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Collateral damage: the ‘War on Drugs’, and the Latin America and Caribbean region: policy recommendations for the Obama administration

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The Obama administration has an historic opportunity to reform the US ‘War on Drugs’ (WOD) policies in the strategically important Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region. This paper examines the impact of the WOD policies and concludes they have seriously exacerbated crime and corruption rates in LAC. The result is weakened governance structures and economic capacities in LAC. The WOD has emphasized supply curtailment in source and transit countries, rather than demand reduction in the US This offshoring of attacks on drug organizations has resulted in the acceleration of violence and corruption as drug traffickers develop new strategies to maintain their profits. The LAC region has the highest murder rate in the world, even higher than regions with armed conflict.

We recommend that the US abandon drug prohibition. Decriminalization would allow governments to control the trans-shipment, production and distribution of these drugs. This would immediately allow resources devoted to law enforcement activities to be redirected to assist addicts and to provide financial support to strategically important neighboring LAC states. Controlling the marketplace would also provide the US and LAC with new sources of taxes. We also recommend that LAC governments act together to overcome their small sizes or weak institutional capacities by deepening cooperation as between MERCOSUR and CARICOM. This would enable joint initiatives such as policing of territorial water, thus reducing the need for US incursions into the region. Finally, any solution in the region must be supported by the creation of economic opportunities, both intra-regionally and through fairer access to the US markets, particularly for agricultural goods.
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Keywords: Latin America and Caribbean; US drug policy; international political economy; policy-oriented studies; security and competitiveness; war on drugs

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive Burnaby, BC, V5A1S6, Canada

Publication date: March 1, 2011

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