From Brazil

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Vincent Bevins √© colaborador do jornal brit√Ęnico 'Financial Times' e correspondente no Brasil do 'Los Angeles Times'. Escrito em ingl√™s, blog aborda principais acontecimentos do Brasil sob o olhar de um estrangeiro.

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How many more lives will the US-led “war on drugs” take?

Por Vincent Bevins

Denis Russo Burgierman wrote a very interesting piece in today’s Folha de S.Paulo. I’m reproducing it below in full. These words are not mine – I’m just the translator. VB

Heads of state from all the countries in the Americas will spend the weekend in the beautiful city of Cartagena das √ćndias, on the Colombian coast. The meeting promises the same old scenes: speeches about the blockade on Cuba, Ch√°vez acting up, and Obama’s glittering smile, with the Caribbean as backdrop.

Meanwhile, Latin America is drowning in a sea of blood. It’s the most violent piece of land on the planet, much worse than Africa. Out of the 14 countries with the world’s highest murder rate, seven are in Latin America, starting with El Salvador, where the chance of being shot to death is higher than in wartime Iraq.

Brazil is in the Olympic competition for the most murderous countries, coming in at 18th with 26 murders per 100,000 residents, or more than Palestine, Afghanistan, and Mozambique. In absolute terms, we win the gold: no other country in the world kills as many as we do.

The reason for the violence is as clear as the waters of the Caribbean: the war on drugs.

Over the last 40 years, since Richard Nixon sat in Obama’s place, the US has led a repressive offensive on drugs throughout our entire continent.

The fierce laws give criminals a monopoly in a very lucrative market, allowing them to be better armed and better paid than our own official security forces.

The result is that violence skyrockets. Paradoxically, increases in drug use do not slow down, as a result of a lack of investment in health in education. All that money is already earmarked for guns and prisons.

The war on drugs is now the main obstacle to development in Latin America, bringing down businesses, increasing our costs and scaring away tourists. But for many years now, no politician in the region has had the courage to face the problem – they’re scared to death of our big brother to the North, and of losing votes.

This has started to change. Last month, Otto Per√©z Molina, the president of Guatemala – the world’s 7th most violent country – proposed that we should start talking about solutions to the problem – including the idea of creating controlled markets for marijuana, in an attempt to bring down the profitability of drug trafficking, and as a result, the amount of weapons involved.

Perez Molina is no bearded hippie. He is a hard-line general that was elected after saying he’d “crush the cartels with an iron fist.”

And he’s no dope, either. He knows he has no chance of winning as long as our drug policies enrich the enemy armies. Support for Molina’s courageous position popped up in important countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.

The US did exactly what we’d expect: they sent the vice president to go give Molina a stern rebuke, and acted outraged. They’re playing to the crowd: in an election year Obama can’t be seen as “soft on drugs.”

Colombia’s former president Cesar Gaviria, said that the majority of US officials already know that the war on drugs has been a mistake, and that they don’t end it because “it’s on automatic pilot.”

In the midst of all this mess, one country is fundamental: Brazil. If Dilma gives clear support, Brazil, Mexico and Colombia, the three biggest economies in Latin America, will be on the same side, defending the region against a bloodbath. This will lead to changes around the world.

But Brazil pretends that this is not our battle. The Foreign Ministry refuses to say anything, other than giving a vague declaration that the country “is not opposed to opening a debate.” Our politicians must be too busy writing speeches about Cuba.

Denis Russo Burgierman is a Brazilian journalist and author of “The end of the war: marijuana and the creation of a new system to deal with drugs.” (Leya)

Photo: Fabiana Andres Lopez, left, and another relative, mourn on the coffin containing the body of her son Elmer Constantino Castro Andres, after the identification and repatriation of the remains from Mexico at an Air Force base in Guatemala City , Wednesday, March 21, 2012. According to Mexican authorities, Castro was one of 72 migrants allegedly executed Aug. 25, 2010 by the Zetas drug cartel in the northeastern Mexico town of San Fernando, just 100 miles from the U.S. border. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

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