Santos’s strategy is bound to end in disappointment.
In terms of bringing about an end to US prohibition, using self-righteous, indignant, and perhaps even arrogant language would be about as effective as Muammar Gaddafi demanding that Europe and North America convert fully to Islam.
As far as the US is concerned, Gaviria, Santos, and company seem to have difficulty understanding that the world’s powers are not often persuaded to change their laws based on the self-appointed “moral authority” of Third World presidents with a penchant for bombast.
In June, the Obama Administration’s “Drug Czar” declared that he was hardly impressed by Gaviria’s proposals, even with respect to legalizing cannabis, implying there’s not the slightest possibility of a change in current US drug policy.
In light of this, the presidents of Colombia, Mexico, and other countries the drug war has decimated should trust markets instead of international bureaucracies. But first they should realize the futility of their own efforts to bring about a “global debate.”
The only ways forward are through global legalization or an agreement among the producing countries to legalize as a bloc.
According to a thesis written by Colombian Gustavo Silva Cano last year at Princeton, unilateral legalization would save Colombia approximately $7 billion annually. Taxing cocaine production would also become a considerable source of government revenue. Finally, and most importantly, unilateral legalization would result in thousands of fewer homicides annually.
The debate that should be held inside Colombia is whether unilateral legalization’s immediate benefits would outweigh the perhaps inevitable diplomatic isolation vis-à-vis the US, something which could lead to the loss of foreign investment and even economic sanctions. (Legal exports to the US totaled $15.7 billion in 2010.)
Until this question is considered internally, it’s mere disingenuous vanity to pretend that the rest of the world will take measures based on a debate that only Colombia and the other producing countries are willing to have.
When you rule over Lilliput, Napoleonic ambitions are seldom realized. It’s about time Latin American presidents came to terms with reality.
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