Will global drug policy reform start in Latin America?

Drug policy reform cannot take place unilaterally; any country trying this route would be clobbered by the prohibitionist camp led by the US, and nobody will dare to venture on the reform path on his own. But what if a coalition was to emerge? My own geopolitical analysis leads me to believe that Latin America is the only place where such a coalition can initiate, and in fact, we might be witnessing the early signs of its formation.

Let’s go over recent developments:

President Santos of Colombia has repeatedly said that he is in favor of legalization, with a strong caveat, though: if the rest of the world agrees. Which is not going to happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile, President Calderon of Mexico, who launched a bloody battle against the drug cartels in 2006, seems to come to come to the realization that Mexico is getting the rotten end of the War on Drugs. He was especially incensed by the “fast and furious” debacle. Calderon started talking about seeking out “all possible options, including market alternatives” in his declaration following the August 25th, 2011 Monterey massacre: “If … they are resigned to consuming drugs, then they need to find alternatives … and establish clear points of access different from the border with Mexico, but this situation can’t keep going on like this.” He repeated similar assertions in various interviews and speeches throughout the fall of 2011, most notably during a speech to the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York. Such position was then adopted by the Tuxtla Dialogue and Agreement Mechanism in Mérida in its December 5th meeting. The Summit was attended by the presidents of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom; Honduras, Porfirio Lobo; Mexico, Felipe Calderón; Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega; Panama, Ricardo Martinelli; Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernández; and First Vice-President of Costa Rica, Alfio Piva and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize, Wilfred Elrington; Colombia, María Ángela Holguín; and El Salvador, Hugo Martínez. President of Chile Sebastián Piñera also attended in his capacity as Special Guest. The Joint Statement on Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking, issued at the end of the meeting clearly bears Calderon’s mark, declaring:

“They indicated that What would be desirable, would be a significant reduction in the demand for illegal drugs. Nevertheless, if that is not possible, as recent experience demonstrates, the authorities of the consuming countries ought then to explore the possible alternatives to eliminate the exorbitant profits of the criminals, including regulatory or market oriented options to this end. Thus, the transit of substances that continue provoking high levels of crime and violence in Latin American and Caribbean nations will be avoided.”

In one of his first speeches after taking office, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina called for a regional strategy for decriminalization.

So, where does this leave us?

Painfully aware of the failure of current prohibitionist policies and the high price they are paying for it, Latin American leaders seem to be testing the water, but nobody has dared crossing the line yet. For a movement to coalesce, leaders need to emerge. Presidents Calderon and Santos clearly stand out. No other heads of state can lead and unite a coalition of the willing with the credibility and the stature of these two heads of state. For Calderon, who pretty much bet his presidency on the Mexican drug war, the reversal must be particularly painful.

What will it take for Calderon and Santos to step up and lead, in defiance of their over-bearish Northern neighbors? 2011 clearly demonstrated the power of popular expression to move things forward and force the hand of history. I am convinced that popular support can tip the balance, but it won’t happen without massive mobilization. To that effect, I wrote the Calderon-Santos Initiative, calling on Presidents Calderon of Mexico and President Santos of Colombia to take the lead of a global coalition for legalization and control of currently illicit drugs. (see  http://calderon-santos.org/). I invite you to help promote this initiative and move forward global drug policy reform.

Sources and further readings: