Pubdate: Fri, 13 Apr 2012
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2012 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Mark Kennedy


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 countries 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 Americas.

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 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 countries 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."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 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 countries such 
as Canada and the United States.

Suddenly, some leaders are looking to this weekend's summit in 
Cartagena 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?

That's not an option being welcomed either by the Harper government, 
or by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom