The bi-monthly newsletter of ENCOD
(European NGO Council on Drugs and Development)
Secretariat: Lange Nieuwstraat 147, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgium
Tel. +32 3 272 5524 / Fax.: + 32 3 226 3476 / E-mail: email@example.com
By: Joep Oomen
Europeans often imagine the Caribbean
as a tropical merry go-round of sensual pleasures, a notion heavily reinforced
by Bob Marley posters, Bacardi adverts and holiday brochures. The depiction
of the natives, as pleasure loving, hospitable and easy going, papers over
a polarity of social values, between spliff toting reputation rebels
in search of “reputation”, and the church going, tea-totalling upholders
of respectability. The supporters of these contrasting ethical models have
over the past fifteen years, been engaging in a political and intellectual
battle over the status of, and the social response to controlled substances.
Marijuana, imported by indentured labourers from India in the mid 19th
century, has become widely established among sections of the population
in nearly all the islands and coastal countries. Much more alarming to
policy makers, though, has been the dramatic spread of crack cocaine sine
the late 1980s, accompanied by turf wars, acquisition crime, and worst
of all to these mini and micro states, the power of international trafficking
All reports agree, that the Caribbean region has been dragged into the drugs imbroglio by the accident of geography. Lying between South American producers and North American and European consumers, the sea lanes and airspace of the Antilles are one of the great highways for cocaine trafficking. On a daily basis, fast boats are leaving the delta of the Orinoco river in Venezuela across eight miles of open water to Trinidad. Cocaine is traded by the kilo on the docks of Port of Spain, repacked and shipped northwards. Planes and boats hop along the string of islands stretching in an arch right up to the Florida coast. Each island may serve as storage base, or repackaging point, or for transshipment to Europe. The collaboration of local partners is essential, both within, and outside the criminal justice system. The impact of the cocaine trade on the profile of crime, as well as on the integrity of the law enforcement agencies has therefore been considerable.
The events which rocked the tiny island state of St. Kitts and Nevis (population 40,000) in 1994 are illustrative. The return of “Little Nut”, a notorious drug trafficker, cum police informant, from the US, led to eight murders, a mass prison break out, the election of a new government, and riots which could only be put down by the intervention of troops from neighbouring islands. Yet law enforcement agencies, are powerless and deeply involved. An investigation by Scotland Yard officers into the Trinidad and Tobago police force found the involvement of officers in the drug trade as widespread and pervasive (Scotland Yard). And an authoritative study of the Jamaica Police force dismissed talk of “a few bad apples” as wholly inaccurate, suggesting a rotting barrel instead.
European support for bureacracy
At the same time the region’s main development partners were exerting ever greater pressure on governments to tighten up its drug control regimes. The US was advocating the new doctrine of “shared sovereignty” to allow its vessels access to territorial waters, and waving the stick certification. Europe, led by the UK and France, was becoming alarmed by the ever greater flows of cocaine channelled through the regions.
It was in response to these genuine concerns that Caribbean leaders gathered in Barbados in 1995 to sign up to a regional drug control strategy that produced 87 recommendations and a policy “road map” in something that since become known as the Barbados Plan of Action. The commitment to action was backed by the promise of considerable financial and technical assistance, and triggered a wave of inter and intra regional partnerships. The main donor to emerge in this initiative was the European Commission and it’s brand new Drug Desk within the Directorate General for Development, VIII. But the platform for the new welter of programmes and projects was the UNDCP regional office in Barbados. The interrelationship between the two institutions was reinforced when a former UNDCP employee was recruited to head the European Commission Drug Control Office opened later in Barbados. Within a short period of time the bulk of the disbursed funds from the Europe 20 million drug control budget were channelled towards the UNDCP. For the regional office, and its chief executive, Calvani, this was a great coup. The impact on the region, however, has been debatable.
One of the most striking things about the Barbados office, is that it contained no expatriate staff with any professional expertise in any aspects of drug control - no criminologists, epidemiologists, sociologists, or counsellors. They were, in the main, seasoned UN bureaucrats, who relied on common sense, and amateurish enthusiasm, with the following consequences.
Firstly, the organisation could only manage but not implement any programme. Which meant that having sliced off a 13% coordination fee for each of the entrusted programmes it now had to subcontract to another organisations which would then do likewise. Add to this the cost of travel, and well over a third of programmed funds were spend before the project had become operational.
Secondly, it saw to the left the identification of projects largely to the individual predilections of the officer in charge. And these, it so happened, took a punitive approach to drug control. As a result, the monies taken out of the 9th European Development Fund, were poured into training courses for customs officers, the creation of a data system for registering pleasure yachts, and “legal training” - this included a weekend bash for the Attorney Generals and senior judges from 16 Caribbean countries, at a four star beach resort in Barbados. At a time when EC development policy was concerned about poverty reduction and sustainability.
Yet the training of police officers, the sharpening of the drug control regimes, and the ever louder awareness campaigns launched by national Drug councils had several serious consequences. Drugs had entered the political agenda, and an issue of serious contention. One of the reasons were discussed by a American Development bank sponsored report into the Criminal Justice System in the region in 2000. In most of the countries in the region, the dramatic increase in drug related arrests had led to the clogging of the courts and dramatic prison overcrowding.
Interestingly, the bulk of arrestees are held on marijuana related charges, normally for possession or peddling. While some dramatic cocaine seizures have been recorded, they have failed to either make a dent in the flow of drugs into the main consumer market, or for that matter impact on prices in local markets. Across the region the deck is stacked against the small time user. In Guyana young men were held for up to two years in pretrial detention for smoking a spliff, while traffickers caught with kilo loads of cocaine are set free on bail, only to abscond. There is a deliberation behind this, explained by a police officer from Anguilla: in 2001 a ship load of cocaine was seized, and four men arrested. Two Colombians posted half a million dollar bail, then absconded. The government was pleased, having got the cocaine, the boat, and the money. Yet, small offenders are rarely given the opportunity of bail, and all to often end up serving custodial sentences.
According to studies into recidivism, people who enter a penal institution are all the more likely to commit a felony, partly because of the stigma attached to convictions in small communities. One of the perverse outcomes of the tough approach to drugs, is therefore a rising crime rate. The very measures put into place to protect society from one social evil - drugs, is creating an even greater one in the form of a growing pool of embittered, alienated, and “schooled” criminals. The UNDCP office, under a new director, now sought to address the problem with a Euro 1.3 million Penal Reform programme. With the European drugs policy in a shambles, the project is still waiting for approval six years after the first submission.
Yet the serious impact of drugs, criminality and an ill advised drugs policy, has triggered a number of promising responses. One of theses is the growing acceptance of harm reduction in even some of the most conservative countries. In the Cayman Islands, a UK Overseas Territory, under strong US influence, the National Drug Council organised a fleet of buses to take revellers home on New Years eve 2002, thereby dramatically cutting down the number of road accidents. Not without controversy, because this scheme was deemed by some as “enabling” people to drink and take drugs, when the focus of the council should be to stop that behaviour. Yet harm reduction, an acceptance of drugs as a fact of life, is in ascendance.
In Trinidad and Tobago the Ministry of Community Empowerment has begun financing NGOs working with homeless people, many of whom are drug users. Working on the front line of drug services, these NGOs have a very different agenda, to the “war on drugs”. According to “LT”, project manager for New Life ministries a successful intervention is “To give someone a hot meal, a good nights’ sleep, and a wash.” There is no talk here of detoxification, abstinence and information that may led to the big suppliers. The interests of the client come first, the motivation behind the intervention are strictly humanitarian.
These sentiments are now being echoed in the ministries and conference halls at national and regional level. Only last year, the Caribbean community and Market working in conjunction with the UK Foreign and commonwealth Office, conducted its first Drug Demand Reduction Needs Assessment. At a regional conference of social, health and social development ministers in Guyana, the recommendations were accepted (COHSOD, October 2002), including undertakings to find alternatives to custodial punishments for non violent drug offenders.
Most governments, however, are moving cautiously. Many diverse demands are bearing on small budgets, and external partners continue to demand
tougher action on traffickers, and since 9 - 11, on terrorism. Moreover, the law enforcement agencies which continue to eat up the bulk of the funds allocated to drug control with demands for new speedboats, x-ray machines, canine unit, and electronic surveillance, form a highly organised and well connected lobby.
Demand reduction practitioners are therefore seeking new ways of giving voice to their own demands. The Caribbean harm Reduction Coalition, founded in 2000, has been increasingly active in networking, exchanging experience and disseminating information. Run on a shoe string out of a drop in centre in St. Lucia, it has recently sought to avail itself of the existing democratic instruments. The programme manager organised a number of his clients, in the main homeless crack cocaine users, who get by doing sex work and menial tasks in the harbour area of Pastries, to visit the town hall and register on the electoral roll, saying “that will force the politicians to take note of their needs.”
The most sustained effort at changing the drug control regime, however, is currently being undertaken by the Jamaican government. Last year the “Ganja Commission”, submitted its findings with the recommendation to decriminalise marijuana, on the basis of a wide ranging consultation with stake holders from all professional and social backgrounds. First suggested by the member for parliament Trevor Munroe, and called into being by Prime Minister Patterson, the Ganja commission constitutes the most significant attempt at arriving at a home born solution to a complex, global problem. Given the hostile response by the US government - the acting ambassador greeted the publications of the findings with a finger wagging letter to the editor of the major newspaper - the Jamaican leadership stands in urgent need of international solidarity and support.
At the same time civil society organisations, such as the Caribbean Harm Reduction Coalition, need to link up with colleagues and networks in North and South, for experience, technical assistance and inspiration. Containing the fallout of the war on drugs is an international undertaking from which no region has been spared, and where solidarity and cooperation is essential.
Marcus Day is the secretary of the Caribbean Harm Reduction Coalition and runs a drop in centre for crack users in Castries, St. Lucia. With Axel Klein, he is the co-author of the DrugScope-CARICOM report on “Drug Demand Reduction needs Assessment in the Caribbean Community and market”, and has written extensively on drug issues in the region.
Axel Klein is a researcher in the International Policy department of the UK NGO DrugScope, and has been working extensively in the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. His publications include “Drug Demand Reduction needs Assessment in the Caribbean Community and market”, and “Between the Death Penalty and Legalisation”, in the New West India Guide, vol 75, no. 3&4.
DRUGS and DEVELOPMENT is the bi-monthly newsletter of ENCOD (European NGO Council on Drugs and Development). Currently, the following organisations are members of ENCOD: ARSEC - Spain, ASK-Switzerland, BCA - Belgium, CYAH - Spain, CISS - Italy, GfbV - Austria, Gruppo Abele - Italy, GRUP IGIA – Spain, GVC - Italy, ILA - Germany, LA - Belgium, MLAL - Italy, TNI - Netherlands. For more information on ENCOD’s activities, please contact the secretariat.
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articles in this newsletter is exclusively of the authors. The newsletter
can also be obtained in Spanish (please contact the secretariat or visit
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