By Helen Clark, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Ricardo Lagos
With his evidence-based, public-health approach to drug policy, US President Joe Biden is signaling that America’s longstanding strategies of repression and punishment have failed. The US should also champion a similar shift toward harm-reduction policies internationally.
Fifty years ago this week, US President Richard Nixon declared that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” requiring a “tough on crime” approach in the United States and abroad. The “war on drugs,” which expanded in parallel with the global political, military, economic, and cultural hegemony of the US in the post-World War II decades, has delivered the exact opposite of its own stated aims. Today we have both plant-based and synthetic production; low-scale and high-level trafficking of illicit narcotics; disproportionate sentencing and over-incarceration; violence and rights violations; and money laundering and enrichment of organized crime – all strengthened, not weakened, by repressive responses to illegal drugs.
US-China tensions are unlikely to abate anytime soon, and Latin America will not be able to insulate itself fully from the fallout. But by heeding the lessons of the last three years, the region’s governments and businesses can better position themselves to succeed over the next three years and beyond.
Once a peripheral presence in Latin America, China has become one of the region’s most important partners. Bilateral trade expanded from $12 billion in 2000 to over $300 billion in 2020, raising China’s share of the region’s total trade from 1.7% to 14.4%. China has also become an increasingly significant source of foreign direct investment in Latin America, accounting for nearly 10% of inflows in recent years.
Colombians need political leadership that responds to the current anger in the streets with effective strategies to tackle the country’s social and fiscal crises, while relying on increased vaccination to defeat the pandemic. But with the radical right and populist left on the rise, expecting this anytime soon is wishful thinking.
While the United States and other advanced economies are returning to normalcy, Colombia reported its highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths to date during the last week of June. Since early May, the country has been recording one COVID-19 death per 100,000 people per day – three times India’s rate.
Most of Latin America is still far from the horrific conditions prevailing in Venezuela, where output has fallen by a staggering 75% since 2013. But, given the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe there, and the specter of political instability elsewhere, investors should not take a sustained economic recovery for granted.
The current disconnect between market calm and underlying social tensions is perhaps nowhere more acute than in Latin America. The question is how much longer this glaring dissonance can continue.