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


Latin America Leaders Differ on Decriminalization, Cuba

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 a 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 that is held every three years. The 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 positions of Canada and the U.S., which 
insist Cuba should not be permitted to attend the next summit until 
the communist regime initiates democratic reforms.

Meanwhile, 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 the 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.

On Thursday, though, 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," Andrew 
Macdougall said. "The government's strategy is, in fact, completely 
in the opposite direction.

Critics of the so-called ' war on drugs' approach note that Latin 
American drug cartels have grown more powerful as violence spreads 
throughout the region. Suddenly, some leaders are looking to this 
weekend's summit in Cartagena, Colombia as a perfect opportunity to 
begin debate on 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?

Among those speaking for decriminalization is Guatemala's president 
Otto Perez Molina, the former head of his country's intelligence service.

In an opinion article that appeared earlier this week in the British 
newspaper The Guardian, he outlined the merits of ending prohibition. 
"We all agree that drugs are bad for our health and that therefore we 
have to concentrate on impeding their consumption, just as we combat 
alcoholism and tobacco addiction."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom