Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle became the first head of state in the Western Hemisphere to call for drug legalization when he spoke out last fall (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/166.html#uruguay). Although his public pronouncements represented a remarkable departure from the US-driven hemispheric drug war consensus, his comments drew little notice from the US mass media.
But prodded by the ever-watchful Al Giordano of Narco News (http://www.narconews.com), Washington Post reporter Marcela Sanchez proved the exception, hosting a live online chat with the Uruguayan leader Thursday afternoon. Besides the Post's Sanchez, Narco News, and the Week Online, the only other press organization asking questions was the San Francisco Chronicle. Below are excerpts from that session.
On drug use among Uruguay's youth:
"I have to tell you that Uruguay, like all countries, is experiencing a process -- luckily, very slow in our case -- of growth in the consumption of drugs. We believe that we have very much improved the tasks of control, but in any manner, our form of thinking continues to be the same with respect to the root of the problem."
On other heads of state who might agree with him:
"I have had no previous contact with any head of state on this theme, and certainly no one is obliged to make reference to this matter."
On the power of special interests who benefit from the drug trade or its suppression:
"If this business is something around $600 billion per year, it is really not easy to finish it. I think by saying these things more loudly we can conclude that the interest of humanity has more power than the interest of money."
On whether he supports legalization because Uruguay benefits from money laundering:
"We are not a country with important money laundering activity. You must realize that our GDP is only $20 billion, and non-resident deposits are only $4 billion, with strong Central Bank control."
On whether he will attend the Summit of the Americas and use it to talk up legalization:
"Yes and yes."
On how to tell the difference between Uruguay and Paraguay:
"Diplomacy prevents me from answering this question."
On specific proposals and the need for change:
"[Specific legalization regimes] can be made only by a global consensus. Imagine the money you spend to impede drug traffic and imagine that huge amount of resources going to education for the people who really need help. Imagine instead that it disappears in the [drug war] in the weak social areas of any town, any country. [The drug trade] is the easy way for a young boy to have so much money in his pocket without doing anything, without knowing anything, without respecting or regarding any value, thinking that life is just this, just the moment and the power and the money. Do you think this a proper way to act and to resolve this illness? We don't. Have you watched 'Traffic'? Go tomorrow."
On the role of the media in developing a new drug policy:
"The information media have to do it with objectivity. The opinions must be reached by those who receive the information and not produced by those who provide it."