Ilona Szabo – Huffington Post, 04/13/2012
The opening months of 2012 have witnessed an unprecedented debate across Latin America on alternatives to the so-called war on drugs. The sitting presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama are actively exploring decriminalization, regulation and harm reduction as a means of ending spiraling violence associated with drug trafficking. What was once considered to be heresy is now going mainstream.
And while the debate has its detractors, it is definitely catching on. This weekend, 34 heads of state will gather at the sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. For the first time since the war on drugs was launched more than four decades ago, leaders will discuss more humane approaches to dealing with the causes and symptoms of the illegal drug trade. Many privately recognize that the war has failed: the production and consumption of drugs continues unabated and efforts to control illicit markets have instead resulted in a surge in violence.
Every president in the western hemisphere acknowledges that the costs of the war on drugs have been devastating. With just 9 percent of the world’s population, Latin America exhibits more than 30 percent of its annual homicides. It is hardly surprising, then, that governments are starting to rethink their approaches to controlling drugs. This is especially so since the “war” on drugs has resulted in more avoidable deaths and higher social costs than their consumption. The costs of waging the war has also drained public coffers and exposed democratic institutions to unparalleled corruption and organized crime.