Here’s a 250-word comment in yesterday’s edition of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor newsletter.
Q: U.S. Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on Dec. 1 released the final report of the congressionally mandated Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, which includes recommendations to improve U.S. drug policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Does the United States need a renewed blueprint for counternarcotics policies, as the report suggests? What are the most significant changes in drug policy that the commission recommends, and are they the right ones? In what ways would the proposed policies affect anti-drug cooperation between the United States and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean?
A: Adam Isacson, senior associate for the regional security policy program at the Washington Office on Latin America: “For four decades, U.S. administrations have sought to address illicit drugs as a problem somehow separate from Latin America’s other challenges, as though a country wracked with impunity, poverty and weak governance could somehow eliminate drug trafficking. Washington encouraged the region to pursue coercive strategies with short-term success measures and punished countries that failed to ‘cooperate fully.’ It hasn’t worked. Today, the United States is at a moment of record overdoses from illicit drugs produced in the region, while seizures and price data indicate burgeoning supplies. Organized crime, which gets much of its revenue from the drug trade, is thriving and spurring alarming levels of violence in many countries. Overall, the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission’s most important contribution is its encouragement of a long- term time frame and a more equal, consultative approach. It would replace the unilateral ‘certification’ process with agreed-upon ‘compacts.’ It would place badly needed emphasis on illicit financial flows, which too often benefit corrupt officials and economic interests. In Colombia, it would de-emphasize forced eradication in favor of implementing the peace accords’ rural governance provisions. In Mexico and Central America, it prefers criminal justice reform and citizen security to endless ‘kingpin’ operations. The commission’s less threat-based, more equal approach might take longer to yield results and will require unaccustomed patience. These results, however, would hold much more promise of being permanent. A more consultative posture, meanwhile, would do far more to improve cooperation regionwide than the asymmetric relationship we’ve seen for so long.”