Pubdate: Tue, 20 Dec 2011
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2011 The Washington Post Company
Author: William Booth


MEXICO CITY - Latin American leaders have joined together to condemn 
the U.S. government for soaring drug violence in their countries, 
blaming the United States for the transnational cartels that have 
grown rich and powerful smuggling dope north and guns south.

Alongside official declarations, Latin American governments have 
expressed growing disgust for U.S. drug consumers - both the addict 
and the weekend recreational user heedless of the misery and 
destruction stemming from their pleasures.

"Our region is seriously threatened by organized crime, but there is 
very little responsibility taken by the drug-consuming countries," 
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said at a December meeting of Latin 
leaders in Caracas. Colom said the hemisphere was paying the price 
for drug consumption in the United States with "our blood, our fear 
and our human sacrifice."

With transit countries facing some of the highest homicide rates in 
the world, so great is the frustration that the leaders are demanding 
that the United States and Europe consider steps toward legalization 
if they do not curb their appetite for drugs.

At a regional summit this month in Mexico, attended by the leaders of 
11 Latin American and Caribbean countries, officials declared that 
"the authorities in consumer countries should explore all possible 
alternatives to eliminate exorbitant profits of criminals, including 
regulatory or market options."

"Market options" is diplomatic code for decriminalization.

The complaints are not exactly new but are remarkable for being 
nearly unanimous. The critique comes from sitting presidents left to 
right, from persistent U.S. antagonists such as President Hugo Chavez 
of Venezuela, and from close U.S. allies such as President Juan 
Manuel Santos of Colombia, which has received almost $9 billion in 
aid to fight the cartels.

'Rethinking' the war on drugs

The criticism has been bolstered by opinion leaders in the region, 
including the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, who 
called for the legalization of marijuana and an overhaul of U.S. 
thinking on the 40-year drug war, which has cost a trillion dollars 
by some estimates but has done little to reduce supply and demand.

Senior Obama administration officials say the resentment is 
understandable, given that the production and transit countries are 
shouldering more of the violence, but they say the rhetorical attacks 
against the United States are misdirected.

"I refuse to accept that there has not been progress" in the fight 
against drug trafficking and consumption, said William R. Brownfield, 
assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International 
Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug 
Control Policy, said there has been a sustained reduction in demand 
for cocaine in the United States. According to the 2009 National 
Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of Americans aged 12 and 
older who are current users of cocaine has dropped by 21 percent 
since 2007. The purity of seized cocaine is down; prices are up.

"No one single issue drives this global drug problem," Brownfield 
said. "Everybody plays his role, everybody shares responsibility."

Yet while cocaine use may have declined in the United States in the 
past few years, it is surging in Europe and Asia. In the United 
States, seizures of methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana are 
increasing, and the most recent health surveys found that American 
10th-graders are more likely to smoke pot than tobacco.

"The biggest challenge faced by many Latin American countries is the 
rising threat of organized crime funded by U.S. drug consumption. 
That is without a doubt," said Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow 
Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.

Lack of political will

"But the cruel irony is that drug violence is down in the United 
States, and so it is hard to build a political constituency that 
wants to do much more to help Latin America," he said.

Leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean say that the United States 
is not only responsible for the cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and 
marijuana that moves north, but also - far more dangerous to them - 
the bulk cash profits and military-style weapons that flow south.

One of the most outspoken critics of U.S. drug consumption has been 
Mexico's center-right President Felipe Calderon, a U.S. ally in a 
drug war that has left some 45,000 dead in Mexico.

"We are next to the largest illegal drug market in the world," 
Calderon said in September at a public dinner held in his honor by 
the Council of the Americas in Washington. "We are living in the same 
building, and our neighbor is the largest consumer of drugs in the 
world and everyone wants to sell him drugs through our door and our window."

The United States has provided Mexico with almost $700 million of $2 
billion in promised aid, including Black Hawk helicopters, police 
trainers, sophisticated eavesdropping technologies and a mountain of 
classified drug intelligence, from snitches to drones.

Presidents from Bolivia to Mexico say that the U.S. government is 
failing to control the nation's hunger for narcotics, even as U.S. 
politicians lecture Latin American nations on how to confront their 
problems of criminal impunity, official corruption and failed institutions.

"All the money, regardless how much it is multiplied, and all the 
blood, no matter how much is spilled" will not stop the drug trade 
"as long as the north continues consuming," said Nicaragua President 
Daniel Ortega.

Latin American leaders zeroed in on what they see as glaring 
contradictions in U.S. law, which allows for-profit dispensaries to 
legally sell "medical marijuana," while at the same time marijuana 
growers south of the border are hunted down by the military.

"If all you're doing is sending our citizens to prison while in other 
places the market is legalized, then we must ask: Is not it time to 
review the global strategy against drugs?" said Colombian President 
Juan Manuel Santos.

"I wonder if the world's eighth-largest economy, California, which so 
successfully promotes its modern technology, movies and fine wines, 
will allow the importation of marijuana into their own market," Santos said.

At the summit in Venezuela's capital this month, Ortega suggested 
that the group "monitor and rate" anti-drug efforts by the United 
States, just as the U.S. State Department does for the region.

In another forum, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla proposed 
that the United States reimburse the transit countries.

"Our region is victim of the brutal onslaught of organized crime, 
which jeopardizes the safety of our population and attacks the 
foundations of our democracy," Chinchilla said. "I propose the 
creation of a fund that would oblige countries with drug users to pay 
a kind of fee for every kilo of cocaine intercepted in the Isthmus.

"We speak of a drug-trafficking route that moves about a hundred 
billion dollars a year, culminating in the world's largest market and 
biggest consumer of these substances, the United States," said El 
Salvador President Mauricio Funes, who added that the United States 
had a "moral responsibility" to do more.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom