When President Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, it was possible he didn’t expect it to last more than 50 years before it would be won—or even, there was a sway in either direction. This past week’s General Assembly meeting in the United Nations council discussed the latest endeavours of this five decade long war and its current consequences, most notably on Latin American and South American countries. This past meeting heavily focused on drug reform and how to re-evaluate the war on drugs around the globe. Notable speakers included the presidents of both Colombia and Guatamala respectively. Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, noted in his address that his country has had significant consequences over the span of this war, and more have been negative than positive unfortunately. He noted in his address that over 200,000 Colombian citizens had been killed as a result. He also mentioned, though seemingly obvious, that his country had been the largest exporter of illegal cocaine in this war and he was taking steps to address this issue. Some of his political moves against illegal drug activity have included an intense crackdown on geurilla armies working with the major drug cartels as well as challenging them to discuss openly what can be done to help regulate this epidemic in his country. He mentioned that if they fail to come to a resolution, “failure would condemn his…country to many more years of bloodshed and pain”. But Santos has made strides in discussing possibilities with the Revoluntionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN). He has called on these major guerilla groups and others to end the war, noting that “the guerillas will have to decide whether they opt for an honourable and long lasting peace or whether they insist on the war”. He blames these groups for the majority of civilian deaths in the war on drugs. He called on the UN consituents to re-evaluate the war on drugs and how to proceed from here on out because something needs to be changed. When Guatamalan president, Otto Pérez Molina, rose to speak before the Assembly, it was not a given how he would respond to the war on drugs or that he would praise Washington and Colorado for their recent legalization of marijuana. Or that he would praise the Obama administration for allowing this new legislation to pass on the state level. Molina has pledged several new ideas in reaction to the war on drugs and while not all have been successful, he is on the right track. Some of his pledges have included crushing organized crime, high security prisons, increased police force deployed to battle drug traffickers as well as renewing calls for new global initiatives on the war on drugs. He made these pledges in hopes of creating a global discussion. He noted that his country has been one of the most violent places globally in relation to drug related crime-saying in front of the General Assembly that the “war on drugs has failed Central America” and that “Since the start of [his] government, we have clearly affirmed that the war on drugs has not yielded the desired results. We cannot keep on doing the same thing and expect different results”. This, in conjunction with the speech by Colombian President, represents a shift in public opinion towards the war on drugs, creating a need for new initiatives and new ideas of how to win this supposed war. Santos added that “If we act together on the drug problem, with a comprehensive vision, devoid of ideological biases, we will be able to prevent much harm and violence”. In response to these speeches, Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, was quoted as saying “you know drug policy is changing when the president of a Latin American country plagued by drug trafficking praises US initiatives to legalize marijuana”. He continued by saying “It feels like sanity and rationality are at least penetrating the highest levels of governments throughout the Americas. Several Latin American countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and more, are starting to experiment with regulating the drug world in their countries. If they succeed in regulation, it could be a global shift from criminalizing addiction and drug use to making it a public health issue.
October 1, 2013