Pubdate: Wed, 22 Sep 2010
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Dan Gardner


Please allow me to put in print what an awful lot of Latin American
politicians would like to say to their Canadian colleagues:

You know how the illicit drug trade has plagued the countries of Latin
America for decades? You know how it spreads corruption, undermines
governance, and distorts economies? You know how it stacks corpses
like cordwood?

You know the carnage happening in Mexico right now? More than 26,000
people dead?

You know all that? Good. Because you are responsible.

Yes, you. None of this would be happening if the drug trade hadn't
been banned -- that just handed it on a silver tray to thugs,
gangsters, terrorists, and guerrillas. And you know who banned it?
Your country. Canada.

Sure, it was the Americans who pushed to have drug prohibition
entrenched in international law and it was the Americans who twisted
arms until everyone signed on. But Canada supported the United States
from the beginning. It still does.

In July, some of the world's leading public health experts
collectively condemned international drug prohibition and called on
governments to conduct "a transparent review" of current policies. But
the Harper government blew them off. And the opposition? Michael
Ignatieff said he wouldn't even consider something as trivial as
marijuana legalization because it would annoy the Americans.

So Canadian politicians helped put the status quo in place and
Canadian politicians are helping to keep it in place. Remember that
the next time you turn on the television and you see more
blood-smeared corpses in our countries.

You are responsible.

Now, I must admit no Latin American politician I know of has said
anything quite this harsh. In public, at least. But it's different in
private. Plenty are furious that their countries are portrayed as the
bad guys in the global drug trade when it is the prohibition regime we
insisted on, combined with demand for drugs here, that spawned the
narco-traffickers and drug lords and all the misery that goes with
them. Most of that misery is inflicted on Latin Americans, please remember.

But Latin American leaders have never felt free to say this in public
because prohibition is holy writ in American politics and those who
criticize it can expect to suffer the wrath of the U.S. government.
And that has always been enough to shut people up. Years ago, in an
interview with an aide to the president of Colombia, I interrupted the
aide's unenthusiastic recital of the official talking points about
fighting the drug trade and asked him whether basic economics --
demand creates supply -- means the whole effort is futile. He suddenly
got very enthusiastic. But, still, he was careful to express his
enthusiasm in the form of questions -- "Is this just like alcohol
prohibition in the 1920s? Is legalization the best way to reduce
organized crime?" -- that would allow him to deny having committed

Some Latin American politicians have broken the taboo in the past. But
they have always been retired politicians. Long retired. The sort of
politician who knows he's never going to run for office or hold a
major appointment again.

But that was before prohibition brought Afghanistan-scale war to

"We should consider legalizing the production, distribution, and sale
of drugs," Vicente Fox wrote recently. Fox, the president of Mexico
from 2000 to 2006, is another retired politician. But he is respected
at home and abroad, and his career is far from done.

Fox's bold statement didn't come from nowhere. Disgusted with the
seemingly endless violence, Mexicans are increasingly talking about
legalization as a way to undermine the drug gangs. It also helps that
Californians will vote Nov. 2 on a referendum to legalize marijuana.

No current leader has endorsed any form of legalization, but the
president of Costa Rica recently suggested it should be discussed and
debated. So did the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, and the
president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos -- both of whom are
law-and-order conservatives.

Of course, it's impossible to know what they believe in private, but
there is reason to think Santos, in particular, wants to do much more
than talk about legalization. In 1998, when Santos was the head of a
non-governmental organization, he signed an open letter that declared,
"We believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than
drug abuse itself," and called on United Nations secretary general
Kofi Annan to conduct "a frank and honest evaluation of global drug
control efforts."

Annan did not order that. Instead, the UN convened a summit at which
members promised to wipe out illicit drug production within 10 years.

Ten years later, there were more drugs than ever and Mexico was
descending into hell. Is it any wonder that growing numbers of Latin
Americans are sick of the whole thing?

But, as Calderon noted, Mexico cannot act alone. "If drugs are not
legalized in the world, or, if drugs are not legalized in the United
States, this is absurd because the price of drugs is not determined in
Mexico." The nations of the world are locked into prohibition. Only
together can they be released.

Many European countries would support a frank assessment of the status
quo and an exploration of alternatives. It's increasingly clear that
many in Latin America would join them.

Canada? Our politicians prefer to ignore the whole bloody mess and
pretend it's somebody else problem. It's not. It's our problem. And
our responsibility.
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MAP posted-by: Matt