Pubdate: Fri, 13 Apr 2012
Source: Nanaimo Daily News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 Nanaimo Daily News
Author: Mark Kennedy


Latin American leaders consider decriminalization policy

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 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. "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 nations such as
Canada and the United States.

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?

That's not an option being welcomed either by the Harper government,
or by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration.

The Obama administration says it is open to a debate on the issue - if
only to "demystify" decriminalization as an option and show that such
a move would backfire and make matters worse.
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