NEW YORK – Three former Latin American presidents are advocating a new approach to battling the trade in illegal drugs.
"The war on drugs has failed," Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Mexico's Ernesto Zedillo say in a piece published Monday on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal, calling for "more humane and efficient drug policies" based on "public health."
The editorial includes the conclusions of a report prepared by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, of which the three ex-presidents are members.
The report, presented in Rio de Janeiro on Feb. 11, suggests treating drug consumption as a public-health problem, so that authorities can concentrate on eradicating cartels instead of pursuing users and street-level dealers.
At the same time, Cardoso, Gaviria and Zedillo defend in their article the importance of creating informative campaigns about drug use among the public in order to attack the problem at its roots, as was done with tobacco.
The ex-presidents believe that the policy of repression and criminalization of consumption practiced in recent decades has failed both in eradicating the habit and in combating the trafficking rings.
"The alarming power of the drug cartels is leading to a criminalization of politics and a politicization of crime. And the corruption of the judicial and political system is undermining the foundations of democracy in several Latin American countries," the three men wrote in the Journal.
Cardoso, Gaviria and Zedillo cite data showing Latin America as the biggest exporter of cocaine and marijuana in the world and they contend that reaching the goal of eradicating drugs is more distant than ever.
Violence related to the war on drugs claimed more than 5,600 lives in Mexico last year, and the pace of killings has only accelerated in the first two months of 2009.
In Colombia, the defeat of major trafficking organizations such as the Medellin and Cali cartels allowed right-wing militias and leftist rebels to effectively take over the lucrative trade. EFE