In a recent interview with Metro, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says he would support worldwide legalization of "softer drugs" such as marijuana "provided everyone does it at the same time." He cannot act on his own, he says, "because for Colombia, this is a matter of national security." Since "drug trafficking is what finances the violence and the irregular groups in our country," Santos explains, "I would be crucified if I took the first step." At the same time, he emphasizes that "the world needs to discuss new approaches. We are basically still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years."
Coming from a front-line drug warrior, these comments are significant. Latin American politicians have long complained that the demand for drugs in the United States leads to violence, corruption, and disorder in their countries. But lately the emphasis has been shifting from the demand for drugs to the laws that make it a crime to supply them, thereby delivering a highly lucrative business into the hands of armed thugs. Last week, for instance, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who launched a bloody crackdown on his country's drug cartels when he took office in December 2006, had this exchange with Time's Peter Hapak:
Is it true that you would like to see America legalize drugs?
I can hit the criminals, I can put them in jails, I can take control of their structures, I can rebuild the social fabric. But if Americans don't reduce the demand or don't reduce at least the profits coming from the black market for drugs, it will be impossible to solve this problem.
So the answer is yes?
I want to see a serious analysis of the alternatives, and one alternative is to explore the different legal regimes about drugs.
Meanwhile, a leading candidate to replace Calderon says he would de-escalate Mexico's drug war, which has led to more than 40,000 deaths since 2006. Santiago Creel, a former interior minister who is seeking the nomination of the ruling National Action Party, tells Reuters "the direct, frontal, expansive strategy is a strategy that should end with this administration." Instead of a military solution, "he said priority should be given to attacking cartels' revenue streams, cracking down on money laundering and cleaning up Mexico's prisons, where top criminals are often able to continue running their crime gangs on the outside."
While Creel promises merely a less violent crackdown, Santos seems to be moving toward the position of his predecessor Cesar Gaviria (Colombia's president from 1990 to 1994), one of the politicians behind the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which in June issued a report that recommended decriminalizing drug use and suggested some governments might experiment with legalized supply as well. The commission also includes Ernesto Zedillo and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former presidents of Mexico and Brazil, respectively.
[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]