Chatham House

Coming from a political organization like the OAS I am always reminded that we should not assume that governments will move in one direction or another.   Modernizing drug law enforcement will only come through the modernisation of drug laws and policy and more broadly rebuilding the political will to re define what we mean by public or citizen security.


It is our view that at least in our region the time and momentum is right for change;


1) The security statistics and perceptions are awful;  the Americas has 8% of global population and something like half of all homicides, half of all kidnapping, half of the prison population, half of the human smuggling etc,In the latest Latinobarometro study of public perceptions insecurity was the number one issue. Ironically countries like Chile and Uruguay with relatively low level of violence the perception was high while in a country like Honduras it was relatively low.


2)  We have just finished more than a year of concentrated effort in producing the comprehensive OAS report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.


3) We are just about to reflect on 10 years of the Declaration of Hemispheric Security.


4) Frankly there is a fatigue in our countries of talking about homicides and violence; many government’s like Mexico, Colombia and others are quietly trying to change the narrative



So I thought that I might try and start where I think that at the macro level at least there some emerging consensus. Some of this may come across at trite and occasionally contradictory but it is the reality.I like to twist quotes from Churchill as we say our member sates always do the right thing once they have tried everything else.


1) Member States are not satisfied with current drug and security policy – review is good. They have broken the tabu of at least discussing alternatives to the current prohibition and repression approaches.


2)This is not just a law enforcement issue – we cannot arrest our way out of this – drug addicts belong in treatment not in jail, and there are broader socio economic problems that drive the formation of gangs and send youth into the streets.


3) We are only talking about flexibility or legalisation of the production sale and consumption of cannabis not hard drugs and decriminalization of the consumption of drugs believing that there are alternatives to incarceration.


4) Reinforce that which is working and fix what is not.  Let’s not lose some progress i.e. drop in consumption.


5)All agree cartels and TCO are bad and that the sheer scale of the illicit economy 150 billon just for drugs puts government and institutions at risk.


6) International coordination and coop is good but sovereign nations will determine what their drug and security policy should be. Heterogeneity leads to a differentiated approach.


  In order to maintain this consensus the real challenge for us now is to take advantage of the momentum and help countries adapt and adopt at the micro or implementing level and to work through fora like this one to build public consensus.


So what are some of the issues and challenges.


1) Humanize the drug policy debate, governments talk about a war on drugs people don’t – public health, prevention, intervention and community at core of any strategy yet government with weak institutions and low levels of public trust face a herculean task of implementing integrated multi-stakeholder solutions. There is still a lot of suspicion and difficulty in working across levels of government, private sector and NGO’s. For Drug treatment courts to work they require a nuanced approach by the police, an able judge and obviously treatment. This is  obviously a complex problem that hampers public policy debate. Recently in one issue of the Washington Post there was and article trying to defend or define the recent Justice Department ruling on the laws passed in Washington and Colorado State, there was a story about the FDA relabelling prescription pain killers – might surprise you to know that more people died in the US from an overdose of these opioids than there were homicides and a third story about the concerns of Molly a pure stream ecstasy. These kinds of issues make it very difficult for public policy discourse.


2) Similarly effective Citizen or public security like links in chain; need to develop integrated multidimensional approach. This will mean changing the indicators or definition of success to move from mano dura/suppression approach to intervention and prevention. This means working with governments,at all levels; national, regional and municipal, which are often on the front-line agencies responding to the problems. How do we develop costing models that help government show that investments in prevention are cheaper than enforcement? What are the new metrics that will move us beyond homicide rates. How do they move from social control to being rated by the communities they serve? Recent Economist article points to some of the problems of consolidating successful initiatives like the UPP in Rio and then backfilling with the rest of the public services – there is an impatience factor that we are still getting used to.

I am flying from here to El Salvador to host an international gathering of best practitioners in gang and municipal violence reduction tactics. Los Angeles, Medellin Washington DC area, Guatemala and Honduras to name but a few. Our effort with gangs in the Northern triangle come from a full diagnostics that we did of the security systems in these countries not surprisingly one of the conclusions s that until you deal with some of the historic underlying conditions then security is going to be hard to come by. Like dealing with the FARC in Colombia or the gangs of Brazil the moral hazard and risks are high but the potential reward in breaking the cycle of violence is higher.


4) Need for a real law enforcement improvement focus, standards based, modern, professional merit based institutions including police able to deal with both sophisticated threats like cyber and financial crimes to beat cops walking in the communities, lines between hard security of standing armies and police and soft security has gone. Dealing with gangs, drug dealers and TCO is not soft! Human Rights and citizen engagement is a fact of life many see this as a threat rather than fully embracing the power of the community level. This came out loudly in our drug report where almost all of the participants insisted that one of the scenarios had to be a bottom up or grass roots approach.Confidence in the “authorities” is the great multiplier – impunity is the enemy. Not surprisingly violence is higher in countries with weaker institutions not necessarily where the highest profits are!

We have been working with AMERIPOL to try and harmonize and standardize approaches.


5) Science and evidence need to drive policy options – got to do hard work understanding cause and effect – we call it smart security but diagnostics and intelligence needs to drive policy not knee-jerk reactions or frankly drive of security industry which has become a big business to sell more toys to the boys.We also need to do the honest analysis of unintended consequences of many of our laws an approaches; zero tolerance, minimum sentencing, anti gang laws to name a few help fill our expensive jails to what end ?


6) Int conventions and standards continue to be useful tools, especially in the fight against transnational organized crime. Let’s use flexibility inherent in them before we trash them –


7)2 Extremes – Neither total prohibition nor total legalization are solutions to anything. Let’s find mid ground.


8) No instant solutions – took years to get here – need strategic patience. Developing good statistical indicators may help governments to see whether long-term programs are on track for success.


9) Urgent need to reform and “smarten” prison system and models/ concept of reinsertion/reintegration still counter intuitive as in most countries we still talk about the concept of “penitentiary”


10) Urgent need to improve the effectiveness of international cooperation and coordination focused on attacking the assets derived from unlawful activities and organized crime. Mechanisms for mutual legal assistance and common legal standards are key – we have made progress but a lot more needs to be done. Like Levi says this goes well beyond money laundering Much more work with the private sector as the illicit economy does not float in the air but rather runs on the back of the licit one. These are very complex investigations that require highly professional investigators but this angle of attack can provide law enforcement useful evidence for building successful cases.   

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