meanwhile high-level traffickers roam free due to lax law enforcement or corruption.

A recent panel at the United Nations, organized by the Permanent Mission of Guatemala and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), disclosed a number of new insights on possible future guidelines. Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera analyzed the status quo of the movement and presented fresh experiences in the field by Human Rights Watch.

A report in 2009 by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and a regional meeting in Columbia in April 2012, defined the political U-turn, or the new approach of taking-matters-into-own-hands. The meeting included President Barack Obama, the presidents of Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, and Ecuador. For the first time in history the violence and the misery brought to Latin and Central American countries by the War on Drugs was openly criticized.

“There is an urgent need to bring drug policy to the international public debate,” Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Carrera explained. He referred to the recent Declaration of Antigua from June this year, adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS). The declaration recognizes the complexity of the world drug problem, its effects on  health, social relations and the integrity of democratic institutions, and urges for individual approaches, tailored to the different needs member states face. “A few weeks ago, we had a real discussion on drug policy for the first time,” Carrera explained, “But the declaration still needs adjustments, and I clearly can’t tell you where we are going to be with this debate in ten years from now.”

Rebecca Schleifer, Advocacy Director at the Health and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, presented a disturbing fact, related to Guatemalan handling of drug addicts. She explained, “The treatment provided in some states often violates basic human rights standards.” At the moment around 6000 people that are charged for drug violations are detained in evangelical prayer camps. “They can’t leave voluntarily, they are behind barbed-wire and are absolutely at the mercy of some pastor who might release them at his good will.”

It is much hoped that once more rhetoric is turned into action, rather sooner than later.

Lia Petridis Maiello