Us Releases Drug War Certifications for South America as Counter-Reports Show Lack of Focus on Domestic Demand

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, March 19, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Us Releases Drug War Certifications for South America as Counter-Reports Show Lack of Focus on Domestic Demand


The US government has released its annual drug certifications for 2003, once again without decertifying any South American countries. The "balloon effect" was evident in the State Department report, as successful eradication efforts in certain regions or countries led to greater cultivation in other places. Almost simultaneously, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), a UN organ, released reports and testimony showing that developed nations receive the most profits from the drug trade and are doing insufficient work to reduce demand for narcotics.

Over the years, many Latin American leaders have expressed dissatisfaction with the certification process as an arbitrary and demeaning one for their countries. The certification process has often been used to deny aid to countries judged soft on drug trafficking.

Developed nations profit most from drug traffic

The day after the State Department released its certification report, the INCB denounced that it is the economies of developed nations of the global north that benefit most from the illicit drug trade. INCB representative Alfredo Pemjean said that studies of narcotics trafficking done by his organization showed that producing countries "are those that are benefited the least economically," while the principal consumers and economic profits remain in the most-developed countries. He pointed out, however, that producer nations are "the most visualized by the entire world [in relation to the drug war] and probably the most repressed by the international community."

Distribution is the way illicit profit benefits the richest countries, says Pemjean. He indicated that repressive or "sanctions-based" policies against narcotics consumption would not have the intended effect and recommended prevention measures and adequate community attention to addicts and participation in rehabilitation programs.

Martin Hopenhayn, the head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), also spoke out on the relation between drugs and poverty. "The type of conditions of social life, campesino poverty, lack of opportunity for the young, and informal labor are conditions which are a recipe for cultivation, on which drug trafficking seizes."

The INCB annual report for 2003 also pointed out that it is important to fight against the demand for drugs and not just focus on production. The reports' authors criticized various "Western European countries" without specifically naming them for "an ambiguous attitude toward drug abuse" by their populations.

Local anti-drug activists in Brazil like Janaina Conceicao Pascoal, president of the Council on Drugs in the southern state of Sao Paulo, praised parts of the INCB report. The report's emphasis on social aspects "is a step forward, but the police approach oversimplifies the question, it is reductionism," said Pascoal, who is also a professor of criminal law at the Universidade de Sao Paulo. "Also taking into account the various social and economic aspects of the problem would be more effective."

Pascoal says that in Brazil the penal approach to the drug question has fueled the extensive violence, causing tens of thousands of murders in her country per year. "Total criminalization pushes many people into marginality and crime," she said.

Nation-by-nation statistics

The State Department report for 2003 said Venezuela had continued with confiscations of cocaine and heroin even though it spent a great part of the year "distracted" by political instability. It led South America in the amount of drugs seized for the fourth year in a row, beating out even Colombia. It almost doubled the amount of cocaine seized in the previous year, taking 32 tons, plus a half-ton of heroin, about the same amount of heroin it seized in 2002. In December, the government of President Hugo Chavez carried out massive operations to eradicate coca cultivation in the Sierrania de Perija on the Colombian border.

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