Andy Atkins looks at the globalised drugs crisis and at how the Catholic Church is one of the leading players in the international battle against drug peddling and addiction.
TqDAY COUNTRIES THAT are not suffering the harmful conseuences of drug abuse are the exception rather than the rule," claims a recent UN report. The drug trade, it warns, has become "globalised".
Drug abuse and trafficking now affect places as far-flung as Nigeria and Nepal. Police chiefs from Moscow to Manchester report an increase in violent drug-related crime.
Global trade in the three major "natural" drugs alone heroin, cocaine and marijuana is estimated to be worth more than £79 billion a year.
Governments and international organisations agree on the seriousness of the "drugs problem".
Yet its "globalisatit:in" suggests a monumental failure of the methods used to address it.
The dramatic boom in cocaine production from Latin America in the 1980s, despite militarised operations to destroy coca crops and capture key traffickers, showed that a predominantly repressive approach was useless.
It did nothing to Slow down the primary motors of the drug trade demand for drugs in the North and grinding poverty in the South. Hundreds of thousands of peasants grow drug-linked crops like coca and poppy because they have no viable alternatives.
Since the late 1980s, the United Nations has advocated an "integral approach" to the drug trade. This means combining law enforcement against traffickers with social measures to reduce demand for drugs, and economic measures to reduce poverty in Third World drug-producing Zones.
coca cro captur traffic
The United States and the European Union, leading players in international drug control efforts, formally endorse the UN line. "In theory, given time, this approach should work", say prominent drug policy analysts like Peruvian Hugo Cabieses, who was recently in Britain.
"The problem is that the inte gral approach is still more rhetoric than reality. What we see in Latin America is more of the same: repression, with little effective action either to tackle poverty or to reduce demand in the North".
President Clinton's glossy new national drug control strategy, announced in February, is a case in point.
Clinton proposes to increase the US federal drug-control budget by 9 per cent next year to £8.5 billion. The proportion spent on tackling demand should increase.
But almost 60 per cent will still be directed at reducing drug supply, largely through the law enforcement measures within the United States and at borders.
Ps and Of the mere £107 C key million in drug control kers, aid for Latin American
government, no more than one third will be economic aid. At least twice as much will go to the police, military and judiciary.
Demand reduction is a stated priority of the European Union. But concerted action has been slow so far although plans for a second European Week Against Drug Abuse later this year suggest an increase in momentum.
Latin America may offer sobering lessons for other parts of the world. The continent has long been the main focus of the US's international drug control efforts and is now a major recipient of UN and EU aid. Specialists warn, however, that the "war on drugs" has not only failed to hold the drug trade but is having dangerous side-effects.
According to the Andean Commission of jurists, drugcontrol laws passed under foreign pressure are exacerbating human rights violations and have undermined the right to a fair trial.
The increase in military aid to the region under the rubric of counter-narcotics assistance, is bolstering the least democratic and most corrupt sectors of Latin American society the armed forces and the police.
Environmentalists complain that eradicating coca and poppy, without offering peasants alternatives, is forcing them to move deeper into the jungle and replant.
This simply spreads the environmental damage. While European aid comes without strings attached, many Latin American politicians accuse the United States of blackmailing their countries into accepting its repressive drug control plans by threatening to cut aid if they do not.
The Catholic Church agrees.
The Latin American
.11 F. h p s ' Conference recently stated that "drug control policies have compro
mised the security of states and their international relations.
International aid has been used to interfere in the economic affairs of nations, rather than as an instrument of international solidarity to fight against this grave problem with co-ordinated and integrated policies and actions.
Moreover, our people have been gravely affected by the corruption and violence that these drug control policies have stimulated."
Righting present wrongs will require a political will by the rich countries which they have not displayed to date. Extra resources are needed to cut drug addiction through preventative education and rehabilitation. More still is needed to tackle the urban decay arid unemployment whiqh are contributory factors; to drug abuse. And reducing rural poverty in the Third World may require a rethink of the current free-market policies.
When recently Per‘u cut import tariffs and abolished subsidised credit to the small farmer, cheap imported maize and rice flooded the country. Local producers. unable to compete, have been forced to grow coca instead.
Frustration at the failure and dangers of this "war on drugs" has recently led to a number of responsible officials, from the head of Interpol to Colombia's chief prosecutor, to call for the legalisation of drugs and lesser of evils.
To the UN and most governments, the mere suggestion is anathema.
In Latin American countries, scarred both by the drug trade and efforts to repress it, opinions are divided.
But opponents agree that if talk of legalisation sparks a serious international debate about the causes of the drug trade and the dangers of the "War" against it, it could serve a useful purpose.