Debating Drugs in Latin America: What has been Missing?


This image depicts a still life composed of a number of items set atop a mirror that represented controlled substances often ingested, inhalFor the last couple of years in Latin America, the topic of decriminalization and-or legalization of drugs has been discussed in different forums and summits. The war against drugs has not given the expected results and instead, has brought an uncountable number of deaths and victims and the place of the person in this situation remains as an unanswered quandary.

Last year, during the meeting of the System of Central America Integration –SICA in Spanish- in Antigua, Guatemala, the Presidents of the region discussed ways to fight organized crime. By initiative of the Guatemalan President, Otto Pérez Molina , the idea of legalization of drugs was pushed first during SICA[1] and again at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia with no further agreements on the issue[2]. The topic has been discussed on the table of both, formal and informal dialogues, political or civil society, groups in favor and opposed to it and meanwhile the programs to fight drug trafficking has produced mixed outcomes.

Countries such as Colombia and Mexico have been going through a painful and, on the second case, a disastrous process. The experience is similar in Central America and the Caribbean countries. It is unnecessary to mention that the topic of drugs and the aspects related to it are prickly for the officials of the countries involved in the debate as well as for civil society. It is a topic of concern for all. Most of the time,however, when it has been discussed, it has been from the perspective of national security, judicial and criminal elements or the regulation of drugs sales.The aspect of public health has been barely mentioned, but the transcendence for the person itself and the implications on both consumers and nonusers of drugs, have been absent in the discussion, especially within the circles of the decision makers.

Politicians and officials have missed the point that the human being is a key player, and they must regard the legalization and/or decriminalization of drugs as a complex debate that should be tackled beyond the common areas of discussion. With or without the access to drugs; families, societies and countries must talk about the issue from a broader point of view where the person is seen as a key element in his/her anthropological dimension and not only as a buyer of a product and the way in which they will make the purchase. Unfortunately in Latin America, this focus on the person hasn’t been a main concern, on the contrary, countries have been focused above all on the commercial and legal aspects of drug trafficking. The inclusion of the role of the human being on the topic of legalization and/or decriminalization of drugs is highly relevant in order to understand what kind of solutions societies in the region need. The person should be the priority of any discussion in which it is crucially involved. Sadly, however, the debate is headed in other directions.

By Andres Bustos, Intern at WYA Latin America.

[1] Taken from
[2] Taken from

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