Civil Society, Development & Aid, Global Governance, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

LATIN AMERICA: Peru Urges Regional Alliance Against Drug Trade

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Sep 27 2010 (IPS) - The nations of Latin America must ally themselves — regardless of their roles as drug producers, consumers or transit routes — in a full-force fight against drug trafficking, says Peru, which plans to lead the way.

Preparing for the regional anti-drug summit. Credit: Courtesy of DEVIDA

Preparing for the regional anti-drug summit. Credit: Courtesy of DEVIDA

The Peruvian government will lay out its plans at the 20th meeting of the Heads of National Drug Law Enforcement Agencies (HONLEA) of Latin America and the Caribbean, Oct. 4-7 in Lima.

Rómulo Pizarro, head of Peru’s National Commission for Drug-Free Development and Life (DEVIDA), told IPS that the meeting delegates would analyse all areas of the fight against organised crime groups dedicated to the illicit drug trade.

“While we sit down to discuss how to confront narco-trafficking, the criminal organisations continue to transform incredibly quickly, sometimes getting ahead of our new strategies,” said Peru’s anti-drug “czar,” in charge of organising the HONLEA event.

“At the meeting we will analyse narco-trafficking as a globalised phenomenon, one that requires a faster response of the same scope. We can no longer focus the fight in terms of drug producer and consumer countries because organised crime does not make those distinctions,” said Pizarro.

“We can’t just look to the United States with respect to defining anti-drug policies, more so because the trends indicate that most of the cocaine production is destined for Europe,” said the DEVIDA director.


“It is the Latin American countries that should shape the plan from our perspective and convene a meeting of combined efforts,” he said.

Experts from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) consulted by IPS go a step further, and argue that the failure of the anti-drugs fight is due precisely to the repressive policies imposed by Washington in Latin America.

Ricardo Soberón, director of the non-governmental Centre for Drugs and Human Rights Research, said that the latest manifestation of that failure is the militarisation of the anti-drug fight in Mexico, which has resulted in massive bloodshed.

“The militarist and interventionist trend” is convenient for the United States, but “is a strategy that has failed in Afghanistan and Colombia,” said Soberón, who is among the growing number of voices in the region which argue that the way towards resolving the problem is to legalise drug consumption.

HONLEA is a United Nations forum that brings together the heads of drug policies from 34 countries in the region, as well as delegates from Canada and United States, and other continents of the world.

The latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) indicates that the number of cocaine users in the world increased from 13.3 million to 17.2 million between 2005 and 2010. The United States and Canada are the only ones to see a decline in cocaine, but other illicit drugs replaced it.

Pizarro explained that until the 1990s, three-quarters of the cocaine produced in Peru was destined for the United States, and most of the rest went to Europe. But the situation has inverted, and now Europe is the biggest market.

“However, most of the anti-narcotics cooperation continues to be from the United States. We need a more decisive contribution from Europe,” said the official.

According to Coletta Youngers, an expert on the issue from the non- governmental Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), the United States has exported its “war on drugs” to Latin America, with the economic assistance and benefits conditioned on the countries’ collaboration in the so- called war.

The U.S. government has provided technical, economic and intelligence assistance for the military and legislation to confront the narcotics trade, but Youngers stressed that it is increasingly clear that those programmes have been a complete failure.

Regional production of poppies for heroin has fallen in the last decade, but production of coca for cocaine remains stable — and high. Apart from its failure in practical terms, the policy imposed by Washington has resulted in “much collateral damage” in the region, which has led the region’s governments to question that approach and seek alternatives, said Youngers.

Pizarro gave assurances that the perspectives of the NGOs would be taken up at the HONLEA meeting. “All of the voices will be heard, because that is the purpose: evaluate, exchange opinions and reach agreements,” he said.

According to the UNOCD, of the 158,800 hectares of coca crops growing in the region, 43 percent are in Colombia, 38 percent in Peru and 19 percent in Bolivia.

Military and police aid from the United States is concentrated in Colombia, a fact that Peru’s President Alan García underscored in a recent interview in the U.S. media, in which he expressed willingness to receive similar assistance from Washington.

García said he was not getting into questions of sovereignty or patriotism, and that if the U.S. wanted to provide access to military training, helicopters and satellites, now is the time. “We are fighting against a universal scourge. It is like chasing a dictator, or a predator of public goods, or an assassin without borders,” he said.

In Soberón’s opinion, in contrast, the decline in U.S. and European cooperation in fighting narco-trafficking provides an opportunity “for an in- depth review of our obligations and our policies.”

The region’s policies “should reflect our priorities, not those of Washington or Brussels,” said the expert.

WOLA’s Youngers believes that García’s desire for Washington’s assistance contradicts a tendency in Latin America towards seeking solutions outside the U.S. shadow, and that this new reality should have an impact on the HONLEA agenda.

“There are countries that continue to rely on Washington to define and finance their drug control programmes, like Peru. However, the regional trend is to seek regional alliances and greater independence from Washington,” she said.

Youngers cited the strength of regional debate on alternative approaches and the fact that countries like Argentina and Ecuador are discussing changes to their drug laws. She stressed that Bolivia has a new coca policy that has been more successful in controlling this drug crop than forced eradication has been.

“In many ways, Latin America is much more advanced than the United States in finding drug policies that are less harmful, more humane and more effective,” she said.

Soberón added yet another element: “Our priority is the 60,000 farmers and their families dedicated to growing coca leaf, not the dictates of Washington.”

 
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