Friday, April 13, 2012

Give Obama a Drug Policy Update

Obama in El Tiempo. 
"We're making progress, and we're not going to give up."

"We'll increase cooperation so that the drug cartels and narcotraffickers have no place to hide."

"The United States is not going to legalize or depenalize drugs, because doing so would have grave consequences for all of our nations, in terms of public health and security. What is more, legalizing or depenalizing drugs wouldn't eliminate the danger created by international organized crime." - Barack Obama in today's El Tiempo, but Richard Nixon might have said the same things 40 years of the War on Drugs ago.

In his huge front page interview in today's El Tiempo, U.S. Pres. Barack Obama sounds like he hasn't noticed this millenium - at least as far as the War on Drugs is concerned.

Many Latin Americans whose nations have been wracked by drug violence, including Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos, hope that leaders will debate the U.S.-backed drug war's impacts during this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Cartagena. But Obama makes it clear that the U.S. won't permit any real experimentation on drug policy. Time magazine's Tim Padgett gives a good explanation of drug policy here.

If Obama thinks we've made progress in a global way on drugs, I wish he'd point out where. Sure, violence has dropped in Colombia, but it's soared in parts of Mexico and Central America; Cocaine consumption has declined in the United States - but it's increased in Europe and other regions; and the U.S. has been hit by epidemics of methamphetamines and other synthetic drugs.

Obama's comments supporting excluding Cuba from the summit make more sense. Cuba is a dictatorship which tramples basic human rights such as free speech, and the freedoms to travel and elect one's leaders. Giving it a seat at the table with democratically elected leaders would legitimize dictatorship and repression. On the other hand, trade with the hemisphere's last communist relic can benefit common Cubans and open the country to new ideas, as seems to be happening in China.
Obama is talking not only as U.S. president, but as a presidential candidate who knows he'd get slammed by Republicans if he dared to suggest a retreat in the War on Drugs. But, hopefully Obama will win a second term in November, and then be able to try more flexibility on failed drug policies. That's because, as cautious as Obama has been in this and other areas, Republican Mitt Romney would be far more closed to change. 

The Cartagena summit has generated a series of flattering news stories about Colombia larded with descriptions such as 'miracle' and 'rising' and 'reinvents itself.'

But, while there's truth in that, it's also true that Colombia still has an armed conflict going on, close to half of its population living in poverty and an unjustifiably high homicide rate.

Colombia has come a long way, but has a long way to go.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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