Kieran Tapsell. The war on drugs.

Apr 20, 2014

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, El Espectador, Colombia, 20 December 2013,

Summary: The so called “War on Drugs” is an American invention from the time of Nixon. It has been a spectacular and costly failure. But the Puritans in the Americas do not want to even discuss the subject.

A year and a half ago, President Santos of Colombia said to Obama that the 40 year war on drugs had failed, and that perhaps it was time to look for alternatives.

Obama, for his part, recognized the necessity for debate, and that simple concession was seen by various Latin American representatives as a victory. It isn’t, but the mirage is tangible proof of an unhealthy dependent relationship: that which exists between the coca producing countries – the main ones are Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, which together have 150,000 hectares of illegal cultivation – and the principal consumer, the United States that takes up 27% of the world’s consumption.

Things being as they are, it is evident that any real change in drug politics has to have the United States as a party to it. It is also evident that Latin America cannot avoid taking the initiative. Now Uruguay is proposing to sell marihuana at a dollar a gram, and, “to defeat the drug trafficking business”, the Guatemalan President is looking at the possibility of selling opium poppies. Meanwhile, Michael Botticelli, the head of the Office of Control of Drug Policies of the United States, came to Bogota to say what we already know: Washington will not change.

The War on Drugs is a United States invention: the first person to use those words was Nixon, at a time when drugs were starting to be consumed massively, but in the producer countries, there were no cartels, no mafia, violence or corruption.

Forty years later, that same prohibition has converted the drug business into the most lucrative in the world. It has put into the hands of the mafias, an economic power strong enough to destabilize whole democracies, and above all, it has left dead people behind its trail. In Mexico alone in the last decade there were 70,000 murdered. Colombia’s deaths, from the years of Pablo Escobar to the war being waged today (whose principle fuel is the drug business) are equally astounding.

Drugs have a twofold problem: on the one hand, there is the public health problem that has always been there; on the other, there is the problem of public order, aligned to violence and the economic power of the mafias. Legalizing drugs is the only viable way of eliminating the second problem, and then only the first remains. The money wasted on this artificial war can be invested in education, prevention and treatment.

The Puritans, of course, in all parts of the Americas are opposed to this. In Colombia, during Uribe’s disastrous years, the slogan of a government campaign was the product of infantile stupidity: marijuana is “the stuff that kills”. But it isn’t: what kills is not the stuff, but the violence with which the mafias defend an illegal business.

Santos has created that Advisory Commission for Drugs Policy to think seriously about legalization, but it has received a hostile reception from the Puritans in Colombia, made up of Uribe’s heirs and the acolytes of the Procurator, a Lefebrvist Catholic, who has published pamphlets – from the Procurator’s office itself – against legalization whose title page has one of Durer’s paintings: “Scene from the Apocalypse, the Whore of Babylon”.

This, on the other hand, cannot be taken seriously. We are right behind the eight ball in allowing any debate on the subject.

Guest blogger, Kieran Tapsell, drew to my attention some good writing from Colombia on issues of international importance. Kieran is a Spanish translator. I hope you enjoy something a little different.  John Menadue

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