Pubdate: Sun, 15 Apr 2012
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Christi Parsons and Matea Gold


Leaders at the Summit of the Americas Want to Discuss What They 
Consider a Failed Policy

CARTAGENA, Colombia - President Obama sought Saturday to emphasize 
the robust economic relationship between the United States and Latin 
America, and he flatly ruled out legalizing drugs as a way to combat 
the illegal trafficking that has ravaged the region.

Facing calls at a regional summit to consider decriminalization, 
Obama said he is open to a debate about drug policy, but he believes 
that legalization could lead to greater problems in countries hardest 
hit by drug-fueled violence.

"Legalization is not the answer," Obama told other hemispheric 
leaders at the two-day Summit of the Americas.

"The capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain 
countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any 
constraint could be just as corrupting, if not more corrupting, than 
the status quo," he said.

Obama told Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, host of the 
summit, that he is willing to discuss whether American drug laws are 
"doing more harm than good in certain places."

Santos wants the 33 countries participating in the summit to consider 
alternatives to what many leaders consider the failed war on drugs, 
possibly including regulating marijuana and even cocaine the way that 
alcohol and tobacco are.

Other leaders also have urged such a dialogue despite the political 
discomfort it may cause Obama in an election year.

"In spite of all the efforts, the illicit drug business is still 
buoyant, drug addiction in all countries is a serious public health 
issue, and drug trafficking is still the main provider of funding for 
violence and terrorism," Santos said. "An in-depth discussion around 
this topic is needed, without any biases or dogmas, taking into 
consideration the different scenarios and possible alternatives to 
more effectively face this challenge."

The focus on drug trafficking - as well as a scandal involving 
alleged misconduct by Secret Service agents and military personnel - 
threatened to overshadow Obama's main mission in Colombia: touting 
the benefits of a strong economic relationship across the hemisphere.

"I think that oftentimes in the press the attention in summits like 
this ends up focusing on, 'Where are the controversies?'" Obama said 
during a morning session.

Some of those issues seem "caught in a time warp, going back to the 
1950s and gunboat diplomacy and Yanquis and the Cold War, and this 
and that and the other," he said. "That's not the world we live in today."

He praised a recently negotiated trade agreement with Colombia as a "win-win."

He did not say whether Colombia has met the terms of a labor rights 
plan that Congress set last year as a condition of passage of the 
agreement. The trade accord was strongly opposed by union leaders, 
who complained of the dangerous conditions facing members of 
organized labor in Colombia.

Obama avoided confrontations with the region's most anti-American 
leaders. Cuba's president, Raul Castro, was not invited to the 
summit. And Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, who is highly 
critical of U.S. policy, abruptly canceled plans to attend.

Chavez, who suffers from cancer, will travel to Cuba instead for 
radiation therapy, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said on state TV.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom