Should Latin America End the War on Drugs?

Stop Following a Failed Policy. In 1961 the international community signed a United Nations treaty that reflected an inter-governmental consensus on how to fight drugs all over the world. Basically, consensus was the following: drug consumption is very damaging for human beings, and best way for preventing this type of consumption is to prohibit the production, trafficking and use of drugs. Today, 51 years after reaching this consensus, something is pretty clear: drugs are prohibited but drugs continue to be consumed in quantities so large that the global market is calculated in hundreds of billions of dollars. In other words, global consensus is far from being successful. Actually, I prefer to call it what it really is: a failure. Unfortunately, global consensus failure is not just expressed in the existence of a huge and incredibly profitable drug market. Big money has also brought greater violence. So the drug market has both increased in its supply of dollars, as well as in its demand for blood. My home country, Guatemala, as well as other countries in Central America and the Caribbean are suffering this bloodshed, the same bloodshed that is present in many poor urban neighborhoods in United States, which affects disproportionately young black and Latino Americans. My government has called for an open dialogue on global drug policy based on a simple assumption: we cannot continue to expect different results if we continue to do same things. Something is wrong with our global strategy, and in order to know better what is wrong we need an evidence-based approach to drug policy and not an ideological one. This means that we need to evaluate rigorously what is impact of what we are doing, and analyze carefully what other policy options we can implement. Moving beyond ideology may involve discussing different policy alternatives. Some people may call for full-fledged liberalization of the drug market, as opposed to the current full-fledged prohibition scheme. I believe in a third way: drug regulation, which is a discrete and more nuanced approach that may allow for legal access to drugs currently prohibited, but using institutional and market-based regulatory frameworks. This third way may work best, but let us all be clear, only an evidence-based analysis will lead us to better policies. Half a century is enough time for assessing success or failure of a policy. Our children are demanding us to be responsible and to search for the best possible ways to protect them from drug abuse. Let us not waste our time anymore in doing what has proven to be wrong. While we deliver endless speeches on our commitment to a failed approach, young people are becoming drug addicts who won´t be treated by our health system, but by our criminal justice institutions. It is a sad story, I am convinced it doesn´t need to be this way. We can certainly do better than this. And, by all means, we have to.

Room for Debate:


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

One Response to Should Latin America End the War on Drugs?

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The approach taken in this piece by Latin American-US scholars is partially valid to deal with Brazil. The country’s illegal drug/crime question has two dimensions. First, the country is not in the forefront of the US ‘drug war’ that has shifted the costs of fighting it to drug producing/transshipping countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Central America. This has led the Brazilian elite and political leadership to a complacent and mistaken view of the real dimension of the problem. As a result, ANY Brazilian city today is insecure and dangerous for its inhabitants. Second, Brazil became a major consumer of illicit drugs. Money from drug cartels has infiltrated all levels of government i.e., security forces, justice system and politics. The political and judicial establishment is riddled with money from drug related organized crime. Rio de Janeiro of 2012 is Chicago of 1929.

    The old political thinking that crime is the result of the country’s income inequality is no longer valid.

    The solution for the illegal drug/crime and insecurity in Brazil must be concentrated into three areas: attractive wages and training of security forces; profound reform of a archaic/ineffective judicial system; and strong political leadership against crime. In politics/judiciary, fighting corruption is fighting drug/crime. Doing time in prison is the ONLY effective answer to it. Brazil is still a long way from doing that.


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