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Drug policy and Cuba headline Summit of the Americas (+video)

The Sixth Summit of the Americas saw what Mexico's Calderón called a 'radical' change: candid conversation about differences over drug policy and Cuba.

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But it wasn’t just the usual suspects from the Latin American left who called for Cuba’s inclusion. Santos, a moderate and seen as the closest US ally in the region, called the embargo on Cuba “anachronistic” and “ineffective.” Future summits without Cuba would be unacceptable, he said.

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Mr. Obama, for his part, defended the US stance on Cuba, but said he was “hopeful” for a transition. “I am not someone who brings to the table a lot of baggage from the past and I want to look at this problem in a new and different way,” Obama said. Earlier in the weekend he said the discussion surrounding Cuba was reminiscent of “gunboat diplomacy and Yankees and the cold war.”

But analysts say the US is in a time warp. “The only players in this movie who are stuck in the cold war are in the US,” says Eric Hershberg, director of Latin American and Latino Studies at American University in Washington. “The Latin Americans are saying ‘Let’s move on.’”

Drug policy debate

On drug policy, the leaders agreed to direct the OAS to initiate a thorough review of drug control policy in the region, analyzing alternatives to the “war on drugs,” initially introduced by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.  Most analysts agree the approach has been less than successful.

Santos said that Colombia, the world’s largest producer of cocaine, has had relative success in cutting the cultivation of coca, the raw material used in making cocaine. But cultivation has spiked in Peru and Bolivia in what experts call the “balloon effect,” which describes a phenomenon where closing one channel for drugs pushes production up elsewhere. 

That same effect has been seen in drug trafficking-related violence which, without having totally disappeared in Colombia, has flared in Mexico and Central America, notably Guatemala and Honduras.

"We know that our success has [negatively] affected other countries,” said Santos, likening the fight against drug trafficking to pedaling on a stationary bike. "The moment has come to analyze if what we're doing is best or if we can find a more effective and cheaper alternative for society."

Santos said the new OAS mandate will look at all alternatives to drug policies now in place, ranging from legalization to what he called the “Asian model.” This refers to strict antidrug laws in some Asian countries that apply the death penalty to drug users.

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