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Historic Step by Leaders of the Americas toward Alternatives to the War on Drugs

By Dialogo
April 17, 2012

In the Caribbean port of Cartagena on April 14 and 15, the leaders of the Americas took a historic step in deciding to conduct studies on alternatives to the war on drugs promoted by the United States, which has led to tens of thousands of deaths in the region over the last 40 years.

The 6th Summit of the Americas “agreed on the need to analyze the results of the current (anti-drug) policy and explore new approaches, in order to strengthen this fight and in order to be more effective,” the event’s host, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, said at the summit’s conclusion.

He highlighted that the 31 leaders of the Americas in attendance gave a mandate to the Organization of American States (OAS) to begin that process.

U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to engage in dialogue, although he made clear that he is opposed to decriminalizing drugs.

In Obama’s view, “it is wholly appropriate for us to discuss this issue.” “I’m not somebody who believes that legalization is a path to solving this problem, but I do think that we can constantly ask ourselves, ‘Are there additional steps we can take to be more creative?’” he said.

The previous day, he had declared himself ready to debate drug use in his country and the southward flow of money and weapons.

Santos, for his part, said that “all options are open. The OAS is going to have a series of scenarios that need to be studied, that need to be analyzed with experts.”

Ignacio Cano, a researcher at the Violence Analysis Laboratory of Rio de Janeiro State University, stated for his part that this is a very significant decision, because “20 years ago, this topic was practically prohibited. Just five years ago, former presidents began to talk about the issue, and today, it’s presidents in office who are bringing it up.”

Nevertheless, he assessed “that the road will be a long one, because it’s necessary to denounce international conventions.”

Santos praised the “honesty” of debate at the summit and said that “no one dared to put the issue of drugs on the table.”

Central America is suffering the onslaughts of the drug cartels, which in response to the war unleashed in Colombia, with U.S. assistance, in 2000 and the one launched in Mexico by President Felipe Calderón five years ago, have found new territory there for routing Colombian and Peruvian cocaine to the United States.

In 2011 alone, 20,000 people died as a consequence of violence linked to drug trafficking in the isthmus, which has 40 million inhabitants.