Alongside official declarations, Latin American governments have expressed growing disgust for U.S. drug consumers — both the addict and the weekend recreational user heedless of the misery and destruction stemming from their pleasures.
With transit countries facing some of the highest homicide rates in the world, so great is the frustration that the leaders are demanding that the United States and Europe consider steps toward legalization if they do not curb their appetite for drugs.
At a regional summit this month in Mexico, attended by the leaders of 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries, officials declared that “the authorities in consumer countries should explore all possible alternatives to eliminate exorbitant profits of criminals, including regulatory or market options.”
“Market options” is diplomatic code for decriminalization.
The complaints are not exactly new but are remarkable for being nearly unanimous. The critique comes from sitting presidents left to right, from persistent U.S. antagonists such as President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, and from close U.S. allies such as President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, which has received almost $9 billion in aid to fight the cartels.
‘Rethinking’ the war on drugs
The criticism has been bolstered by opinion leaders in the region, including the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, who called for the legalization of marijuana and an overhaul of U.S. thinking on the 40-year drug war, which has cost a trillion dollars by some estimates but has done little to reduce supply and demand.
Senior Obama administration officials say the resentment is understandable, given that the production and transit countries are shouldering more of the violence, but they say the rhetorical attacks against the United States are misdirected.
“I refuse to accept that there has not been progress” in the fight against drug trafficking and consumption, said William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said there has been a sustained reduction in demand for cocaine in the United States. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of Americans aged 12 and older who are current users of cocaine has dropped by 21 percent since 2007. The purity of seized cocaine is down; prices are up.