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Latin American countries pursue alternatives to U.S. drug war
"Cesar Gaviria, a former Colombian president who has been a forceful critic of the U.S. policy, said American officials acknowledge the failure of the policy behind closed doors and do little to defend it publicly. He said it is simply a policy on automatic pilot.
“You reach the conclusion that all this killing in Mexico and Central America has been in the name of a failed policy that the United States does not believe in or vigorously defend,” said Gaviria, speaking in his Bogota office.
Much of the momentum for a shift began after Gaviria, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso issued a report in 2009 calling for drug policy reform. They have been joined by a range of intellectuals, among them Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, and retired officials, including former U.S. secretary of state George Shultz.
What they and many current presidents in Latin America propose is not a wide-open policy of legalization but a softening of the laws.
Decriminalizing drug possession would free billions of dollars spent in the criminal justice system, advocates say, while vastly improving drug treatment. Heavy drug users, who drive the illicit trade, could be weaned off drugs through maintenance models that provide drugs legally but under close supervision.
Legalizing marijuana, which advocates argue would present only a modest risk to public health, would weaken cartels and free up funding for other uses, advocates say.
“They’re not saying, ‘Legalize everything today,’ like alcohol and tobacco,” said Ethan Nadelmann, who has advised Latin American leaders and is the director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy organization that has criticized U.S. tactics.
“What they are saying is we need to give the same consideration to alternative, regulatory and non-prohibitionist drug control policies in the future as we’ve given to the failed drug war strategies of the last 40 years.”
Vice President Biden laid out the U.S. position, saying, “There are more problems with legalization than non-legalization.”
“It’s worth discussing,” he told reporters, “but there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization.”
U.S. statistics signal some progress, such as a 40 percent drop in cocaine use in the United States since 2006 and a 68 percent plunge over the same period in the number of people testing positive for cocaine in the workplace.
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