By Open Democracy. Why has the ‘war on drugs’ in the Americas actually increased the militarisation and bloodshed associated with drug trafficking? By creating an enormous illegal market controlled by complex and increasingly powerful criminal groups, violent conflicts have intensified across the region. At the same time, repressive policies have violated the human rights of tens of thousands of people. Here are nine lessons we’ve learned from 50 years of drug wars, drawn from a joint report by 17 organisations from 11 countries in the Americas.

1. Militarised state action actually increases the violence

Consider Mexico. Here, the war against drug trafficking has led to more than 70,000 murders as well as major infringements on millions of people’s liberty and security. In 2006, president Felipe Calderon ordered a major military offensive against the drug cartels, enabling tens of thousands of army officials to carry out detentions, patrols, and inspections. Meanwhile, numerous state and municipal public security institutions began to appoint active or retired military personnel to head them. What happens when the military assumes de facto responsibility for a country’s public security tasks? Complaints against the Armed Forces at the National Human Rights Commission have risen significantly: with more than 5000 complaints of torture and ill-treatment, more than 22,000 victims of enforced disappearance and more than 280,000 people displaced by violence.

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