Martin Jelsma – Transnational Institute



To break the current impasse political alliances have to be constructed. No country can withstand the US pressure on its own. The UN can serve as a forum where such alliances can be explored. Like-minded countries can find safety in numbers by pressing certain issues forward in a coordinated way. One major difficulty in finding such alliances is that there are in fact two divides in the global drugs debate: ‘zero tolerance’ versus pragmatism and North versus South.


The main point always brought forward at the multilateral level from Latin American side, is ‘co-responsibility’ interpreted as more money for Alternative Development from the developed countries, critique on the US unilateral certification mechanism, demanding more attention to the demand side, money laundering, chemical precursors and synthetic drugs. In principle these are all valid points, since the drug control system has long been biased placing the burden on cultivation in Southern countries. And clearly the lobby on these issues from countries like Colombia and Mexico has gained results in terms of acceptance of the need for a more ‘balanced’ approach. At the 1998 Special Session more attention was given to the demand reduction side. Over the past years also many law enforcement programmes have been launched in the areas of chemical precursors and synthetic drugs, all with highly questionable effectiveness, like any supply reduction effort based on law enforcement.


The difficulty is how this North-South divide has affected the other divide, between tolerance and pragmatism. The Southern voice is rooted in a plea for funding combined with the accusation of hypocrisy. Basically arguing that Northern countries should not only compensate them for the income losses –for farmers and the national economy- but also should apply similar levels of repression to the part of the problem they are responsible for (demand, money laundering, precursors). Since the South feels indeed unduly pressured to not only extradite major traffickers, but also send their military to fight farmers and destroy livelihoods, they request the North not only to put controls on banks and chemical industry, but also to put their consumers in prison. In fact, Southern countries have aligned themselves at the UN level largely on the side of ‘zero tolerance’. Any leniency in terms of Harm Reduction or cannabis decriminalisation in European countries or Canada, is fiercely attacked from the side of African, Asian and also Latin American countries.


This perverted interpretation of so called ‘co-responsibility’ and ‘balanced approach’ has to be overcome. Alliances have to be constructed rooted in pragmatic approaches and in solidarity with the victims of this War on Drugs on both sides of the spectrum, be they in the North or in the South, consumers or producers. The concepts of ‘co-responsibility’ and a ‘balanced approach’ between demand and supply sides have to be redefined. If countries here in Latin America want to challenge the War on Drugs forced upon them, if they want more leeway to negotiate with farmers, if they want to end forced eradication, they will need to build a bridge with those countries in the North experimenting with less repressive approaches, countries like Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, etc. Only if such a coalition of like-minded countries could be brought together, and act in a coordinated manner to explore more pragmatica drug policies for both the demand and the supply sides, the UN level might become a useful forum. Only then, a stronger political alliance can enforce a more open-minded debate about current anti-drug  strategies and challenge the US hegemony and discourse in this field.


The inclusion of the drugs issue in the agenda of the World Social Forum process can play an important role in redefining the concept of co-responsibility, and defining a common agenda for such a like-minded coalition. By bringing together people from around the world and from the different ends of the spectrum, and by making linkages between drug policies and other social issues, like human, social and cultural rights, marginalisation and exclusion, the importance of survival economies, the impacts of neoliberal globalisation, conflict resolution and prevention, etc. Finally, an worldwide alliance of this nature can help to build pressure to push for the mentioned priority issues at the UN level, call for an an independent global evaluation of the current drug control system and put forward recommendations for a more just, more effective and more humane drug policy.



Foro Social Mundial Temático - Cartagena/Colombia – 16-20 June 2003

Martin Jelsma – 20/6/2003

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