Wednesday, March 7, 2012

heavyweight in town

Tegucigalpa, Honduras (CNN) -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to help Honduras and other Central American nations defeat drug traffickers and fight corruption. But at a meeting with Central American presidents in Honduras, Biden stopped short of supporting a proposal that has gained growing attention in the region in recent weeks: drug legalization. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina said last month that he supported measures to decriminalize drug production, trafficking and consumption. On Tuesday, Central American leaders announced plans to debate the idea at a meeting later this month. Biden "said that he was in favor of an open and genuine debate about the decriminalization of drugs as long as the procedures and possible results are analyzed," according to a Honduran government statement distributed to reporters after Tuesday's meeting.
Source and photo: CNN

Mr. Biden's high-level, message-sending visit to Honduras comes not a minute too soon. It is encouraging to see the Obama Administration finally paying serious attention to my country and the Greater Central America region. Caught in the crossfire of the controversial American-supported "War on Drugs," the entire region is now at a crossroads. Despite the billions spent to eradicate them, the drug cartels (which are really just super well-managed multinational corporations) -- with their thorough societal penetration, indescribable ruthlessness, and immense, overwhelming financial resources -- are winning this widely-questioned "war;" and it is the narcos who are effectively deciding where Centroamérica is headed next.

The drug legalization argument recently tabled by Guatemalan President Otto Perez is interesting. It goes something like this: today Central America is paying for the South to North America drug trade with the lives of a multitude of professional, well-intentioned, and genuinely-committed law enforcement actors; along with a shocking number of (often innocent) civilians caught between the warring sides. Arm-twisted diplomatically by the United States, countries of the isthmus spend significant percentages of their limited national security budgets 'fighting' the drug-smuggling cartels in what has amounted to a futile attempt to stem the northward flow of narcotics. (The illegal substances are - literally - sucked north by the voracious and insatiable demand of the massive end user markets located primarily in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.) Meanwhile, despite the tragic human losses, the denial of a truly safe and peaceful existence for residents of the region, and the onerous economic costs taken on by our governments -- and besides the welcomed (even if miserly and grudgingly-given) U.S. foreign aid -- there is virtually no tangible upside in this U.S.-imposed anti-drug crusade for the seven small states of the region. Instead, Central American authorities have found themselves utterly overwhelmed by the appalling unintended consequences that have resulted from this lunacy of a policy.

According to the United Nations, the global drug trade is worth $322 billion (a 2003 estimate; the 2012 figure is probably over a half trillion dollars). If Central American governments could capture even a fraction of these narcodollars (by legalizing and taxing the trade), there would be a whole lot more financial resources flowing to the region's national coffers (in theory, at least). In other words, suddenly Central America might not be so poor and needy anymore. Imagine that! If used intelligently and appropriately, this potential windfall of "narco-tax" revenues could turbocharge economic growth and help lift the region out of its chronic, historic poverty, and long-standing sub-development. With more employment opportunities available at home, a lot fewer Central Americans would feel desperate enough to illegally immigrate north in search of jobs to support their families. Stateside, tax revenues from a legalized narcotics trade might even help the U.S. Federal Government be materially less dependent on Chinese loans to cover its spending deficits during these challenging economic times.

An aware Central American could understandably ponder, "Damn... We're doing a hell of a lot to help 'protect' our First World friends from these controversial illegal substances they love and desire so much. Yet, the governments in Washington DC, Ottawa, and Brussels have failed to take fair, realistic, adequate, and appropriate responsibility for the horrifying consequences the "War on Drugs" has on Central American societies (and the societies of other regions and countries along the production and smuggling routes. See Mexico, for example.). Our 'smack in the middle' geographic location between the biggest producers of narcotics and the biggest consumers, has forced us (irregardless of whether we wanted to or not) unto the front lines of this much-maligned "war." Continental centroamericanos are paying for this disastrous approach by being submerged in a deep, dark, hope-destroying pit of violence, pain, blood, death, abhorrent corruption, incessant anxiety, chronic insecurity, tragedy, and terror. This is too high a price to be asked to pay for supporting a bankrupt and failed American policy intended to deny - for example - a bunch of carefree twenty-something American college students the ability to score an 8 ball of Colombia's Finest from a drag queen on Ocean Drive and 14th Street while celebrating their spring break in South Beach, Miami."

Under closer analysis, President Otto's proposal to legalize the narcotics trade doesn't seem so far-fetched. It's pretty obvious the status quo (i.e., the "War on Drugs") is a resounding failure that has only resulted in a dreadful loss of human life; the ghettoization of Mexico, Colombia, and Central America ("Oh no! We can't go there! It's too violent!"); and a monumental waste of tax-payers' resources from Canada to Bolivia, and every country in between.

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