Pubdate: Fri, 13 Apr 2012
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2012 The Edmonton Journal
Author: Mark Kennedy


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 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.

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.

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.

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.

"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 so-called "war on drugs" approach note that 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 only increased in rich nations such as 
Canada and the United States.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom