By Ted Galen Carpenter, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of nine books on international affairs, including The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America. The views expressed are his own.
Officials in the United States might be tempted to view the disturbing surge in young refugees as simply a border security issue. But the problem is far more complex than that – the drug cartels are now major players in Central American countries, driving vulnerable populations northward to the United States to enhance their own profits.
And America’s hardline prohibitionist drug war is only making things worse.
Although the growing power of the cartels is not the only factor accounting for this crisis, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson suggested in congressional testimony that the “push factor” of violence is important.
Drug gangs have gained control of major chunks of Central America, making honest economic activity perilous. Teenagers especially have few options if they are not willing to work for the drug lords. As Caitlin Dickson noted in the Daily Beast, for example, “by making these countries so dangerous and virtually unlivable for its poorest citizens, the cartels have effectively created an incentive for people to flee, thereby providing themselves with more clientele for their human smuggling business.”
By Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch is director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program. The views expressed are her own.
The drug trade is, in a word, enormous – of total global crime proceeds, the United Nations has estimated that some $350 billion comes from the sale of illicit drugs. But the economic costs are only one measure of the ineffectiveness of drug policies. When the human costs of violence, human rights abuses, infectious diseases and mass incarceration are considered, the damage to countries and communities is massive.
How bad is it? The London School of Economics this week publishes a report that attempts to quantify some of these consequences of the war on drugs.
The report has been endorsed by five Nobel Prize-winning economists who write, "It is time to end the 'war on drugs' and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis. The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global 'war on drugs' strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage."
By Beau Kilmer, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Beau Kilmer is co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and coauthor of Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. The views expressed are his own.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee recently, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole summarized the administration’s new approach to marijuana policy released in a recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) memorandum.
The announcement was monumental.
In addition to laying out the marijuana enforcement priorities for federal prosecutors, the memo suggests the DOJ will tolerate potentially large, for-profit marijuana companies in states with strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems. This means Colorado and Washington will be the first jurisdictions in the modern era to remove the prohibition on commercial marijuana production and distribution for nonmedical purposes and start regulating and taxing it.
Not even the Netherlands goes that far.
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By Global Public Square staff
We were struck by a piece of news recently that is good for America, shows that our politicians are learning from their mistakes, and are actually cooperating with each other – on both sides of the aisle. Sounds too good to be true?
For many years, the United States has had a growing problem in its criminal justice system. As Global Public Square has pointed out before, the United States is number one in the world when it comes to incarceration – by far. In 2009, for example, for every 100,000 citizens, 760 Americans were in prison. That was five times the rate of incarceration in Britain, eight times the rate in Germany and South Korea, and 12 times the rate in Japan.
This trend began about 40 years ago. In 1970, state prisons had a combined total of 174,000 inmates. By 2009, they had 1.4 million – an eight-fold increase. And these correctional systems cost a lot of money of course – nearly $80 billion a year, more than the GDP of Croatia or Tunisia.
Well it seems that finally, common sense is prevailing. Attorney General Eric Holder made an important speech this week admitting that our prisons are overcrowded and costly. He specifically called for a reduction in mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders.
By Shannon K. O'Neil, CFR
Editor's Note: Shannon K. O'Neil is senior fellow for Latin America studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This entry of Latin America's moment first appeared here. The views expressed are her own.
As Americans went to the polls to elect their president last week, voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize marijuana (by referendum). Not only does this create conflicting state and federal laws, but it also directly challenges the United States’ war on drugs.
These initiatives, Colorado’s Amendment 64 and Washington’s Initiative 502, directly conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and LSD) – deemed to have “a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.” In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would “vigorously enforce” federal laws if marijuana was legalized in California (it wasn’t). Although no official statement on Washington and Colorado has been released, the White House’s website maintains that “the Obama Administration has consistently reiterated its firm opposition to any form of drug legalization.”
By Ted Galen Carpenter, Special to CNN
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the author of nine books on international affairs, including the just released The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America. The views expressed are his own.
A striking feature of the presidential debate on foreign policy was the total lack of attention given to Latin America –notably the drug violence wracking our next door neighbor, Mexico. Nearly 60,000 people have perished since 2006 in the Mexican government’s military-led offensive against the country’s powerful, ruthless drug cartels. But while President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both obsessed about the Middle East, they virtually ignored Washington’s relations with our southern neighbors. After a brief observation from Romney near the start of the debate that the region offered important – and neglected – economic opportunities for the United States, both candidates quickly abandoned the Western Hemisphere.
That was extraordinarily myopic. Given its geographic proximity, historical ties, and mounting importance as an arena for trade and investment, Latin America should be high on Washington’s diplomatic and economic agenda. And near the top of the national security agenda should be the alarming developments involving the drug violence in Mexico.
Ahead of a New York state bill that would recognize marijuana for medical purposes, a state supreme judge with cancer writes in its favor in a recent New York Times op-ed.
Gustin L. Reichbach, a justice of the New York State Supreme Court, has spent the last three and a half years battling pancreatic cancer and says inhaled marijuana is his only relief.
In his op-ed advocating legitimate clinical use of marijuana, he writes:
This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue. Being treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I am receiving the absolute gold standard of medical care. But doctors cannot be expected to do what the law prohibits, even when they know it is in the best interests of their patients. When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy.
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
The drug wars dominate the discussion in Mexico and in many border states in America as well. There have been nearly 50,000 drug-related killings in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón began his six-year term. That's more than twice as many civilian deaths in the same period in Afghanistan.
Calderón is widely viewed as having blundered in taking on the drug cartels. FULL POST
By Alex Leff, GlobalPost
When the world looks back at 2012 in the Americas, one burning debate will stand out amid the year’s usual chatter: Should Latin America legalize drugs?
What was once taboo has now got presidents talking in public and writing charged commentaries. They’re trying to frame the new drugs debate in terms that Washington - which firmly stands by the drug war solution - will understand: supply and demand.
The U.S. government says it will listen, but will not bend.FULL POST
Editor's Note: Juan Gabriel Tokatlian is Professor of International Relations at the Universidad de Di Tella, Argentina. For more, visit Project Syndicate's great new website, or check it out on Facebook and Twitter.
By Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, Project Syndicate
In January, US President Barack Obama nominated Marine Corps Lieutenant General John F. Kelly to head the United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). Based in Miami, Florida, USSOUTHCOM runs military operations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and is the key US “drug warrior” in the region. Across the region, the key question, among civilian and military leaders alike, is whether the change in commanders will bring with it a change in focus.
The top priority for USSOUTHCOM is to fight narcotics trafficking from the Andes to the Rio Grande. With the Cold War’s end, fighting communism was no longer the US armed forces main objective; USSOUTHCOM increasingly concentrated on pursuing coercive anti-drug initiatives, and funds to fight the drug war were plentiful. But the change in commanders is an opportunity for the US to revise, at long last, its regional doctrine in order to address other pressing security needs. FULL POST
Editor’s Note: This is an edited version of an article from the ‘Oxford Analytica Daily Brief’. Oxford Analytica is a global analysis and advisory firm that draws on a worldwide network of experts to advise its clients on their strategy and performance.
Moscow blames the United States and NATO for failing to stem the flow of Afghan narcotics into Central Asia and Russia. Washington has been trying to strengthen anti-narcotics efforts in the region while not undermining counter-insurgency operations. However, Russia still considers this region its ‘sphere of influence’ and has blocked an attempt to expand U.S. law enforcement presence there. Hence, the pickle.
For the past decade, Afghanistan has manufactured and exported more heroin than any other country. The United Nations estimates that about 10% of Afghanistan's gross economic output derives from opium poppy cultivation. The country produced about 6,000 tonnes of opium in 2011, valued at 1.4 billion dollars. Moreover, Afghan growers’ gross income from opium poppy doubled between 2010 and 2011 (to $10,700 per hectare). FULL POST
Editor's Note: The following is an interview with Russia's top drug czar, Viktor Ivanov, who was recently in Chicago to meet with U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.
Why is drug production rising in Afghanistan?
Viktor Ivanov: Drug production is always connected with the political and military situation in the country. The more tension and military clashes there are, the fewer chances the peasants have to grow legal, traditional agricultural crops. History has seen a number of examples of this. For example, military tension in Southeast Asia gave rise to the appearance of the so-called Golden Triangle –Thailand, Laos and Myanmar - which became notorious for producing drugs. FULL POST