Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Former presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia said the U.S.-led war on drugs has failed and urged President Barack Obama to consider new policies, including decriminalizing marijuana, and to treat drug use as a public health problem.
Among the group’s proposals ahead of a special United Nations ministerial meeting in Vienna to evaluate global drug policy is a call to decriminalize the possession of cannabis for personal use.
“We need to break the taboo that’s blocking an honest debate,” Cardoso said at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro to present the report. “Numerous scientific studies show that the damage caused by marijuana is similar to that of alcohol or tobacco.”
Gaviria, who as president of Colombia from 1990-1994 worked with U.S. anti-narcotics agents to hunt down and kill cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, said he hoped Obama invests in harm reduction and prevention efforts that would relieve Latin America of the burden of fighting drug traffickers.
Recognize the Failure
“It makes no sense to continue a policy on moral grounds without getting the desired results,” said Gaviria, citing an October report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office showing drug reduction goals in Colombia have not been met. “Obama, being a pragmatist, should recognize these failures.”
The group was created last year to focus the global drug debate on harm reduction and prevention efforts and away from policies based on the eradication of production and the criminalization of consumption.
Latin America is the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and cannabis and a major supplier of opium and heroin. It’s also been the main focus of U.S.-led drug eradication and interdiction efforts ever since U.S. President Richard Nixon declared “war on drugs” in 1971.
The GAO report, made at the request of then Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, now vice president, Joseph Biden found that production of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, increased by 15 percent in Colombia since 2000. The U.S. has provided Colombia with $4.9 billion in anti-narcotics aid since 1999 with the goal of reducing coca production by half.
Gaviria said Mexican President Felipe Calderon should demand Obama do more to reduce drug consumption. The U.S. pledged $400 million and increased cooperation with Mexico last year as part of an anti-drug plan known as the Merida Initiative.
More than 5,300 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, and Mexican lawmakers have said the U.S. holds some responsibility for the bloodshed because demand for narcotics has made the cartels powerful.