Pubdate: Wed, 21 Mar 2001

Source: National Post (Canada)

Copyright: 2001 Southam Inc.


Address: 300 - 1450 Don Mills Road, Don Mills, Ontario M3B 3R5 Fax: (416) 442-2209


Forum: Author: Mike Trickey

Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Uruguay's President Wants To Start Debate In Hopes Of Ending Civil War In Colombia


OTTAWA - The President of Uruguay is to use next month's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City to raise the issue of legalizing drugs as a way of fighting illegal international cartels.

President Jorge Batlle Ibanez said he will try to open debate on legalization of drugs either formally or informally.

"Imagine the money you spend to impede drug traffic and imagine that huge amount of resources on education for the people who really need help," he told The Washington Post.

The President said the best way to address the civil war in Colombia would be to legalize drugs and admit Colombia into NAFTA.

Meanwhile, the Mexican President has agreed with statements by his top police officials that legalization is the only way to win the war on drugs. Vicente Fox speculated in weekend interviews that legalizing drugs would eliminate the profit motive and violence that goes with illegal trafficking.

"That's right, that's true, that's true," Mr. Fox told the newspaper Unomasuno when asked if he agreed with a police official's support of legalizing drugs.

However, Mr. Fox said Mexico would not and could not act unilaterally and that he did not expect any international action soon.

"When the day comes that it is time to adopt the alternative of lifting punishment for consumption of drugs, it would have to come all over the world," he was quoted in El Sol de Mexico. "Humanity some day will see that it is best in that sense."

Latin leaders have made similar observations in the past, but they usually wait until after they are out of office for fear of economic reprisal by the United States, which has taken a zero-tolerance position against drug use, trafficking and production.

Officials at the Mexican embassy in Ottawa said Mr. Fox is not advocating legalization of drugs nor is Mexico going to attempt to bring the topic to the Quebec summit agenda.

The summit takes place on April 20-22 and brings together 34 heads of state and government.

"The President is talking about the possible decriminalization for possession of some drugs for personal use as some other countries have done, but that would require international agreement," embassy official Alfonso Nieto said yesterday. "But for the time being, we have declared war against drug trafficking. A total battle against drugs."

Mr. Nieto also said while there has been some public debate in Mexico, drug decriminalization has not been discussed by the National Congress and is not part of the country's summit agenda.

"There are other issues, like democracy-building, like security, like free trade that have a much higher level on the agenda."

Canadian officials say they have had no indication Mexico has changed its approach to fighting drug producers and traffickers.

"In all of our meetings with the Fox administration so far, they have never brought up the subject of legalizing narcotics," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Francois Lasalle.

Mexico has sent a series of conflicting messages on its approach to the war on drugs since Mr. Fox was elected last fall.

He stunned the United States with the appointment of two pro-legalization officials to senior positions in his Cabinet. Alejandro Gertz, the former police chief of Mexico City and now Public Security Minister, has talked about the need to take economic incentives out of drugs and said Mexico should consider the Netherlands' approach to drug use and sales.

Mexico's new Foreign Minister, Jorge Casteneda, a left-leaning academic and former guest columnist for Newsweek magazine, has written that legalization might be the only way to win the war on drugs and made reference to U.S. President George W. Bush's former cocaine use.

However, any plans the Mexicans might have had to embark on a course diverging from the U.S. policy of prohibition appeared to be derailed after Mr. Fox and Mr. Bush met in January.

The official communique released after the Presidents' summit contained language pointing to a return to the American position of zero tolerance.

"Drug trafficking, drug abuse and organized crime are major threats to the well-being of our societies. To combat this threat, we must strengthen our respective law enforcement strategies and institutions and develop closer, more trusting avenues of bilateral and multilateral co-operation.

"We want to reduce the demand for drugs and eliminate drug-trafficking organizations. To this end, we will undertake immediate steps to review policies and co-ordination efforts in accordance with each country's national jurisdiction."

Just two months later, however, Mexico was again talking about legalization.

"The debate is there, in the Mexican society," Enrique Berruga, Deputy Foreign Minister, told reporters prior to the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas in Ottawa. "In the face of such a dramatic problem, such a situation and dangerous one, all options have to be considered. We don't know, because there is no precedent on this, on how effective this would be."

Mr. Berruga says the assumption made by supporters of legalization is that such a step would remove the profit motive and associated violence with illicit trafficking, "but we don't know."

The Inter-Parliamentary Forum, which was attended by 100 lawmakers from 27 countries, did not discuss legalization, as had been proposed at a preliminary meeting last September by a Colombian congressman.

Colombia's government opposes legalization and recently accepted more than $1.3-billion in American military aid to wage the "war on drugs."

Forum delegates agreed more had to be done to strip drug barons of their profits, but did not discuss legalization as a way of doing that.

"The fight against drug-trafficking and money laundering is a universal struggle," said Ecuador's Antonio Posso Delgado.

But he was critical of the U.S. aid package to Colombia, much of which is to be used to fund a program of spraying toxic chemicals on drug producers' fields.

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