Latin American countries pursue alternatives to U.S. drug war
Latin America, where the US fights much of its War on Drugs, is getting mighty tired of being a battlefield simply because the US resists a rational drug policy (legalization and regulation) in favor of prohibition and a chance to use military tactics. Prohibition did not work before, it is obviously and clearly not working now, and Obama has promised (for what it’s worth: zero) to reform our approach to drugs, which he thinks seems to mean doubling down on attacks on medical marijuana patients and providers. But people are getting fed up with the extremely high cost, in dollars and lives, of continuing on a course that does not work at all. (Have you seen how much of the US is now in prison?)
Here’s a front-page story in a conservative newspaper (the Washington Post), and it seems to push the idea of rethinking what we’re doing instead of constantly expecting that tactics proven to fail will suddenly start to work. Juan Forero reports:
When President Obama arrives in Colombia for a hemispheric summit this weekend, he will hear Latin American leaders say that the U.S.-orchestrated war on drugs, which criminalizes drug use and employs military tactics to fight gangs, is failing and that sweeping changes need to be considered.Latin American leaders say they have not developed an alternative model to the hard-line approach favored by successive American administrations since Richard Nixon was in office. But the Colombian government says a range of options — from decriminalizing possession of drugs to legalizing marijuana use to regulating markets — will be debated at the Summit of the Americas in the coastal city of Cartagena.
Faced with violence that has left 50,000 people dead in Mexico and created war zones in Central America, regional leaders have for months been openly discussing the shortcomings of the U.S. approach. But the summit marks the first opportunity for many leaders to directly share their grievances with Obama.
Those who have most forcefully offered new proposals, or developed carefully argued critiques of American policy, are among Washington’s closest allies. They include the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister who marshaled U.S. aid to weaken drug syndicates; Guatemalan President Otto Perez, a former military man who has long battled drug gangs; and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose nation has been engaged in an all-out war with cartels.
“There’s probably been no person who has fought the drug cartels and drug trafficking as I have,” Santos said in an interview last week with The Washington Post. “But at the same time, we must be very frank: After 40 years of pedaling and pedaling very hard, sometimes you look to your left, you look to your right and you’re are almost in the same position.
“And so you have to ask yourself, are we doing the correct thing?”
Perez, whose small country has been engulfed by violence that his security forces are barely able to contain, has been the most forceful and surprising proponent of sweeping change to the current policy. The military and police under his command in Guatemala have continued to battle traffickers, he said in an interview from Guatemala City. But he believes they have little to show for their effort.
“The strategy that we have followed these 30 or 40 years has practically failed and we have to recognize it,” he said.
In Washington, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which oversees anti-drug policies for the Obama administration, declined to comment about the debate. But in a two-day visit to Central America and Mexico last month, Vice President Joe Biden laid out the government’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.”
Continue reading, but think about that last statement: Regardless of the facts and the experience and all that we’ve learned, there is no possibility that the Obama Administration will make any changes. That speaks to being wooden-headed, as Barbara Tuchman put it, or (as I would say) pig-headed. It is squeezing the eyes shut, hands over ears, and singing “Lalalalalala” in a loud voice to avoid recognizing what is obvious. He might as well have said, in fewer words, “That’s nice, but we’re stupid.”
This is how governments lose the respect of the governed: when the government ceases to be able to recognize reality.