Central America Considers Pulling Out of US War on Drugs

On July 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs”. The President said that drug abuse was “public enemy number one”.

That was over forty years ago. Since then, the levels of addiction, trafficking and violence has continued to rise. If drug abuse is public enemy number one then it is safe to say that the United States is losing its war on drugs. Fortunately for them, they are not the ones suffering from this war. Latin America has suffered most and many leaders of the region have come to realize that the war on drugs is a slow, painful, self-destructive march. Fighting the United States’ war has caused thousands upon thousands of casualties in this region. The President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, hosted a meeting of Central American Leaders in Antigua, Guatemala to begin discussions about decriminalizing, legalizing and regulating drugs and the drug trade.

The idea is to establish a regional policy that would not only legalize the consumption of drugs but also regulate trade across the region. The Presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua did not attend the meeting. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, represented Belize. No consensus was reached at the meeting but the issue is now on the table. It has also been tabled for discussion at the upcoming Summit of the Americas by Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos. Belize has not released a statement about the meeting in Antigua, Guatemala but Minister Elrington said in an interview with 7 News: “The United States regards the whole question of drug trafficking as a national security threat, a threat to their national security, and that no useful discussion could really be taken by the countries of the region on this subject without the presence of the United States.”

The United States Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Maria Otero, was in Belize for a two-day visit on March 28 and 29. She was asked about the United States’ position on the meeting held in Guatemala about drug legalization. She said that the United States does not believe that decriminalization of drugs is the answer to the region’s problems. However, that was the answer for the United States when illegal alcohol trade was causing the same problems in the 1920’s.

A war was declared on alcohol in the early part of the 1900’s. Opposition to alcohol manufacturing and consumption grew and those against it regarded alcohol the way people today view heroin: as an inherently addicting substance. They preached that moderate consumption of alcohol eventually led to addiction. They began a prohibition movement and lobbied parliamentarians by financing election campaigns to get votes in Congress. By 1917, both houses of Congress had voted to prohibit the manufacture, sale, transportation, import, or export of intoxicating liquor. The prohibitionists celebrated their accomplishment as the end of immorality and the dawn of prosperity. Harry G. Levine and Craig Reinarman published a paper in 2004 entitled “Alcohol Prohibition and Drug Prohibition: Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy.”In that piece, they wrote, “Prohibitionists were utopian moralists; they believed that eliminating the legal manufacture and sale of alcoholic drink would solve the major social and economic problems of American society.”

In reality, prohibition did more harm than good. It was openly violated and alcohol was readily available. Prohibition caused the price of alcohol to skyrocket and the risks to increase. It led to the emergence of bootleggers, rum runners and liquor smugglers. The government spent money on an alcohol task force and many were arrested for consumption and trafficking of alcohol. However, consumption did not decrease. Instead, people turned to more powerful substances and the unregulated trade became deadly. People turned from beer and consumed more wines and spirits. Cheaper but poisonous alcohol made its way on the market. The society became more lawless and it was clear that prohibition was a failed policy.

On March 13, 1933, a few days after he was sworn in as president, Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to decriminalize alcohol and insert regulation laws to provide needed tax revenue. The Great Depression had sunk the economy. Those who lobbied for the decriminalization argued that alcohol manufacturing and trade would provide jobs, stimulate the economy, increase tax revenue, and reduce crime associated with illegal trade. Levine and Reinarman wrote, “Within two years of repeal, nearly every state had an agency to supervise the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages, and alcohol had ceased to be a controversial and politically- charged issue.”

Now that the legalization of drugs is being openly discussed by Heads of States of this region, it is time for the wider society to weigh the pros and cons of such an action.

– Original article from The El Guardian.