Much to the displeasure of the United States, several Latin American countries are moving to decriminalize some forms of drug use. Ecuador appears poised to lead the charge.
The topic was discussed at this week’s Organization of American States (OAS) meeting in Antiqua, Guatemala, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned organization members about making drastic changes to criminal codes governing drug possession and use.
The OAS discussion was centered around an internal report that recommends comprehensive changes to fight drugs. The report poses the question: Do current drug policies, favoring a law enforcement approach, do more harm than good?
Observers at the OAS said that there is a strong undercurrent of resentment toward the U.S. law enforcement approach to combating drugs, partly because the U.S. is seen as being the prime market for the drug trade in the Americas.
In Ecuador, interior minister José Serrano, who heads up the country’s law enforcement agencies, as well as a spokesperson for President Rafael Correa, publicly called national and international drug policies a “failure.”
Speaking on a Quito radio program, Cuenca native Serrano said, “The global war on drugs has failed, and it is time that we establish a clear public policy to combat and control addiction and trade.” He added: “Once that is done, we can begin the process of drug decriminalization.”
Alexis Mera, Correa’s legal secretary, said that, “Absolute repression has not worked. Consumption of some substances, such as marijuana, should be legalized and be regulated and controled by the government.”
Mera adds that all options should be on the table when considering changes to current policy.
Ecuador’s National Council of Narcotics Control (CONSEP) has also come out in favor of decriminalization, saying that a tax and control system for the sale of drugs would help to fund programs to confront addiction and to combat the drug trade.
The council says it favors the concept of “good living,” promoted by Ecuador’s indigenous cultures. CONSEP says the goal should to control drug use in the population not through criminalization, but regulation.
The OAS report, titled "The Drug Problem in the Americas," says that, "An important alternative to current policies, though by no means the only one, is to control drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine through policies that control and regulate and, at the same time, raise tax money for remediation and law enforcement."
According to the report, five Latin American countries, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile, have already decriminalized personal use of marijuana, as have two U.S. states, Colorado and Washington. The report adds that as many as 14 countries are considering decriminalization or expanding current decriminalization policies.
According to José Calderon, director of a drug policy forum in Argentina and OAS meeting observer, there is a high level of anger in Latin America toward the U.S. government over the issue of illigal drugs. “Most of the problem is based in the U.S. That is the market that is fueling the production, transportation, and consumption of drugs.”
The worst part, says Calderon, is the violence that the drug trade creates. “This is carried out primarily with weapons that come over the border from the U.S. It is ironic that the U.S. seems so concerned about drugs and illigal immigrants crossing its borders from the south, but rarely mentions the mayhem that results from the millions of guns heading south.”
Calderon says that resentment of U.S. drug policies runs strong, even among high-ranking Latin American government officials. “In prívate conversations here at the OAS, the word ‘hypocricy’ is the one you hear most often in reference to U.S. policy.”
Photo caption: Ecuador Minister of the Interior José Serrano