Pubdate: Sun, 15 Apr 2012
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2012 Times Colonist
Author: Mark Kennedy


Resource development has power to change nation, Harper tells summit

CARTAGENA, Colombia - Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a pitch for
Canada's mining industry Saturday as Western Hemisphere leaders
gathered to discuss critical issues such as whether to decriminalize
the illegal drug trade.

In a speech to senior business executives, Harper said a strong mining
sector - assisted with a low-tax regime and environmental regulation
without excessive delays - can help the Canadian economy and provide a
lesson to the countries of Latin America.

"Resource development has vast power to change the way a nation
lives," he said.

The weekend Summit of the Americas kicked off Saturday and is being
attended by leaders from more than 30 nations, including Canada.

The talks this year include issues such as trade expansion and
reducing poverty in the Americas.

As well, many Latin American leaders argue the time has come that
after decades of being barred from the summit, Cuba should be invited
to the next gathering.

That runs 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, the escalating violence connected to drug cartels in Latin
America has some nations insisting it's time for a new approach -
perhaps a decriminalized system in which governments regulate how the
drugs are sold. They say this would remove the profits from the drug

To varying degrees, the leaders of Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico and
Costa Rica have spoken out in favour of why approaches other than
strict criminal crackdowns need to be explored.

But both Harper and Obama oppose the proposal, with a spokesman for
the prime minister saying he will be a "strong voice" against

The differing views were on full display Saturday at a panel of some
leaders who spoke to senior businessmen.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, host of the summit, said some
people in his country are calling for a new approach to the war on

"Sometimes we pedal and pedal and pedal, and we feel like we are on a
stationary bike," he said.

"I think the time has come to simply analyze if what we are doing is
the best we could be doing, or if we can find an alternative that
would be more effective and less costly to society. This is a topic of
extreme political sensitivity."

Santos added: "One extreme can be to put all users in prison. On the
other extreme, legalization. In the middle there may be more practical
policies, such as decriminalizing consumption but putting all the
efforts into interdiction."

Obama said he doesn't mind a debate, but made it clear his country has
a strong position on the issue.

"I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about
whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good in certain
places. I personally, and my administration's position is, that
legalization is not the answer."

Obama and Harper were intent on delivering firm messages about their
commitment to trade and investment in Latin America.

On Saturday morning, Harper delivered a speech to a gathering of chief
executive officers who had gathered for their own meeting just before
the launch of the politicians' summit.

Harper has been promoting Canada's plans to break through into Latin
America with more trade and investment. Already, in recent years,
Canadian mining companies have established many operations in the
region, and Harper devoted much of his speech to promoting the industry.
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