Pubdate: Fri, 13 Apr 2012
Source: Windsor Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Windsor Star
Author: Mark Kennedy


Cuba Policy May Also Rile Some

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is flying to a weekend summit 
in Colombia where his hard line on drugs will put him at odds with 
some Latin American leaders who are calling for debate over whether 
drug use should be decriminalized.

Harper's position on Cuba also could run afoul of a possible 
consensus by countries in central and South America.

Harper is attending the Summit of the Americas, a conference of 
leaders from 34 nations held every three years.

Talks this year will include such issues as trade expansion, and 
Harper will meet with senior business executives from Canada and 
elsewhere who are attending the summit to discuss investment in the 
Western Hemisphere.

As well, it's expected many Latin American leaders will argue the 
time has come, after decades of being barred from the summit, for 
Cuba to be invited to the next gathering. That will run counter to 
the firm positions of Canada and the United States, which insist Cuba 
should not be permitted to attend the next summit until the communist 
regime initiates democratic reforms. Another issue - illicit drugs - 
is top of mind for some leaders. The escalating violence connected to 
warring drug cartels in Latin America has some nations insisting it's 
time for a new approach: softer penalties for drug use or perhaps 
even a decriminalized system in which governments regulate how drugs are sold.

To varying degrees, the leaders of Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico and 
Costa Rica have spoken out in favour of exploring approaches other 
than the criminal to the problem of illegal drug use. But on 
Thursday, Harper's director of communications said Canada will argue 
strenuously against decriminalization of illegal drugs.

"The prime minister would be a strong voice in that debate," said 
Andrew Macdougall. "The government's strategy is, in fact, completely 
in the opposite direction.

"A key priority for us is to fight illicit drugs, particularly the 
transnational organizations that are behind the drug smuggling. Here 
at home, we have put in place tough new laws to crack down on these 
groups, to put drug dealers behind bars where they belong."

Critics of the "war on drugs" approach note Latin American drug 
cartels have grown more powerful as violence spreads throughout the 
region - claiming more than 50,000 lives in Mexico alone - and that 
drug use has increased in Canada and the U.S.

Some leaders are looking to this weekend's summit as a perfect 
opportunity to debate a question that was once taboo: Why not remove 
the profits of the cartels by making the drug trade a legal - but 
highly regulated - business?

Neither the Harper government nor President Barack Obama's 
administration welcome the option. The Obama administration says it 
is open to debate on the issue - if only to "demystify" 
decriminalization and show how it would make matters worse.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom