Mark Lee

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

As the United States intensifies its war on drugs a group of Caribbean academics is advocating “collaborating with our Latin neighbors in adopting a common front for constructive engagement with the US on this subject”.

Norman Girvan, former head of the Trinidad headquartered Association of Caribbean States (ACS) has thrown out the idea to leading regional academics and media as a Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) research associate, Steve Schaffer, proposed in an article that “What the Drug War Needs is a Debate, Not a Disingenuous Battle Plan”.

According to Girvan, the approach taken by Brazil and Mexico is in keeping with the recommendations of  the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy chaired by the former Presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.

“There IS a strong case for Caribbean countries collaborating with LA countries to engage the US and the international community to ending this vacuous “war” –no war on abstract notions like poverty, drugs, terror has ever been won,” was the initial response of Professor Alston ‘Barry’ Chevannes a former University of the West Indies social anthropologist who headed Jamaica’s National Commission on Ganja, out of which a National Report on Ganja was produced.

London-based former Antigua diplomat, Ron Sanders, also agreed with the idea of dialogue noting that he recently made a similar suggestion when he addressed 85 high ranking military officers from around the world on US relations with Central America and the Caribbean at Britain’s Royal College of Defence Studies.

“…The United States should take the lead in organising collaborative arrangements with Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean to establish a comprehensive anti-narcotic programme that addresses both supply and demand,” Sanders told the officers. “If this is not done, the problem of drug-trafficking and its attendant high crime will continue to plague Central America and the Caribbean with a terrible destabilising effect on the small economies that are least able to cope.”

Schaffer’s article for the a Washington DC-based COHA, synthesizes Latin American domestic polices on drug use at the individual and cultural levels with the criminality associated with illicit dealing and the US war, which does not discriminate between the discrete elements.

So that while the COHA article acknowledged Mexico’s bloody hostilities against drug cartels, it notes President Felipe Calderón’s August 23, 2009, announcement that it would be eliminating jail time for possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana under a new law that would free up law enforcement resources from dealing with “petty drug dealers and small-time addicts”.

”In addition to Mexico, both Brazil and Uruguay later announced the elimination of measures harshly penalizing citizens carrying small amounts of drugs,” Schaffer reported.

The COHA associate observes that while the US is displeased with the new Latam approach, its own policy of pouring billions of dollars and arms at Colombian, Mexican and Peruvian cartels has not solved the problem – a solid reason for a change in approach led by dialogue between Washington and the Latins.

“..[W]hen it comes to an effective drug strategy, what is the world waiting for? More directly, what will it take for the White House to act?” Schaffer pondered. “Since the current strategy is clearly not working, why not open up the hemispheric drug policy to public debate for the very first time. The dialogue would want to stress one fundamental point: the anti-drug war quarterbacked by Washington is not working and that a new plan must not focus on the pre-existing and ineffective strategies of interdiction, eradication and prohibition of cocaine, marijuana and heroin.”

And what of the Caribbean? The US is sailing full steam with its strategies at state and federal levels. On September 16, nineteen days after the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) New York Field Division announced charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and cocaine and conspiracy to illegally traffic against an alleged Jamaican gangster and requested his extradition, the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) reported that President Barack Obama had named three Caribbean Community (CARICOM)countries – the Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica – among 20 countries in what he has described as the world’s major drug-transit and illicit drug-producing nations.

“Under the Foreign Relations Authorisation Act (FAA), the President is required to notify Congress of those countries he determines to be major illicit drug-producing countries or major drug-transit countries,” the CMC quoted from a US State Department statement issued in Washington.

Failure of a country to cooperate with counter narcotics efforts can lead to varying US sanctions

The request for the extradition of Christopher Michael Coke aka “the President,” aka “Duddus,” a recognized “don” and protector in the political constituency of Prime Minister Bruce Golding has provided rum bar and cocktail party chatter about whether it’s in Jamaican politicians’ interest to allow the accused to face charges in the US.

The address by Sanders to the military officers raised the important issue of the link between the illicit drugs trade and the influx of assault weapons into the Caribbean criminal system.

“The US government could make an enormous contribution to resolving this huge problem by passing legislation and implementing machinery to control arms smuggling; by reviewing the practice of deporting convicted felons to their countries of origin; and by adopting measures to stop legal sale of assault weapons,” Sanders reportedly told his audience.

But the case of Coke and at least one high level government functionary in Guyana raises the question of just how much leverage the Caribbean does have to engage in negotiations. Decriminalizing ganja would certainly win cheers from the Rastafari remnant in Jamaica. But with the decades of freefall in the Jamaica and Guyana economies, for example, the handle of incentive seems to be in Washington and the blade of persuasion in Colombian mountains.

“With Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina now adopting a more ameliorating stance, in addition to the trends in eleven states within the US itself and in Europe, a snowballing effect here in the hemisphere could find the US basically encircled and forced to reconsider its rigid position,” wrote Chevannes in his email response to Girvan’s probe.

“Jamaica, I know, would like to decriminalise personal use of cannabis but is afraid of US decertification. Other CARICOM countries would probably like to but can’t for the same reason.”

“The Caricom nations have a scheduled meeting with Obama later this year and that would be the time to push the case, but they need to make it collective with the rest of LA, perhaps through the Rio Group,” Girvan suggests.

But as Obama is in no mood to be the black president that blinked, having already admitted that he, unlike Bill Clinton, inhaled, the image taunting the Caribbean could be that of Panamanian General Manuel Noriega’s mug shot.