We must embrace this new approach to the war on drugs

by Javier Sicilia
Friday, May 31, 2013

It gave me a deep sense of personal satisfaction and renewed faith in my fellow man when I learned, at long last, that leaders of the member countries of the Organization of American States – the western hemisphere's most influential international organisation – had initiated the first serious discussions on how to bring the "war on drugs" to an end.

I felt this satisfaction and burst of confidence because, in 2011, here in Mexico, gangsters seeking revenge against two police informants tortured and executed my 24-year-old son, Juan Francesco, and six of his friends. Since then, I have worked to draw attention to the death and destruction the drug war has brought to thousands of innocent people across our hemisphere even as the decades-long campaign has failed to slow or reduce the supplies of illicit narcotics reaching eager buyers in the US, Mexico and beyond.

Now, I hope, government leaders will seize this opportunity to look each other in the eye and admit that the drug war is no longer worth the investment of billions more dollars for military equipment, training, prosecution, incarceration and police and military operations.

Now, hopefully, these leaders will begin to speak to one another honestly and constructively about what can be done to solve the problem of finding effective ways to control a $300bn per year illicit industry that has undermined the stability of Latin American states, corrupted officials at every level of government across the hemisphere, including public security and criminal justice agencies in the US, and brought death and destruction to untold numbers of people.

The report by the Organization of American States has set a broad general framework for the upcoming discussions. If political will and courage are not lacking, these discussions will lead to the formulation and implementation of new drug policies.

On the table is an array of options for dealing with the illicit trade, including legalisation of certain substances that are now banned, regulation of their distribution, taxation of the earnings of producers and distributors, the earmarking of funds for drug-addiction treatment programmes, and better targeted enforcement operations to apprehend and prosecute dealers, especially large-scale producers and suppliers, who choose to operate outside the law.

The breadth of the proposed discussion would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. And it will be a huge success if the first talks yield a clear, precise set of goals for subsequent debate and action.

People in Mexico have read for years about major drug busts involving the seizure of tons of illegal drugs. We have heard about new commitments of money, high technology and teams of technical advisers. We have heard political leaders here and in the US boast about "winning" the war on drugs.

How are we winning?

Sometimes, I feel as if the greatest barrier to ending the nightmare is political inertia maintained by the hunger of political leaders to dip into the billions of dollars in funding earmarked for drug-war operations, as well as bribery efforts by drug lords who actually oppose legalisation and regulation measures because maintaining the status quo means retaining the exorbitant profit margins of their "business".

I am a poet and a Roman Catholic. After my son's death, I felt that the tragic drug violence in Mexico had become a chaos so great that it had to be given a name and a form, so citizens of my country could begin to grasp its true nature and demand more from our government in its efforts to eliminate lawlessness, corruption and impunity of both the drug cartels and compromised agencies of the state.

Now the Organization of American States, by opening this discussion, has an opportunity to define the existing chaos on an international level. Through this, I believe, it is possible to replace the failed "war on drugs" with more effective drug policies and develop a new set of criteria to judge their success.

Drug warriors made arrest totals and tallies of seized marijuana, cocaine and other drugs an obsession. They did not factor violence into their measures of success.

For me, ending drug violence will be a key measure of the success of any future drug policies.


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