Sep 10, 2009

The Shifting Drug War in Latin America

Chuck MisslerBy Chuck Missler

Long seen as a nation full of violence, drugs, crime, and kidnappings, Colombia has started a campaign to improve its international public image through an exhibit of heart sculptures. The 47 heart-shaped statues will be displayed in Washington DC until September 15th, when they will move on to New York and then Shanghai. The purpose of these cardio-art works is to plaster a new picture of Colombia in the heads of the people who see them. Representatives of the Colombian ad campaign also passed out 25,000 flowers in Union Station in DC on Tuesday as part of the effort. Colombia may produce 80 percent of the world's cocaine, but the Colombian government presents a much friendlier face to America than many of its neighbors in South America where the drug war continues to rage.

On Friday, the Colombian Coastguard seized 86 bags of cocaine weighing close to 1.9 tons, buried underground by a local drug band near the northern Morrosquillo Gulf. The Colombian Navy seized about 3.5 tons of cocaine the week before that. The drug business remains extremely busy in Latin America, and one of the primary markets for those drugs is the United States. The Colombian government has faced a constant battle against drug lords within its borders and, unlike its neighbor Venezuela, continues to cooperate with the US government.

Thousands of Colombian protestors took to the streets on Friday to display their low opinion of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and his meddling in Colombian affairs. Chavez had criticized Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's plan to allow US troops more access to its bases, saying the presence of US troops would endanger Venezuela. Uribe and the US insist the US troops are there for anti-drug and counter-guerilla missions and not to stage attacks on nations like Venezuela.

Chavez kicked the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) out of his country some time ago and has recently accused the US of having used the DEA to "conduct intelligence operations against the [Venezuelan] government." Venezuela claims that its interdiction of drug traffickers has increased since the DEA left. In the meanwhile, Bogota has accused Chavez of supporting FARC rebels.

The bloody Latin American war on drugs may continue against the big cartels, with different attitudes toward US involvement, but there has been a noticeable shift across Latin America in attitudes about laws against personal use. Many Latin American countries have been moving to decriminalize drug use itself and reduce penalties for small-time drug transporters and dealers.

On August 25, Argentina's Supreme Court voted to decriminalize personal use of marijuana. Article 19 of Argentina's Constitution states:

"private actions that in no way offend public order or morality, nor are detrimental to a third party, are reserved for God and are beyond the authority of legislators."
The court ruled to put personal use of marijuana in that category. Argentina's Congress is expected to alter the laws to comply with the Court and to clarify what exactly is meant by "personal use." The hope is that legalizing possession of small doses of marijuana will free the state to focus on those who deal and traffic in drugs.

Argentina is not alone. Mexico recently decriminalized the use of not only marijuana, but of cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine. Simple possession of marijuana and cocaine is legal in Venezuela, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa wants a review of the nation's drug policy. Ecuador and Brazil both are considering decriminalizing the personal use of drugs and lowering penalties for "mules" - people who carry small amounts of drugs on their bodies for the drug cartels. Many who work as mules are simply poor people looking for a way to pay the bills.

There are a few reasons given for decriminalization. For one, it eliminates a source of bribes for corrupt cops. It also keeps the state from having to prosecute every addict that officers come across, and frees resources for fighting the major drug dealers. There are also complaints that petty drug dealers are getting the same sentences as the heads of cartels, which is seen as unbalanced justice. At the same time, decriminalizing drugs sends the wrong message to millions about the dangers of drug use, even while drug cartels are slaughtering people.

Latin America has a serious drug-power problem that is affecting the rest of the world as drug lords make millions selling products that destroy lives. Right now it looks like a losing battle. Yet, God is greater than drug lords and cocaine. Please pray for Latin America and for those people caught in the terrible trap of drug use.

Related Links

 Latin America moves to decriminalize drugs - LA Times
 Argentina Legalizes Personal Marijuana Use - The Narcosphere
 Colombians protest in streets over Chavez actions - Reuters
 Colombian authorities seize 1.9 tons of cocaine - China View
 Is America ready to admit defeat in its 40-year war on drugs? - The Guardian
 What does the Bible say about doing drugs? -
 The Dirt on Drugs - Justin Lookadoo (Book)