It’s interesting that Obama’s been having a bit of a rough time in Colombia, where he’s meeting heads of state from Latin American countries. One of his biggest headaches, apart from Cuba, has been calls to legalise drugs.
It’s one of those questions that seems hardly worth debating, so impossible would it be to get it past the Tea Party types, and anyone even moderately conservative. Talking about legalising drugs just makes me think of a birthday card someone got me from one of those shops in Hackney once with a big marijuana leaf on the front and the slogan “legalize it”. I think it’s fair to say it doesn’t get treated as a viable policy. But here, a letter appeared in the papers signed by what could be seen as conservative forces, including ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (he presided over the privatisation of state assets in Brazil so is certainly no Hugo Chavez). It was calling for the decriminalisation of drug consumption, and the “opening of the debate” about models of regulating drugs, which could ultimately treat them similarly to alcohol and tobacco.
These recommendations came from the Commisao Latino-Americana sobre Drogas e Democracia, an organisation which has worked together for four years trying to find new solutions to this problem.
FHC is working with ex-presidents of Colombia and Mexico. Suddenly, I am reminded of an interview with Brazil’s last president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was asked what the secret to his eight-year run of success was. He said it was down to doing those things which were obvious, which everyone knew but somehow never did. It makes me wonder if it is easier for ex-presidents to both see and say the truth, that the “war on drugs” doesn’t work and another solution is necessary, now there is no electorate to offend.There are some things you just don’t seem to be able to get away with saying, no matter how obvious they are.
Of course, its easy to blame the United States, which initiated this policy, but while the US is indeed in the number one spot when it comes to consumption of cocaine, for instance, Brazil is now number two. At least when it comes to hypocrisy and a pressing need to recognise that violent crackdowns are not being effective, Brazil is right up there. Recent policies include re-doubling the federal police presence at the borders so there is no doubting the official line.
From arriving in Rio, it doesn’t take too long for the observant to see the ravages of the drugs trade, and the resultant war against it. The bullets on the walls of buildings in (and sometimes out) of any favela will tell you that, and any glance at the TV news reveals rolling footage of hauls of drugs and arms, fatal shootings, and the ongoing process of police attempting to enter these areas and station themselves there permanently, with varying degrees of success. Even before this process began, a friend who lives in a favela in the north told me he and his neighbours would be perplexed at the sight of these hauls from operations on TV, not having seen any police in the area that day, or heard sirens or seen anyone being arrested. Since the police had accepted large bribes to allow the drug dealing to continue, the operations were often simulated just to please the public or those politicians who had called for it. There was not even a genuine attempt to wipe out drugs, let alone one that had a chance of working.
Even without the spectre of corruption which will see to the success or failure of this current largescale operation, it’s a problem when you’ve got the demand for drugs that you have. I’m pretty sure that the guy who robbed me here at gunpoint was on crack; however, I also remember the girl at my university who was hospitalised after drinking games (organised by the halls of residence) such as yard of ale, etc. I still remember her lifeless body on the cold grass, and the ambulance, as the games continued and people laughed along. Drink as well as drugs causes social and health problems, but I can’t see Obama, or Dilma Rouseff for that matter, changing their policies any time soon.