Vanda Felbab-Brown joined Diane Rehm to discuss President Obama’s drug control strategy- a new approach which seeks to achieve balance prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
Diane Rehm: How many countries have gone the way of Colombia or Mexico b/c we continued to demand the complete repression of illicit drug production and transport?
Vanda Felbab-Brown: Well it is our demand more so than the war on drugs or counternarcotics efforts that, of course, drives supply around the world. We are starting to recognize that we are not the only consuming country in the world and, more and more, we are not the most intensely consuming country in the world – Brazil and Argentina, now have prevalence use on par with or even greater than the United States. In Pakistan and Afghanistan the addiction rates and use rates are probably great.
However, the question identifies a very important part of the problem, which is, far too often, our counternarcotics policies abroad have sole focus on repression, on forced eradication, and on interdiction. Other approaches like drug treatment and socioeconomic investments and investments in the judicial systems are also part of the policies, but they have often been an afterthought, thrown in to pacify the publics and the critics.
One of the very positive things about the new strategy released is that it indeed emphasizes very strongly the need for socioeconomic programs, for improved rule of law in these countries. In fact, one of the striking sentences in the report was the eradication needs to be complimented by alternative livelihoods. Not that is simply should be, but that it needs to be. Now, that is often not part of our source country policies, such as in Colombia, but it is very much now part of the strategy in Afghanistan.
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President-elect Bolsonaro has embraced tough-on-crime measures that egregiously violate basic human rights and eviscerate the rule of law. Responding to Brazil’s 63,880 homicides in 2017, Bolsonaro calls for increasing protection for police officers who kill alleged criminals and arming citizens. He calls for further militarizing urban policing, reducing the age of criminal liability from 18 to 16, reinstating the death penalty, authorizing torture in interrogations and imprisoning more people... Brazil’s police are already notorious for being one of the world’s deadliest in the use of force. In many favelas, Brazil’s retired and current police officers operate illegal militias that extort and control local communities, murdering those who oppose them and engaging in warfare with Brazil’s highly-violent gangs and in social cleansing. Bolsonaro is simply threatening to turn the rest of the police into state-sanctioned thugs.