The unfortunate diction chosen by your reporter in the article “2011 Marks Lost Drug War Across Latin America“, published on December 13, 2011, reflects a profound misunderstanding of the issue at hand and of basic economics principles at play. It is inaccurate and, indeed, profoundly unfair to attribute the failure of the war on drugs in Latin America (or in the Golden Crescent region for that matter) to “incompetent regional anti-narcotics policies.” Far from involving regional initiatives, the war on drugs is a global strategy framed by several UN Treaties, including the 1961 and 1988 Conventions, among others.
Decades ago, these multilateral pacts were built on then-popular, supply-oriented economic assumptions positing that the most effective strategy for addressing global consumption would be attacking the supply chain. However, in the 50 years that have since passed, the world has realized that eradication and interdiction efforts have not dented global consumption to any significant extent, despite the valiant efforts made and the enormous social, political and environmental costs borne by drug-producing countries. Along the way, however, many lost sight of a crucial subtlety that is worth noting: the war on drugs was always intended to be a war on consumption and not a war on cartels.
Indeed, the foremost reason why the global war on drugs has failed is because it has not been directed towards or made any progress in reducing the world’s demand for drugs. As we are now realizing, the combination of a complacent attitude towards an ever-growing demand for drugs (driven by the West’s insatiable appetite) with a framework that criminalizes every step in the supply-chain does not reduce consumption. Rather, it has led the whole industry towards a black market in which organized crime and insurgent groups engage in bloody competition for huge profits inflated by prohibition. In the underground, there are no rules: political power is bought, the rule of law is corrupted, market share is won by war, and disputes are resolved through violence.
Evidently, any policy that generates social costs which outweigh those associated with the problem it sets out to solve can only be characterized as an utter failure. Unless and until the world adopts a new strategy that focuses on effectively reducing global demand, any regional efforts to curb supply will be unsustainable and ultimately ineffective, as the balloon effect will simply cause displacements in the supply chain; one producing nation’s win will be another’s loss. Countries in regions adept for production and trafficking have borne and continue to bear a disproportionate burden in the global war on drugs, but this cannot be interpreted as regional incompetence; rather, it is a strong indication that the current global drug policy, in addition to being a resounding failure, is deeply unjust.
Camilo De Guzmán Uribe
Economist, Attorney at Law
Former Candidate for Colombia’s House of Representatives
CC: Nancy Needhima