Some days ago in Santiago de Chile there was a meeting of a curious Latin American international organization called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), an institutional freak invented by Hugo Chávez and the so-called Bolivarian countries, plus, for some reason, Mexico and Brazil.
Its aim is obvious: to create a regional structure that will include Cuba, and exclude the US and Canada - which is easier than getting Cuba back into the Organization of American States (OAS). It will come as no surprise if Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua soon withdraw from the OAS and take refuge in the still unformed framework of CELAC.
No surprise, either, that the temporary president of CELAC is Raúl Castro, who at the meeting delivered speeches that caused some surprise. The old guerrilla - once taciturn, now growing more loquacious - said: "We are going to fight drugs, which are beginning to threaten us, with fire and sword. You have the example of several sister countries on the continent. This battle has to be with fire and sword." He mentioned the death penalty, which has been in abeyance in Cuba, "but we have it in reserve."
Latin America has already tried "fire and sword," and knows that it only leads to violence, and not to the absence of drugs
It's true: the death penalty exists in Cuba. It was used in 2003 on three young men who hijacked a boat to flee the island; and before that, supposedly to fight drug trafficking, on Arnaldo Ochoa and Antonio de la Guardia, shot in 1989. As for "fire and sword," no one doubts that the Castro regime has fought every sort of opposition, and crimes real or imaginary from homosexuality to dissidence, with merciless ferocity.
The unusual character of Raúl Castro's words lies in their being totally out of tune with trends in the rest of the continent, in Europe and even in the United States, on the question of drugs. Indeed, a meeting of Latin American presidents recently charged the OAS with the preparation of a study on the consumption, trafficking and production of drugs in the region, and on policies elsewhere in the world. A number of present and former presidents of major Latin American countries have come out in favor of the legalization of marijuana, or at least of ample debate on the question.
In Europe, Portugal and other countries have begun to consider alternatives to the punitive and prohibitionist policy imposed by the United States since 1971 (the year in which Richard Nixon declared "war on drugs"). In the US, the idea of legalization has been gaining ground - first for medical reasons, and more recently in some states, for recreational use. Even the Draconian prison policies of the 1970s - the so-called Rockefeller laws - are beginning to fall into disuse in the US, due to their failure and cost.
In short, Latin America has already tried "fire and sword," and knows that it only leads to violence, and not to the absence of drugs. The other road, that of Malaysia, Singapore and a few other countries of that ilk, is a barbarity simply inconceivable in Latin American democracies. Except, of course, the only country that cannot be classed as a democracy: Cuba.
So, to the first aberration - the presence of a dictatorship in a democratic region - Raúl Castro now adds a second one: the proposal of an extreme radicalization of the "war on drugs," in the best style of Uribe and Calderón. All the other Latin American countries have signed or ratified documents such as the American Convention of Human Rights. Cuba does not accept them, or behave in line with their contents. It is hard to see the reason for the Cuban exception, or to understand why some countries are now endorsing Cuba's de facto government situation, which they reject in the case of, for example, Paraguay (not invited to the meeting).
Indeed, Raúl Castro's proposal is feasible only in an authoritarian regime such as his own. "Fire and sword?" Anyone else interested?