Colombian Canada Ambassador Launches Preemptive Anti-Legalization Strike as Summit of the Americas Looms 4/6/01

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The Interparliamentary Forum of the Americas managed to keep legalization off the agenda in Ottawa earlier this month, but it seems that the drug policy that dare not speak its name will not go away. With Mexico's President Fox talking openly about the prospect and Uruguayan President Batlle having vowed to put legalizing the drug trade on the agenda for the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in less than three weeks, the embattled Colombian government of Andres Pastrana is taking preemptive rhetorical steps to stifle any such talk.

In an interview this week with the Ottawa Citizen, Colombia's Ambassador to Canada, Fanny Kertzman, rejected legalization of the drug trade, saying first that Colombia could not act alone and then adding that even if drugs were legal everywhere, an end to prohibition would lead to a Colombia ruled by a violent narcocracy.

"Legalization is not a choice for Colombia as long as consumer countries are not legalized," Kertzman told the Citizen. "Colombia cannot legalize by itself, otherwise Colombia will become an international pariah." Kertzman, an avid defender of Plan Colombia and apologist for the Colombian government's dismal human rights record, then went beyond the evident pragmatism of those remarks to make a much more untenable argument in an effort to puncture any trial balloons that may appear over Quebec City later this month.

"Even if the consumer countries like Canada, the US, and those in Europe would legalize, and Colombia would legalize, the narcotraffickers would have power," argued Kertzman. "They would be free to spend their money in politics. They would be free to be elected as judges. They would be administering justice," she continued, gathering momentum. "They would be promoting laws. We don't want to be governed by these kinds of crooks."

Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice and editor of Cato's recently published essay collection, "After Prohibition: Adult Approaches to Drug Policy in the 21st Century," isn't buying that argument.

"She's misguided in her thinking," Lynch told DRCNet. "We try to look at the alcohol prohibition experience for guidance, and what we see is that when we moved away from a prohibition model, it allowed legitimate entrepreneurs to move back in and deliver that product to market. We move from Al Capone types, who were knocking off their competitors with machine guns, to Miller Brewing and Anheuser Busch, who don't."

As for rule by violent narcocracy, said Lynch, there is no reason it has to be that way. People who committed violent crimes in the course of drug trafficking could -- and should -- be prosecuted for those crimes of violence. "Criminals would be driven out, because anyone who relies on violence to maintain their business will continue to be the target of police attention and would be thrown in jail," said Lynch. "That is the proper role of law enforcement, trying to catch violent offenders and other criminals. Even someone selling drugs, if he isn't trying to kill his competitor, should be left alone to carry on his business."

Although Lynch did not mention it, there is another answer to the practical problem of preventing undue power from accruing to unsavory types in the event of legalization: A negotiated withdrawal from the trade, with agreed upon limitations on political and economic activity. And although Kertzman did not mention it, the Colombian government was presented with just that possibility during the height of its battle with the Medellin Cartel. At that time, representatives of Pablo Escobar and other cartel leaders offered to walk away from the war and the drug business -- and pay off the national debt (!) -- if they were allowed to retire in peace and keep the rest of their money.

The Colombian government just said no nine years ago, and while Escobar is gone -- the operation ironically led by a prominent legalization advocate, former prosecutor general Gustavo de Grieff -- and the successor Cali Cartel has followed him into extinction, their nameless successors continue to supply insatiable foreign markets and Colombians continue to die for the drug war by the thousands each year.

And each year, it becomes more difficult to stop the talk of legalization.

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Issue #180, 4/6/01 Editorial: Racial Profiling Scandals First of Many to Come | HEA Drug Provision Begins to Bite: Over 30,000 Potentially Losing Aid Already, Many More to Follow, Students Fighting Back | Attorney General Admits Racial Profiling Still Occurring as Predecessor Twists in the Wind | Northern Arizona Racial Profiling Case Heats Up, State Destroys Evidence | Newsbrief: Annual Incarceration Numbers Released, Total Starting to Level Off, Feds Continue Blistering Pace | British Columbia Marijuana Party in Bid for Electoral Respectability, Aims for Second Place Finishes in Selected Districts | Rep. Frank Reintroduces Legislation to Legalize Medical Marijuana | Annals of Prop. 215:00:00 Humboldt Sheriff Faces Contempt of Court for Refusing to Return Patient's Marijuana, Vows to Stand Firm | Colombian Canada Ambassador Launches Preemptive Anti-Legalization Strike as Summit of the Americas Looms | Drug War on Trial: Narco News Court Date and One-Year Anniversary on Successive Days This Month | The Reformer's Calendar
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