Latin Americans Are Fed Up With the War on Drugs

Today, the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy released a report providing more evidence that Latin Americans are fed up with the war on drugs and that momentum is building for a paradigm shift in dealing with drug abuse.

Headed by ex-presidents of three leading Latin American countries—César Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil—the commission calls for Latin American and other leaders to “break the taboo” of criticizing anti-drug policies.

It is imperative to rectify the ‘war on drugs’ strategy pursued in the region over the past 30 years…

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are further than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs.

The commission further calls for drug use to be dealt with as a public health issue, notes that prohibition has increased violence and corruption, and has otherwise undermined democracy as it has led to “the criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime.”

Leading Latin American intellectuals, including Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, Mexican writer Enrique Krauze, and Venezuelan policy expert and editor of Foreign Policy Magazine Moisés Naím, were also members of the commission.

This is a significant report and comes after Honduran President Zelaya’s recent call for legalization. In the past, Latin American leaders have expressed frustration with Washington’s heavy handed war on drugs, but have nevertheless relented in the face of enormous U.S. pressure. A few public officials, such as former Mexican Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Castañeda, have been openly critical of prohibition, but they have been virtually alone and without official support for their views. The commission’s report is a sign that Latin American leaders feel more confident in acting together to counter a policy approach that is destroying the region. And, as my Cato colleague Ted Carpenter notes, now that Mexico is being consumed by an unwinnable war against drug trafficking that is spilling over into the United States, Washington can no longer easily ignore the damaging effects of its policy in the region.