By Ilona Szabo for World Economic Forum. Latin America is the world’s most violent region. It is home to one tenth of the world’s population – and more than one third of its homicides. Brazil, a regional powerhouse, tops the global charts with close to 60,000 murders a year. Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela are some of the most dangerous countries on the planet. It is estimated that at least half of the violent deaths occurring there are drug-related.
The war on drugs is contributing to sky-high rates of lethal violence not just in Latin America, but in parts of the US, Europe, Africa and Asia. After governments started criminalizing drug producers, petty dealers and consumers, human rights violations spiraled upward. Many countries experienced dramatic expansions in their prison populations. Meanwhile, the profits of organized crime groups continued to soar to $320 billion per year, and their ability to buy-off politicians, police and judges grew.
Virtually everyone now agrees that the war on drugs has been a spectacular failure by almost every measure. Richard Branson, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, has said that if the drug war were a business, he’d have closed it down 40 years ago. Even the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) now publicly admits that the term is “unhelpful” and is exploring a more balanced approach that includes both law enforcement and harm reduction strategies, putting health and safety first and decriminalizing drug users.