Joe Biden in Mexico and Honduras
Just say no
blog - Americas view
Mar 6th 2012, 22:17 by T.W. | MEXICO CITY
GIVEN the recent calls by several Latin American presidents for a debate on legalising drugs, would the United States show any flexibility in its stance on prohibition? "None," was the answer of Joe Biden, America's vice-president, who was in Mexico City on March 5th to meet the three main contenders in July's presidential race.
Mr Biden arrived under unprecedented pressure from regional presidents for the United States to give way on prohibition, which many in the region blame for generating appalling violence. Honduras, which Mr Biden visits on March 6th, currently has the highest murder rate in the world.
Echoing Barack Obama, Mr Biden said that legalisation was a "totally legitimate debate". But the reason to debate it, he said, was "to lay to rest some of the myths that are associated with the notion of legalisation."
Mr Biden's arguments were well-worn: cocaine is bad for one's health and creates social problems; legalising might remove the taboo and increase consumption; in any case illegal markets would remain to serve those who could not get the drug legally (underage users, for instance); and so on. In
short: "It's worth discussing. But there is no possibility that the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalisation."
Not especially surprising stuff. Here are few more drug-related nuggets from what was not a revolutionary press conference. It looks unlikely that Central America will get the answer it is looking for on drug reform, at least anytime soon.
1. Mr Biden said that Felipe Calderón, Mexico's president, did not use their meeting on March 5th to raise the question of legalisation, which he has hinted at in the past. Mr Calderón repeatedly called for "market alternatives" last year, but never fully explained what he meant.
You can see in this video that he beat around the bush somewhat when we asked him about the phrase last year.
The fact that he didn't bring it up with Mr Biden, at a time when it is more on the agenda than ever, adds weight to the argument of those who say that Mr Calderón's stance on "market alternatives" is more political opportunism than conviction.
2. The unintended consequences of the drug war are now recognised even by those who back it. For a long time, critics of prohibition have argued that tackling the drugs business in one place merely serves to push it elsewhere, thus rendering the exercise futile. On Monday Mr Biden admitted, unprompted:
"We did such a good job in shutting down the Caribbean and [with] Plan Colombia that it was like squeezing a water balloon. It came up through Central America and up through Mexico." It is encouraging that the authors of the drug war admit this. But the realisation doesn't seem to be affecting
policy: the United States and its allies continue to squeeze the balloon, pushing down on Mexico and Central America, and watching violence pop up elsewhere, now in Venezuela and (again) the Caribbean.
3. Mexico's strategy of taking out capos, or bosses of cartels, does not have much backing from the United States. This has been rumoured for a while, but on Monday Mr Biden made a pretty direct criticism of the idea that cartels can be shut down by arresting or killing their bosses, as Mr Calderón has tried to do over the past five years. "You can go out and decapitate an organisation and it's like a hydra-headed monster: it'll grow another head."
This is exactly what has happened: the capture of high-profile villains has not generally diminished the violence, and in some cases seems to have stoked it. Mr Biden's solution: "Follow the money.You go and follow the money and the monster withers."