World Economic Forum on Latin America 2011

  • The Drug Trade and Latin America

    Friday 29th April 2011 - 11:00am - 12:00pm

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  • How is the region addressing the drug trade and new developments in the legalization of drugs? 

    The following dimensions were addressed:

    • National responses
    • Security, organized crime and the illegal economy
    • Healthcare systems
    • Government revenue
    • Foreign policy


    Key Points

    • The current war on drugs is a failure, with drug cartels infiltrating governments.
    • There is no consensus on legalization, but it is unlikely to occur without shifts in public opinion.
    • The drug trade must be dealt with internationally, and hemispheric cooperation is needed.


    The war on drugs has been a failure. Policies begun in the United States almost 40 years ago have failed to reduce production and consumption. Even countries with some success in battling drug traffickers within their borders continue to face severe challenges. Relative success in one country merely pushes drug traffickers into neighbouring countries with less ability to confront the problem. Some are in danger of becoming “mafia states”, with drug cartels controlling high levels of government, which then implements policy to benefit traffickers instead of the general population.

    Past US funding for anti-drug programmes in Latin America, such as Plano Colombia, is unlikely to be repeated in the future. The US is also unlikely to reduce consumption and demand significantly. Latin America cannot count on the US to solve the problem, though measures to reduce the flow of illegal arms from the US to Latin American drug traffickers are possible and must be implemented.

    Legalization has been proposed as a “lesser evil”, but there are strong arguments for and against it. Proponents cite the potential of reducing violence and better allocating law enforcement resources, as well as data from Portugal indicating that marijuana legalization does not necessarily lead to increased consumption. Opponents cite the risk of greater consumption, as well as political realities: it is currently political suicide to discuss legalization in most countries, including the US, so there is little point in discussing this alternative until it becomes plausible. Yet, public opinion, in the US and elsewhere, may be shifting.

    Any discussion on legalization should avoid a Manichean all or nothing viewpoint. Some drugs, such as marijuana, could be legalized and regulated, while others remain illegal. Intermediate options must be discussed, and public opinion might prove flexible. The upcoming 2012 referendum in California on legalizing marijuana could be an important signal. The conversation must occur not just in the corridors of power, but also around family dinner tables.

    Panellists and participants agreed that international and hemispheric collaboration is required to fight drug trafficking. Measures facilitating greater cooperation between national law enforcement agencies across borders could be immediately helpful, and countries should be helped to improve their justice systems and strengthen the rule of law.


    Session Panellists

    Moisés Naím

    , Senior Associate, International Economics, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, USA; Global Agenda Council on Illicit Trade

    Washington de Oliveira Rimas

    , Director, Cultural Afro Reggae, Brazil

    Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno

    , Chief of Staff, Office of the President of Colombia; Young Global Leader

    Bill Richardson III

    , Chairman, APCO's Global Political Strategies Group, APCO Worldwide, USA

    Manuel Rocha

    , Senior Adviser on International Business, Foley & Lardner, USA


    Jorge G. Castañeda

    , Professor, Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University, USA

    Moderated by

    Mauricio Cárdenas

    , Director, Latin America Initiative, Brookings Institution, USA; Regional Agenda Council on Latin America


    This summary was prepared by Dan Horch. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.

    Copyright 2011 World Economic Forum

    This material may be copied, photocopied, duplicated and shared, provided that it is clearly attributed to the World Economic Forum. This material may not be used for commercial purposes.

    Keywords: drugs, legalization, hemispheric cooperation, mafia states


Moderated by

  • Mauricio Cardenas Mauricio Cardenas
    Minister of Finance and Public Credit of Colombia

    Economist, Universidad de los Andes. PhD Economics, UC Berkeley. 1993, General Manager, Empresa de E...


  • Moisés Naím Moisés Naím
    Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, USA

    MSc and PhD, MIT. Former: Minister of Trade and Industry of Venezuela; Director, Venezuela Central B...

  • Jorge G. Castañeda Jorge G. Castañeda
    Professor, Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies, New York University, USA

    BA, Princeton University; M.A, Ecole Pratique de Hautes Etudes; BA and PhD in Economic History, Univ...

  • Manuel Rocha Manuel Rocha
    Senior Adviser on International Business, Foley & Lardner, USA

    1973, BA in Latin American Studies, Yale; 1976, Master's in Public Administration, Harvard; 1978, Ma...

  • Washington de Oliveira Rimas Washington de Oliveira Rimas
    Director, Cultural Afro Reggae, Brazil

    Born and raised in a Rio de Janeiro slum; for more than 15 years, led drug trafficking. Currently, h...

  • Bill Richardson III Bill Richardson III
    Chairman, Global Political Strategies Group, APCO Worldwide, USA

    1970, BA, Tufts University; 1971, MA, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. 1982, Congressman for Ne...

  • Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno
    Minister of National Defence of Colombia

    Juan Carlos Pinzón Bueno is Minister of National Defence of Colombia. Prior, he served as Chief of ...