Supply reduction and violence
Dan Werb, a researcher at the Urban Health Initiative of the Center for Excellence in HIV / AIDS in British Columbia and the International Center for Science in Drug Policy in Canada, dedicated his plenary to the scientific analysis of the principles upon which the current system of drug control are laid. Mr. Werb said that far from reality and theory, “it is not certain that the adoption of repressive policies aimed to control supply have a positive impact in reducing illicit drug availability or ensures the decline in violence related to the production, trafficking and consumption of substances”.
Werb also stated that the reality of the North American region illustrates how these policies have produced mixed effects ranging from the displacement of drug production centers, the variation of the routes of international traffic and increasing the availability illicit drug-related violence and subsequent to them. The Canadian researcher highlighted the costs of such policies for producing and transit countries, rescuing the case of nations such as Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, where the ravages of the audit have been felt more strongly since the United States adopted control measures strictly under the first Bush administration, and that of Guinea Bissau in West Africa, where they move unimaginable amounts of money (about 11 billion dollars a year) on account of trafficking cocaine to Western Europe and Russia.
Alvaro Henry Campos, Vice Minister of Justice and Public Safety in El Salvador, said the violence related to drug trafficking and consumption has plagued Latin America for many years now. In this regard, a group particularly affected by the violence have been drug users who have mostly felt repressive policies from the State. Therefore, he considered necessary to avert the violence towards the consumer and direct more effective action to punish traffickers who threaten the legitimacy of the institutions.
On the other hand, Luis González Plasencia, President of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City, urged governments in the region to change the look off the drug war approach to one based on human rights, with respect to freedom and dignity. He criticized the prohibitionist strategy that has been promoted globally since the sixties, with direct consequences particularly for groups that have historically been vulnerable such as children, youth and women.
Felipe Maghalaes, member of the Pacificadora Police Unit in Rio de Janeiro presented a program that has proven effective in a much troubled city historically affected by gangs and drug cartels. “There was a need to return to the original concept of citizen police”, he said, where the effects have contributed to increased rates of violence in the region. “The police must be based on social and community vision, with a view to rebuilding trust among citizens and enabling integration of the community” he concluded.
It is clear that much is lacking in order to include a true perspective of human rights in a comprehensive policy on drugs. Talking about human rights is not only encouraged to respect the freedom of the individual or demilitarize the war on drugs but we must also consider it in a cross-cutting manner taking into account the various vulnerable groups that are affected by any policy.
Latin America in the international context
This panel stressed that the war on drugs can not be seen as a reasonable drug policy and member States of the United Nations should urgently review it. On that remark, the World Health Organization and the UNAIDS made it clear that their position was in favor of closing all existing treatment centers that do not observe human rights and/or are not based on objective evidence.
David Holiday, Director for the Latin America Programe of the Open Society Foundation, said Obama’s administration has not changed much its rethoric about anti-drug policy. Moreover, the discourse in Washington continues to see Colombia as a successful strategy that should be replicated. However, he admitted Obama’s complex situation because with a Republican majority in Congress that will promote the continuation of eradication and interdiction in the absence of options that are viable in the eyes of public opinion.
Lastly, Mike Trace, Chairman of the Board to the International Drug Policy Consortium, stressed that a reality is that any prohibition creates markets that are otherwise covered by organized crime. Thus, lack of regulation fosters more and better organized criminal organizations. Moreover, the "balloon effect" where countries not previously suffering from the war against drugs, are now extremely concerned, must be taken into account, he said. Therefore, “the crisis is obvious to the Western world”, Mr. Trace explained, there is a threat whose transverse line is the lack of interest in participating in the standard way of life because people large sectors of the population are economically marginalized. The implication for Latin American governments to maintain or not maintain a relationship with the U.S. strategy is an extremely important issue. Thus, it is essential to call the debate on the reform of the systems, particularly in Latin America.