Latin America looks to Europe for drug fighting models

Sat Nov 17, 2012 8:59am EST
 

By Fiona Ortiz

CADIZ, Spain (Reuters) - Latin American countries are turning to Europe for lessons on fighting narcotics abuse after souring on the prohibition-style approach of the violent and costly U.S.-led war on drugs.

Until recently, most Latin American countries had zero-tolerance rules on drugs inspired by the United States.

But now countries from Brazil to Guatemala are exploring relaxing penalties for personal use of narcotics, following examples such as Spain and Portugal that have channeled resources to prevention rather than clogging jails.

Latin America is the top world producer of cocaine and marijuana, feeding the huge demand in the United States and Europe. Domestic drug use has risen and drug gang violence has caused carnage for decades from the Mexican-U.S. border to the slums of Brazil.

On Thursday, Uruguay's Congress moved a step closer to putting the state in charge of distributing legal marijuana. On the same day a leftist lawmaker in Mexico presented a bill to legalize production, sale and use of marijuana.

While the Mexican bill is unlikely to pass, it reflects growing debate over how to fight drug use in a country where 60,000 people have died since 2006 in turf battles between drug traffickers and clashes between cartels and security forces.

Even top world cocaine producer Colombia, a stalwart U.S. partner in drug crop eradication campaigns and with one of the toughest anti-drug laws in Latin America, is hinting at change.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday it was worth exploring the Portuguese model, one of the most liberal drug policies in the world.   Continued...

 
Spain's King Juan Carlos (R) speaks to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during the XXII Ibero-American Summit in Cadiz, southern Spain November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Ballesteros/Pool