Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Hay Festival: Culture and Drug Policy

The Hay Festival which just ended in Cartagena is an annual celebration of literature, dance, gastronomy and other culture from all over the world. But this year, with much of Latin America wracked by drug-fueled violence, it also carried a subtext about how to address the regional plague.
Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes.

No More Violence
The 2012 festival was headlined by Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes, who has spoken out frequently against prohibitionism, which many blame for his nation's soaring violent crime.

"Mexico's policy doesn't end the problem, but worsen's it and makes it insolvable," Fuentes said, who supports gradual drug depenalization beginning with marijuana. "It involves opening an a subject area in which drugs are consumed but aren't a crime, and trafficking ends because it's not profitable anymore."

But the most prominent speaker on drugs was undoubtedly Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos, who made clear that he supports drug depenalization - but only if Colombia has an international consensus behind it.

Massacred migrants in Mexico.
"That solution would be acceptable for Colombia if the whole world accepts it," said Santos (asking for a lot). But for Colombia to go it alone would mean making itself an economic and political pariah.

"We must seek alternatives," Santos added, "because narcotrafficking finances all the illegal groups."
Juan Manuel Santos

Those illegal groups include Colombia's guerrillas, paramilitaries and narcos, as well as the cartels which have turned some Mexican cities into slaughterhouses and created gangs in Brazil, Venezuela and the Caribbean. A recent study found that 40 of the world's 50 most violent cities were in the Americas. (Five of those cities were Colombian, Cali ranking in 11th place. Bogotá was not in the top 50.)

"This subject cannot continue being taboo," Santos asserted.

Nicaraguan novelist
Sergio Ramirez.
Nicaraguan novelist Sergio Ramirez observed that "Central America occupies a tragic position: geographically, it's a bridge for drugs from south to the north and we can't move from there...Just as Mexico experienced a 'Colombianization,' Central America is now being 'Mexicanized.'

For a really strong statement backing drug depenalization, read this statement on the Colombian presidential website. It's striking to me. A position which used to be only whispered in hallways is now out in the open. But will policy follow reasoning?

"Colombia has perhaps been the nation which has suffered most fighting against narcotrafficking. It's cost us our best leaders, journalists, judges and police."

A Botero painting
condemning violence.
Santos then compares the War on Drugs to pedaling a stationary bicycle, and then goes on to recall his time as Colombian defense minister, when he worked with the U.S. D.E.A. and defined 'success' as raising drug prices in U.S. cities. However, Santos observes, those higher prices only made the illegal business even more profitable for those who got their drug shipments thru.

"Take the profits away from organized crime, and maybe take these profits for the state in order to carry out campaigns against consumption, are some practical solutions, which I believe that if adopted on an international level could be effective," Santos said.

Not long ago, these were radical opinions seen only in alternative publications. But here they are expressed by a conservative president of one of the nations which has made the greatest efforts and suffered the most in the War on Drugs.

If some of the novelists and other writers who attended the Hay Festival have their way, perhaps drug decriminalization will change from fiction to fact.  

Here's El Tiempo newspaper's editorial: Drug's Legalization and Taboos

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours


free said...

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Miguel said...

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