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Drug Policy and its Consequences: Summit of the Americas

By Claudia Rodriguez

During the Summit of the Americas this month, leaders from the Americas came together to discuss pressing issues in the region. One of the major topics of discussion already highly talked about before the meeting was security in the region and its links to drug policy. Many former and sitting presidents in Latin America are demanding that President Obama and his administration recognize the role of the U.S. in the drug problems that are causing so much damage to Latin America. Specifically, these leaders call for a debate to consider alternative drug policies in their own countries and in the hemisphere because the current system of prohibition is not working. Grassroots and civil society organizations have called for these debates for years, and for these former and current heads of state to join them in this call. The Obama administration stated its willingness to discuss this but refuses to consider alternatives that include the decriminalization of drugs. The Obama administration recently came out with the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy report which focuses more on demand and treatment for drug users, but it still remains to be seen what impacts or results the policy will have domestically and abroad.

What we do know is that while the U.S. domestic drug policy continues to insignificantly curb the demand for drugs in the U.S., the government continues to train and finance militaries and police in Latin America to fight the drug war abroad. As a result, these countries suffer the consequences. Through the Merida Initiative, the United States has sent military aid and provided training to the Mexican security forces since the initiative was signed in 2007, shortly after Mexican President Felipe Calderon started his term and declared war on the drug trafficking organizations. Since then, over 50,000 people have been killed, thousands disappeared, and thousands more have been displaced. Human rights violations committed by U.S. trained and armed Mexican forces have skyrocketed. Some of the most vulnerable populations include journalists, women, human rights defenders, and indigenous communities. Many times, the same forces that are supposed to be protecting and providing security for the population commit massive human rights abuses, and the rampant impunity that exists means they are not held accountable for their actions.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the states where the greatest number of attacks against human rights defenders occur include Chihuahua, Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Guerrero. According to the IACHR’s recent publication Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas (2012):

The attacks reportedly come from non state actors that belong to organized crime, as well as from sectors opposed to the causes led by the defenders, and the authorities have not prevented the attacks; to the contrary, according to the information received, there have reportedly been occasions in which the authorities themselves asked organized crime to do the ‘dirty work’ a way to evade responsibility (p.13)

Living with this insecurity has become a daily reality for many human rights defenders from the states listed above, who are not unfamiliar with death threats. Most recently Alba Cruz, a human rights defender and lawyer that works at a human rights organization in Oaxaca City called Comité de Defensa Integral de Derechos Humanos Gobixha (CodigoDH), received death threats on her phone. She has received them since 2007, due to her work defending political prisoners and other human rights advocates. She has received precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The most recent threats she received are due to her work defending trade unionist, former political prisoner and victim of torture, Marcelino Coache. He and his family have also been recipients of precautionary measures from the Inter-American Comission on Human Rights. His wife received a threatening message the same day Alba Cruz received her death threats.

The consequences of the U.S. refusing to reevaluate and consider drug policy alternatives and the continued exportation of a militarized drug war to other countries in Latin America is costing thousands of lives, while leaving many more to live in insecure and dangerous situations. It is important that U.S. citizens stand in solidarity and advocate for changes not only in foreign policy, but domestic drug policy as well.

To learn more about the impacts of the Merida Initiative, consider joining the Mexico Team on a delegation this September to learn about the impacts of the Merida Initiative. The delegation, organized by Keri Zehm is titled “Mexico: Understanding the Drug War through the Impact of the Merida Initiative and Judicial Reform”, for more information, click here.


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