Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cesar Gaviria's Quixotic Campaign

Cesar Gaviria

Colombian ex-President Cesar Gaviria has been carrying on something of a speaking campaign against drug prohibition. The other week, he, Mexican author Carlos Fuentes and others argued in favor of drug depenalization at El Tiempo's symposium celebrating its 100 years of existence. (Will newspapers see another century? Another half century?)

Carlos Fuentes
With guys like these, as well as ex-presidents of Brazil and Mexico, who should know something about drug problems, broaching the subject, one might hope that some major world political figure would grab the idea and run with it. After all, gay marriage, abortion rights, environmentalism, tobacco control laws and other causes which seemed fantastical a few years or decades ago are now public policy in many nations and firmly in the public debate in many others.

Bogotá DAS HQ bombed by Escobar
If anybody's seen the damage from the drug trade it's Gaviria, Colombia's president from 1990 to '94, when drug cartels terrorized Colombia and cocaine made Pablo Escobar one of the world's richest and most violent men. Escobar killed Liberal presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan and, when Gaviria succeeded him as the Liberal candidate, tried to kill Gaviria as well by bombing a passenger airplane. Under Gaviria's watch, U.S. and Colombian police hunted down and killed Escobar in 1993.

So, you'd hope that at least one major figure, such as a European president or prime minister, or at least a health minister, would seize the flage of drug decriminalization and wave it. But if it's happened, I haven't heard about it (besides Holland and Portugal, which don't make much noise.) Prohibitionism has patently failed, and the alternative is out there, just waiting to be grabbed.

Apparently, many leaders, like Gaviria, wait until they're out of office to come out of the closet as supporters of decriminalization.

What really frustrates me is my belief that many national leaders, probably including U.S. Pres. Obama, ex-U.K. P.M. Tony Blair and others must certainly recognize that the War on Drugs has failed, but won't say so. They are war leaders, after all, and admitting defeat in any war, even a lost one, just doesn't look good.

The U.S. just announced that it's cutting Plan Colombia aid. That's sensible. But it doesn't likely mean a reassesment of its goals here.

Update: Ex-President Ernesto Samper has also called for drug decriminalization.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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