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The Summit of the Americas 2012: Agree to Disagree on a New Open Drug Economy

The Summit of the Americas 2012: Agree to Disagree on a New Open Drug EconomyThree main issues surrounded this year’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia this past weekend. For the most part, those issues created a division between the Americans and Canadians poised against most of Latin America with the exception of the prostitution scandal that will likely be more of an issue between Obama and the Republicans. Most readers are likely aware of the scandal involving Obama’s Secret Service and their recreational activities that were far from secret. In a normal scenario, many company officials take their private time privately, and some of this may involve illicit activities. For the most part their private time is their own, and it is questionable whether an employer should have the ability to control their free time or moral compass, as that is more of an issue for their wives. That being said, when you represent a country in a diplomatic sense and are the direct representative of the President of the United States, you should have a higher sense of duty than those agents in Cartagena this past weekend. The real issue is that in Colombia there is a massive problem with sex tourism that was not addressed or discussed by any media during the Secret Service scandal. The fact that many women have little opportunities except to enter into prostitution, being called “Prepagos” – roughly translated as “pre-paid” give businessmen and tourists the ability to hire a girl as they would get a cheap cell phone. The fact that government officials are taking advantage of that situation is disturbing and irresponsible, but the issue is not just one that faults His President’s Secret Service, it is a problem that existed before this past weekend and needs to be addressed afterwards as it should be about the girls, not 007. For that reason I would recommend to everyone to read Paulo Coehlo’s semi-biographical novel on this issue called “Eleven Minutes”.

Cuba is an interesting topic indeed. Where the US has an embargo of Cuba, Canada has been open to Cuba for decades. To prohibit Cuba from the Summit when over the last few years it has slowly been opening places most countries in the Americas sympathising with Cuban participation in the Summit. Obama was in a difficult spot indeed with movements by Cuba and his own government opening relations over the last few months, being awarded with a continuing ban on Cuba at the Summits. While the US has set heavy trade with China and has even celebrated and supported its 2008 Olympic games, it is unreasonable to keep an embargo on Cuba while being blinded to similar anti-democratic actions done in China to its own citizens. With the US picking and choosing who should have rights in places like China and during the Arab Spring, US foreign policy needs to reboot in order to regain some consistency in Asia, the Middle East and of course with Cuba. Obama needs to meet those in Florida of Cuban heritage and come to a consensus in how to approach Cuba and open ties during his Presidency. A disagreement over Cuba is not worth the lack of political currency in the Americas. This weekend showed that the US sorely needs a re-engagement in Latin America and it seems the consensus is that it should accompany a deflation of rusted issues with Cuba.

The issue that will likely become the most notable after the Summit is the open commentary by some Latin American leaders on a limited legalisation of the drug trade in Latin America. While Canadian Prime Minister Harper and President Obama did say there were failures in the War on Drugs, they did not accept any legalisation of the narcotics trade. In reality, discussions on the failure of the drug war reflect current problems in Mexico more than recent successes in Colombia in fighting the FARC. What might be the only option would be a collective approach to narcotics from the North as well as the South if there were any legalisation. No one would wish to donate the lives of their young sons and daughters to fight well armed narcotraffickers, and the theory is that it would be easier for Mexico or Colombia to legalise and let well funded American and Canadian medical and rehabilitation programs deal with addiction issues and health concerns in their own communities. Realistically, in Latin America addiction issues are a lot easier to handle and have fewer costs than continuing a war that may never end. This would put the burden on the US and Canada to address victimization and chemical dependence in their own communities as opposed to having Latin Americans going barrel to barrel with the narco-market. With Latin America moving to have diverse investment relations with China and away from US interdependence, it seems that the thoughts of many leaders in the region towards its northern neighbours is that if it’s your addicts, it’s your problem.

Successes against narcotraffickers would have to firstly succeed if legalisation commenced, and despite commentary this past weekend of drug policy failure, there have been many successes in the War on Drugs. In Colombia, the government has been heavily chipping away at the FARC and other narco-terrorists over the last three years. Mexico has been fighting fiercely against the drug trade to the point where stolen oil has become the focus of many traffickers over narcotics. In this way, there were successes in the War on Drugs and they are necessary even with any future legalisation. Before a new policy can succeed, they need to deplete any powerful drug kings so that if the industry is legalised, it will not be controlled by criminal elements. As in the Mexico case, it is not the drugs that are the main issue; it is the value of the product, so that oil can replace drugs as it seems to be more profitable for some cartels. A lesson from the end of the Soviet Union allowed influential individuals to control and dominate entire industries in Russia and created industries that were corrupt and controlled by many criminal elements. It would be a repeat of the same problem currently with narco-gangs as Russian Oligarchs that had a lot of money, were very powerful and could not be controlled easily within the law. A faulted legalisation may not remove the problem, the value of the product, and would not be an effective solution. The demand and high price creates valuable drugs that are the source of the problem and no businessman would reduce the value of their product on purpose. While drugs will be an issue if it is legal or illegal, the value is the overwhelming issue, as expensive oil seems to be just as addictive. Legal issues with addictive products are taking place currently as PEMEX has taken to court companies that have been accused of purchasing stolen oil. It seems that legalisation might not be as easy a solution as some may believe. No consensus was agreed upon at the end of the Summit as a result.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration