New voice in drug-war debate: businessmen who are feeling the pinch
The drug trade has had a negative impact on the business climate in Central America, and the private sector is starting to speak out in favor of new approaches to the war on drugs.
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Mr. Perez is one of few sitting presidents in Latin America to explicitly call for the decriminalization of drugs. In 2009, three former Latin American presidents from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico wrote a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling the drug war a failure. A year later, former Mexican president and long-time drug war supporter Vicente Fox came out against the approach to curbing trafficking and violence as well.Skip to next paragraph
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Perez criticized the US government’s handling of drug consumption in the United States on Monday, saying, “As long as they don’t reduce consumption in the United States, the problem (of drug trafficking) will continue.”
But the US government has long blocked legalization as an approach to curbing both drug use in the US and the violence that accompanies it in the Americas. “The notion that we can declare a truce at this point and hope that everyone will go home and play nice is not consistent with what is happening in other parts of the world,” says Kevin Whitaker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, in Nicaragua this week.
“Obviously there are a number of leaders in the region who have expressed frustration about the devastating effects of the drug trade on their societies, and we understand that and we appreciate that…But we all have a problem together, and we all have to treat it together,” Mr. Whitaker says.
Mr. Zamora isn’t surprised by the US stance. “For a politician in the United States or Central America, it is very difficult to talk about [the legalization of drugs] because it doesn’t win votes—and politicians live on votes,” he said.
But it’s the private sector’s understanding of the hemispheric supply chain and demand, he says, that posits business leaders to lend their voice to the debate, says Zamora.
“[I]t is hard to talk about certain issues related to drug-trafficking [for politicians]. But for the business class, we have visions that are more pragmatic,” Zamora says. This might include focusing on freeing up resources through the decriminalization of drugs, and diverting profits away from traffickers. That could allow the taxation of businesses involved in the drug trade, followed by the investment of that money into military and police in order to crack down on criminals.
Carolina Castellanos, director of Guatemalan- American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM Guatemala) says leaders of the private sector in Guatemala have been communicating by email this week to discuss the merits of President Pérez’s proposal as well.
“Latin America can’t continue to keep supplying the dead to reduce the consumption of drugs in the United States,” Zamora says. “There is no way to stop the trafficking; it’s a problem of supply and demand.”
– A version of the article was published on the author’s website, The Nicaragua Dispatch.
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