Apr. 14, 2012
Latin American countries are rightfully fed up with fighting Washington’s war on drugs. In the four decades since President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, its battles have been fought predominantly in Latin American nations, leaving behind a trail of death and corruption while failing to achieve any of its goals.
Central America has become a hub for drug smugglers. American-style street gangs operate as the armed muscle of the drug cartels, bringing the violence in Central America to levels that rival those of the civil wars of the 1980s. The bloodshed has even spread to countries that until recently enjoyed some of the lowest crime rates in the world, such as Costa Rica and Belize.
In addition, the perception in the region is that the United States makes tough demands on other governments to combat drug cartels while doing too little to reduce demand at home. America remains the largest drug consumer market in the world. Furthermore, its lax gun laws have made it the main source of weapons for drug cartels, and its financial institutions enjoy much of the profit of the drug business.
Some former Latin American leaders and U.S. officials have long advocated decriminalization of drugs to address the failure of the existing approach. But it’s only been recently that current leaders of Latin American countries have joined the calls for that approach.
First, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, a conservative whose nation is the United States’ staunchest ally in the war on drugs, declared the drug war a failure and came out in support of decriminalization. Then, a few weeks ago, President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, a conservative former general, said he would consider legalizing the possession and transportation of drugs, and he called for a meeting of all of Central America’s presidents to debate the issue.
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