VP Biden Visiting Latin America Amid Drug Legalization Debate


Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer
Vice President Joe Biden will get an earful from Latin American presidents who are weary of the failed War On Drugs

​Vice President Joe Biden is heading to Mexico and Honduras on Sunday in the midst of rapidly escalating demands by Latin American leaders that legalization should be included among the options for reducing drug-related violence, crime and mayhem.

The presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico, all struggling to stem the violence associated with a failing Drug War, have said in recent weeks they’d like to have a discussion on legalizing drugs, reports Martha Mendoza of The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru already allow the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, and the leaders of Brazil and Colombia are discussing alternatives to jailing drug users.
“U.S. government officials are worried because the smartest among them know that the current strategy, both domestically and internationally, cannot be defended on economic, scientific or ethical grounds,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

Drug Policy Alliance
Ethan Nadelmann DPA: “I hope Biden learns that ‘staying the course’ is not going to be an option for the U.S. for much longer”

​”What we’re witnessing is the evolution from the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century to a 21st century drug control regime in which military, police and criminals will play a much diminished role,” Nadelmann said.
“It’s a different moment when you have actual heads of state talking about the need for a thorough debate on this,” said John Walsh, a drug policy specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, an independent think tank. “It’s certainly different for sitting presidents to be uttering those words. You wouldn’t have thought it possible just a few years ago.”
Vice President Biden expects a “robust conversation” about the security problems in Latin American countries due to drug traffickers battling to control lucrative sales to the United States, said Dan Restrepo, the top Latin America official in the White House, when he briefed reporters about Biden’s upcoming trip.
“Biden will hear, for the first time, from more than one foreign president, that the combination of U.S. demand for illicit drugs combined with the U.S. drug war strategy is wreaking havoc in the region, is increasingly untenable, AND that the regional leaders are going to proceed with a serious dialogue about alternatives to failed prohibitionist strategies,” Nadelmann told Toke of the Town on Saturday morning.

Huffington Post
Dan Restepo, senior White House advisor on Latin America: “The Obama administration has been quite clear in our opposition to decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs”

​”I suspect that they will make clear that U.S. participation in this dialogue is welcome, and essential in the long term, but that they intend to proceed whether or not the U.S. government approves,” Nadelmann told us.
But Restrepo said Latin American leaders shouldn’t expect any shift in U.S. drug policy.
“The Obama administration has been quite clear in our opposition to decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs,” Restrepo said (but that could have been a Drug War robot speaking).
But the time is coming when the same tired, knee-jerk responses to the issue of illicit drugs won’t be acceptable in the United States, either.
“The U.S. government will join the debate when the option of suppressing or ignoring it is no longer viable,” Nadelmann told Toke of the Town. “The more that U.S. political, diplomatic, intelligence, business, media and other leaders hear from their counterparts in Latin American that a fundamentally new dialogue and policy reform are essential, the more the U.S. government will find itself drawn into the debate.”
Biden is scheduled to arrive in Mexico City on Sunday to discuss “economic and security issues” with Mexican President Felipe Calderon. He also plans to meet on Monday with the three top Mexican presidential candidates running for a six-year term to replace Calderon this year.

Living Abroad In Costa Rica
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has said she’s open to discussing legalization

​On Tuesday, Biden plans to travel to Honduras to meet President Porfirio Lobo, along with the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala, all struggling with the expanding influence of powerful drug cartels.
Drug gangs have killed tens of thousands of citizens, while prisons are overflowing with accused drug users and the powerful cartels corrupt the political process with huge amounts of money (sheesh, sounds like the United States, eh?)
“I do think that the issue of legalization will be raised by the leaders to Biden, but in private,” said Walter McKay, a policing expert on security issues in Mexico, which has seen a river of blood — with 47,500 people killed — since President Calderon declared a War On Drugs in 2006.
“I hope Biden learns that ‘staying the course’ is not going to be an option for the U.S. for much longer,” Nadelmann told Toke of the Town.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, a right wing conservative and former army general, stunned political observers when he said the inability of the United States to cut illegal drug consumption leaves his country with no option but to consider legalizing the use and transport of drugs. He vowed to rally regional support for legalization.
Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and El Salvadoran President Carlos Funes have since said they’re open to discussing legalization, while Panama’s leaders — more under the thumb of the U.S. than their neighbors — have said they “do not agree” with legalizing drugs.
In 2009, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico all blasted the War On Drugs and said it was time to consider the decriminalization of marijuana. Last summer they were joined by high-profile international leaders including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former U.S. officials George P. Shultz and Paul Volcker, who slammed the War On Drugs as a failure and called on governments to investigate the legalization of drugs, especially marijuana, to reduce the power of organized crime.
But it’s another thing entirely when
sitting presidents call for drug legalization, said retired Brazilian judge Maria Lucia Karam in an email to The Associated Press.
Karam said that while Latin American leaders were at first willing to try a “get tough” policy, they’ve been worn down by the Drug War’s deadly toll.
“Ultimately this is about allowing democratic conversations to take place without being leaned upon by the U.S.,” said Danny Kushlick, who heads the London-based Transform Drug Policy Foundation.