August 26, 2010
The violence in Mexico, made worse by the massacre of 72 immigrants at the hands of alleged drug traffickers, was cited by various conference participants as an example of the failure of the current drug policy. Alternative policies were supported in the conference.
"The fact that drug policy is conceived of as a war on drugs is what has provoked the escalating violence in Mexico," said Juan Machín, director of the Cáritas Training Center, an organization that treats drug addicts in Mexico City.
"We believe that it is necessary to adopt non-repressive security policies. Our countries understand very well the deadly consequences of the militarization of conflicts, such as that which Mexico is experiencing today," said Argentinian Graciela Touzé, president of the Intercambios Civil Association.
According to Touzé, despite the fact that in some countries in the region there is a discourse that recognizes the failure of the war on drugs, that discourse still hasn't translated into concrete policies that treat drug users and end the violence.
Machín told EFE that Mexican President Felipe Calderón committed one of his worst errors when he sent the military to the streets because he conceived of it as a "war" instead of a struggle against drugs.
"The perverse effect that militarization has had is that it has generated a bigger wave of violence, and the President's decision to not back down has provoked an almost exponential increase in violence. We began with some 2,000 murders per year, and in 2009 we had 8,000. We now have a total of almost 30,000 deaths [since Calderón first deployed the military in late 2006]," said Machín.
The expert believes that the situation could get even worse if that policy doesn't change. "And the president [Calderón] is in up to his neck and won't change course. It is having a very high political cost, but he knows that if he backs down it will have a worse political cost, because it would mean admitting that his policy is a disaster," he added.
According to Machín, rather than a war, Mexico needs a comprehensive policy to combat drug trafficking that includes economic and social measures to reduce poverty and unemployment, a security policy that is based in intelligence work and prevention, harm reduction, and even legalization.
"Ending the drug problem with a stick, be it through the police or militarily, the most that will be achieved is a small degree of reduction. As long as social problems go unresolved, there will not be a solution," agreed Colombian economist Francisco Thoumi, the author of multiple books on drug trafficking.
"This is why the infamous war on drugs has gone on for 40 years, and every time there's some sort of gain, the industry adapts and evolves," said Thoumi, an investigator with the Center for the Study of Drugs and Crime at the University of Rosario.
According to Thoumi, the problem is that in countries such as Colombia and Mexico, it became acceptable that some groups violated the law, and society ended up tolerating corruption and criminality.
"Without a doubt, palliative policies can be improved, and one could talk about the possible effectiveness of militarization or the effectiveness of marijuana legalization, but as long as social vulnerabilities are not identified, there won't be a solution," he said.
Luiz Paulo Guanabara, director of the Brazilian Center for Drug Policy, argued that any policy that insists on militarization and the criminalization of drugs is doomed to fail.
"Those policies only produce violence, like in Mexico, where it is already intolerable," he said.
Translated by Kristin Bricker