Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Canadian government and the Honduran drug business

You can draw a straight line from the Canadian government’s stupid and cynical drug policies to crime here in Honduras.
Canada and the U.S. continue to follow a drug policy that has failed every test since Prohibition in the 1920s. The governments spend billions in a futile effort to block the supply of drugs and lock up users and dealers. 
It has never worked. Over the 42 years since Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs,” nothing has changed. Drug use and drug-related crime haven’t been reduced.
The beneficiaries are criminals. Gangs make big money because drugs are illegal and widely desired. The risks are worth the huge rewards. It’s simply a question of market forces.
Honduras has become a big trans-shipment point for cocaine bound from South America to the insatiable North American and European markets. Planes land on strips carved in the jungle, boats race to dark beaches. They even use submarines.
The U.S. state department estimates 80 per cent of cocaine bound for American consumers passes through Honduras. Maybe 130 tonnes, or $80 billion in street value. 
In a desperately poor country, the chance to be part of an $80-billion business is irresistible. At the low end, people can earn a month’s pay by carrying a backpack of cocaine over the hills and into Guatemala. At the upper end, there is big money to be made. A narco in a community about 40 kilometres from here has lives in a replica of the White House.
It’s not all bad. A woman told me a narcotrafficante was elected mayor in her hometown. He had money to fix things up, and muscle to discourage troublemakers. People were happy with his administration.
But an illegal drug trade always has fallout. Participants settle disputes with guns. They bribe police and governments to look the other way. Corruption become corrosive. 
The drug industry in Honduras thrives thanks to the policies of the Canadian and U.S. governments. 
That could be defensible if those policies were based on evidence and made sense.
But they aren’t.
The latest Canadian example is the government’s response to a Supreme Court ruling rejecting its effort to close Insite, the B.C. government’s supervised drug injection site in Vancouver.
The issue has travelled through the courts - the B.C. Supreme Court, the province’s appeal court and the Supreme of Court of Canada - since 2008.
The rulings have been consistent, and based on the evidence from supporters and opponents. The supervised injection site saves lives and reduces illness. People manage their addictions and some seek treatment. Public disorder is reduced and community life improved.
And opponents were not able to show any compelling pragmatic reasons not to allow the centre to operate. Significant benefits, including lives saved, and no good reason to close the site.
The Canadian government should have said we don’t like drug use in any form, but accept the evidence and ruling on supervised injection sites. Our polices will be based on what works.
Instead, it introduced new legislation governing supervised injection sites. The health minister has full discretion to say no, without appeal. Applicants must include letters of support from provincial cabinet ministers, municipalities and police forces and broad consultation.
The legislation is written to ensure the sites won't be approved, despite the toll in lost lives, health care costs and damaged communities.
If there was any doubt about the intent, the governing Conservatives erased it. Even as the health minister announced the new law, the Conservative party launched a website petition headlined “Keep heroin out of our backyards.” It warned “special interests” and opposition parties want safe injection sites across the country.
The governing party once again played cheap and sleazy politics with drug policy.
The results stretch across a hemisphere. Canadians are hurt, of course. But so are Hondurans. The continued allegiance to failed policies in Canada and the U.S. ensures a lucrative market and thriving illegal industry dedicated to meeting the demand. Decades of efforts have failed to change that equation.

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