15 April 2012

Global Connections: Guinea-Bissau

The Sixth Summit of the Americas is currently being held in Cartagena, Colombia (after a bit of alleged pre-event partying that caused 11 U.S. secret service and five U. S. military personnel who were linked to the use of prostitutes to be sent home), and one of the most attention-grabbing issues, if not on the official agenda, is a serious discussion about changing the way that the War on Drugs is being fought, including debate about some level of decriminalization. For some great analysis, check out the excellent series that InSight Crime has presented on this proverbial Gorilla in the Room.

But as everyone watches the national leaders in Cartagena focus on regional cooperation in development and in meeting such challenges as poverty and inequalities, citizen security, disasters, and access to technologies, with keen observers watching the more interesting dramas that unfold on the sidelines – who will or will not be talking to whom, what unified decisions and concrete ideas will come out of the gathering, and which countries will emerge as the leaders in terms of diplomacy and being able to engage other nations – there is a troubling situation playing itself out across the Atlantic, on the west coast of Africa, in a tiny, little-known country that is one of the world’s very poorest, and it has to do with what is going on right now in Colombia in more ways than one.

The Republic of Guinea-Bissau, a Portuguese colony until declaring its independence in 1973, is in the throes of its latest military coup, and the connection this has with the Americas is drugs.

The more than 90 islands that form an archipelago off the coast of Guinea-Bissau make for the perfect transit point for drugs heading from Latin America to Europe. The government is weak and ineffective, except for the military, which is deeply involved in the drug trade and has a bad habit of ousting politicians at will. It is believed that the army felt threatened by the leading presidential candidate, Carlos Gomes Junior, who received 49 percent in the first round of voting and was expected to win. As prime minister in 2010, he had requested aid from the United States and members of the European Union, which he identified as the primary consumer states, in controlling the illegal drug trade in his besieged country, and he has been running for president on a platform of getting the military out of the drug trade. He has also been a vocal supporter of the mission of 200 Angolan troops that were invited by the government to help reform the military, which is what the military has been referring to in its broadcast messages stating that they were forced to take action against the government because it was using this foreign military force to try to annihilate them.

Guinea-Bissau and the Central American nations of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have a great deal in common, being plagued by fragile political systems, weak governance, and entrenched corruption, all institutionalized by crushing poverty and long years filled with constant civil strife. As the tragic victims of the obviously failed drug policies of the consumer states, it would therefore seem to be a good idea for their leaders to get together to join their collective experiences, ideas, and resources in order to find real solutions and to pressure the powerful user nations to take responsibility for our role in the ruination of so many people’s lives in these small and out-of-the-way countries. Just as people the world over are realizing that such global issues as climate change will never be properly addressed until enough people join together to demand that those who are using the most resources and creating the damage that effects everyone and everything on the planet take responsibility for their actions, a global movement for change in regard to the illegal drug trade must arise in the hearts of humanity. And just as the amazing Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, also recently ousted by a military coup, has been raising awareness of the need to reduce the human impact on the climate; the strongest voice for the reduction of the impact of illegal drugs will come from among the most severely impacted. It will be the voice of a soul brave enough to go up against the entrenched corrupt power structure, against the will of the most powerful structure, the United States of America, and that voice will be Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina. Here are the wise words that he wrote just three days into his presidency:

“Guatemala will not fail to honor any of its international commitments to fighting drug trafficking. But nor are we willing to continue as dumb witnesses to a global self-deceit. We cannot eradicate global drug markets, but we can certainly regulate them as we have done with alcohol and tobacco markets. Drug abuse, alcoholism and tobacco should be treated as public health problems, not criminal justice issues.”

The fact that Pérez will have the opportunity to actually speak face to face with Barack Obama, who continues with his hard line on United States drug policy, is somewhat promising. Someone needs to speak truth to power.

And the truth means taking responsibility and looking at the world as multifaceted rather than dualistic. The truth is that pollution and excessive carbon dioxide are changing global climate patterns and causing islands in the Indian Ocean to go underwater. The truth is that, because it is illegal, hard drug use in the United States and Europe is allowing chaos, violence, and injustice to reign in small and seemingly insignificant places like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Guinea-Bissau. The truth is continued colonialism in the Americas. The truth is Africa’s Maafa.

The truth is also that we can do better.

InSight Crime. 12 April 2012

Bloggings by boz. 12 April 2012

UN News Centre. 24 September 2011

McClatchy News. 13 April 2012

The Daily Beast. 31 March 2012

InSight Crime. 9 April 2012


Walt Long said...

We are inching closer to a realistic "solution" to the world-wide endemic of drug trafficking, although it's not likely to happen soon. Political leaders are walking on eggs because the general population throughout the world is ignorant about the cause, effect, and connectivity of drugs and crime. President Molina is right, of course, but it's going to be a hard sell. Obama is too cautious and the others are too Catholic. It's the 21st century...time to accept that we can restrict and punish a person for their actions, but not for their lifestyle choices.

Julie R Butler said...

Perhaps part of the problem is that, unlike during prohibition, the violence associated with illegal commerce is not happening at home, on the streets of the United States. Out of sight, out of mind...

If you take a look at InSight Crime's map of drug policy positions, you will see that several of the countries listed as "those who are open to debate on drug decriminalization and legalization" very Catholic countries i.e. Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, and of course, Guatemala.

Inching forward, maybe even with a little help from a Catholic church that has become more compassionate in recent years. This is a public health issue as much as a crime issue.

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