Throughout Latin America, drug trafficking is a scourge that affects all the countries that comprise it. This is not just a feud between criminals and police, whose savagery has fueled numerous television scripts set in the region. It is a phenomenon that undermines society and deepens structural males.
However, and although it may seem paradoxical, it is not the drugs that are to blame. Substances, despite their known damage to health, are not responsible for decision-making and public strategies that, over time, have ended up creating more problems than they have solved.
The situation in Latin America, although with important differences between countries, alludes to the failures of the Nation-States and a long process of overlapping between legal and illegal economies. A process that also occurs in other parts of the world, but which due to some geographical and social particularities has taken root with special virulence in some Latin American countries and which is exacerbated by an international regime for the control of substances that has focused on its security dimension. without paying attention to the complicity of the economic and social gear, while neglecting the health and environmental impact.
Prohibition ensures the high price and wealth of the criminals who traffic, while criminalizing growers and other precarious links in the business who assume a role in it, given the lack of decent opportunities in the legal economy. Likewise, it encourages violence for the control of monopolies, exacerbated in contexts of impunity and corruption. And as many experts from the security forces point out, police successes only displace the phenomenon to other places, thus, the entire continent has spread.
Latin American prisons, for the most part, far exceed their capacities, full of young people who have joined some of the criminal edges of the phenomenon while the big bosses have the ability to negotiate their sentences when they are captured. The collateral deaths, in turn, are counted by hundreds of miles.
For this reason, it is urgent to rethink the strategy and it is not an easy task despite the abundant evidence that supports it. In 2016, the UN General Assembly examined the issue in a monographic way, the result was the verification that there is not and will not be in the near future consensus among all countries to review the prohibitionist regime, much of Asia and the Middle East they are radically opposed to any strategy other than the total elimination of drugs.
However, in Latin America there is indeed the capacity to formulate a regional dialogue. Colombian President Gustavo Petro addressed the issue again this year to the United Nations General Assembly, and increasingly powerful and better-informed dialogues are opening up throughout the region to discuss viable reforms to the strategy.
Paradoxically, in a region with particularly fragile regional integration, there are very powerful initiatives for dialogue and common learning between public administrations and civil society organizations. This is the basis on which it is necessary to seek international allies that understand and support the configuration of a regional strategy that addresses all the links of the phenomenon with a fresh look and that generates tools adapted to each problem; resources and public policies to address the social dimension; scientific evidence and health capacities to serve problematic consumers; education and information processes for harm reduction and alliances to fight crime more effectively and above all to pursue their profits.
It is necessary to find allies that support a Latin America that questions and undertakes a reform in the international normative framework. The United States has moderated its opposition to the decriminalization of cannabis in some states, but continues to insist on coercive dimensions in the region. Europe, however, can be a more effective ally. Both for its experience in cooperation in the region, and for its power in promoting civil society initiatives. The Copolad Program is a good example, but it needs to escalate to a high-level political dialogue.
It is true that Europe occupies much of its attention on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it also has a great interest in positioning itself “autonomously and strategically” in the face of the geopolitical confrontation between the US and China. It is there where the dialogue with Latin America and the alliance to bring vitality to a constructive and effective multilateralism, in which the different regions balance global power, is a good opportunity.
Drugs are a difficult subject, but in a world of great challenge and polarization, there are few issues where there is more evidence of the need for change and many good proposals waiting to be put into action.
*Professor and Researcher at the Complutense Institute of International Studies, Complutense University of Madrid. Political Scientists Network – #NoSinMujeresr (@emaropi)
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