President Obama to Visit Mexico and Central America as Drug Prohibition-related Violence Wreaks Havoc in Region, with 70,000 Deaths in Mexico Alone
As President Obama departs for a three-day trip to Mexico and Central America to meet with several regional counterparts, advocates are urging him to put drug policy reform at the top of the agenda.
The failed drug war has wreaked havoc throughout Latin America. In Mexico, the war on drugs has caused an estimated 70,000 deaths, 25,000 disappearances and over 250,000 internally displaced people since 2006. Meanwhile, drug trafficking organizations have increasingly moved or expanded their operations to Central America, which has become one of the most dangerous regions in the world, according to the United Nations. And rather than reducing the supply of or demand for drugs, prohibitionist drug policies have only enriched criminal organizations while increasing rates of incarceration and drug-related harms.
Obama is scheduled to meet Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday and then travel to Costa Rica on Friday to meet with President Laura Chinchilla, as well as heads of state of the other Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. Many of these leaders have voiced support for alternatives to drug prohibition – including exploring options for legally regulating marijuana and other drugs – in order to reduce the power and profits of violent drug traffickers.
The best thing Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto could do for their respective countries when they meet tomorrow is have a “real” conversation about drugs and the need for a paradigm shift in both nations’ drug control policies. President Obama could tell his counterpart that Colorado and Washington’s efforts to legally regulate marijuana are just the start of a political process that will eventually end marijuana prohibition nationally.
He could tell him that he’ll do his best to reduce domestic demand for Mexican marijuana by advising his fellow citizens to “buy American.” And he could tell him that his administration’s rhetorical shift toward a drug policy grounded primarily in public health rather than criminal justice measures will soon be matched by real policy changes that remove issues of drug use and addiction from the criminal law. He could even say that he’s been persuaded by the overwhelming scientific evidence that the best way to reduce U.S. demand for the heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine exported by Mexican drug traffickers is to embrace the lessons of European harm reduction policies.
Will President Obama do this? Unfortunately I doubt it – but until he does, not much is going to change for the better when it comes to drug policies on both sides of the border.