New Ammunition in Drug War
If Dominicans had any expectation that the storm of abuse and trafficking in illegal drugs would have dissipated soon, they have had rude awakenings over the past few months as the police continue to intercept large quantities of drugs. For example: two weeks ago the police arrested and charged three civil servants and a bus driver for a quantity of cocaine valued at more than $800,000. Expect many more interceptions in the future as the war on drugs intensifies and the authorities grapple with this multi- headed monster.
As we seek to find solutions to the drug problem we have produced a large number of studies and made numerous recommendations on how to reduce its impact on society. Added to the pile is a 400-page report presented a few weeks ago by the Organization of American States (OAS) that offers some consolation. It offers some new insights into the extremely lucrative drug trade.
In presenting the report, José Miguel Insulza, the OAS Secretary General provided a stark reminder of the reality the countries of the hemisphere experience in relation to drugs and outlined the possible scenarios that could develop if the phenomenon is not dealt with in a coordinated manner.
The report entitled The Drug Problem in the Americas states that the consumption of cocaine paste, crack, inhalants, amphetamines and the abuse of legal drugs has increased and that the trade in the Americas generates some US$151 billion in drug retail alone in the hemisphere.
The report draws the relationship between drugs and violence as one of the main causes of fear amongst citizens that has contributed to making security one of the most worrying issues in the Americas.
According to Insulza "this situation must be faced with greater realism and effectiveness if we want to move forward successfully," and added that "all of us who hold public responsibilities owe it to the millions of women and men, young and old, mothers and fathers, girls and boys who today feel threatened to find clear answers and effective public policies to confront this scourge."
Dominican enforcement and social welfare officials are advised to take a look at that report because some persons are of the opinion that we have lost the war on drugs. The evidence is as clear as daylight, they contend; we only need to take a peek at the prevalence of drug use in our secondary schools to understand the enormity of the problems that confront us.
For instance, Pernel Charles, a research specialist of the Inter-American Observatory on Drugs wrote recently that Dominican secondary schools lead the Caribbean in the use of alcohol. Charles' research, conducted in 2006, also indicated that 80 % of students frequently abuse alcohol and marijuana. And in terms of availability, Dominica is the leading country in the Caribbean, surpassing Jamaica and St. Vincent where the drug is grown abundantly.
As we suggested in an earlier editorial, the key to the control of drugs in the region is solely within the control of the United States. As an America newspaper columnist wrote recently: "the drug crisis of Latin American is a crisis of American behaviour, of appetites produced by bad attitudes". Americans have created the insatiable demand that drug barons in Latin America have organised themselves to satisfy, using the Caribbean's extremely porous borders as transshipment points.
In the process the region's economy has become extremely dependent on the drug trade. Each week millions of dollars in illegal foreign exchange continue to flow into the economy despite the tightening of money laundering laws and stricter banking practices. But the economic benefits of drugs are not as worrying as the impact that the trade is having on society. In many parts of our region drug dealers are becoming socially acceptable; there are no stigmas associated with the practice anymore. Society, therefore, is losing not only the supply and demand aspects of the war on drugs but the psychological one as well.
Because of the hopelessness of the drug situation experts have questioned the policy on drugs. Synchronized with America policy, the war on drugs in the Caribbean has meant forced restrictions and military action against sources of supply. These experts argue that that policy keeps drug prices extremely high and thus market forces dictate criminals will risk anything to gain large profits.
Because of the failure of the policy, sociologists, in particular, have suggested the adoption of the Dutch approach to drug control which places restrictions on both supply and demand while permitting a liberal approach to soft drugs. It means, therefore, that although prohibitive measures are in force, low priority is given to possession of small quantities. The focus is placed on medical care for the users and severe punishment for the merchants of drugs.
In Dominica the emphasis is on criminalizing everyone caught with the smallest quantities of drugs while the mighty and well- connected get richer through drug trafficking. Former Magistrate Tiyani Behanzin made that point succinctly some time ago. He said: "There is a core who finances the drug trade in this place. These people seat inside government offices, they seat inside churches and they praise the highest hallelujahs; they finance the drug trade and those are the people we have to deal with."
We therefore argue that that since our current policy on drug control and consumption has been largely unsuccessful, is time for society to consider alternative ways of tackling the problem. The OAS report on drugs in the Americas provides the basis for discussion in our search to find solutions.