Move over Colombia, move over Mexico – make room for Argentina and paco

In the wake of the Americas Summit – some additional news on Latin America happenings and policy.  (Not my usual writing, but we all need change sometimes.)

Argentina rises as the new frontrunner in a game that Colombia and Mexico are only too happy to forfeit – as the New Narco State. But this new foray into ‘pharmaceutical manufacturing’ isn’t just feeding North American appetites as critics of the ‘American drug war’ policies often claim.

According to the article by Haley Cohen over at Foreign Policy:

“In 2008, Argentina surpassed its neighbors and the United States: it now has the highest prevalence of cocaine use in the Western Hemisphere: approximately 2.6 percent of the country’s population aged 15-64 uses cocaine, a 117 percent increase since 2000. Argentines now consume five times more cocaine than the global average and has one of the highest usage rates in the world.” 

Not only that – but according to an article from 2009, these Argentine chemists have developed a new form of crack: a super cheap, readily available, highly addictive and smokable form of cocaine called paco. 

And it isn’t just cocaine – add methamphetamines and any other addictive or mind-altering substance that people have a taste for – it’s not only being shipped through Argentina, but it’s being manufactured in labs all of over country.

Despite the massive amounts of money, resources and technology dedicated to controlling drug trafficking – these efforts often fail because the criminals have much of the same (or better) technology too.

In the wake of the Summit, discussions on real solutions or alternatives to current practices are coming out in to the open – as Americans open their eyes to the real scope of the issue here.  This isn’t just one country (far, far away as many people like to think).  This is a multi-national problem extending far beyond the borders of just one country, or even just South America – and it has (forget moral) economic, and political implications for all of us.

Not only that – but how do you continue to fight a war that has become more unpopular than Vietnam, in the midst of the greatest downturn in the American economy since the great depression?

Readers:  this editorial is no comment on living in Mexico, or Colombia – I am actually having the time of my life – and enjoy my time on both countries – this is just me – taking a minute to step away from medicine, surgery and medical tourism to take a look at the ‘big picture’ and the global events that shape our world.

In more personal news – made the ‘Classnotes section’ of Vanderbilt Nurse  (class of 2005) this month, alongside fellow classmate, Carrie Plummer for her efforts on the ‘war on drugs’.   Kudos to Carrie – but somehow I doubt she’s enjoy my perspectives on this issue.

US – Colombia Free Trade Agreement to be implemented in May

President Santos and President Obama at the Summit of the Americas

Despite a rocky start at the Summit of the Americas for President Obama (and talk of a widespread boycott of the Summit next year by a dozen countries), it looks like the deal brokered between Obama and Santos for a free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States will be implemented early.  The agreement which was first signed in October of 2011 will begin in May.

This agreement will reduce the tarifs on 80% of all imported Colombian goods.   (No, not cocaine – despite talks of legalization in multiple latin american countries.)  These goods include the huge floral industry (if you’ve bought flowers recently – they were probably from Colombia), along with other notable exports such as fruits (bananas, tropical fruits), gems (Colombia is home to the world’s largest supply of emeralds, ladies..), their famously rich coffee, fossil fuels and other minerals.

In return the US will be exporting such goods as wheat, sorgham and other agricultural products in additional to more specialized items such as aviation parts.

Now if only they would make a special ‘fast pass’ lane in Customs for medical travellers returning to the USA as part of similar trade efforts.

Summit of the Americas

cobblestone streets in the historic district of Cartagena, Colombia

Summit of the Americas – Cartagena, Colombia

As anticipated, President Obama is receiving some harsh criticisms for the Cuban embargo begun by fellow democrat, President John F. Kennedy in October of 1960.  (Despite the long-standing embargo, the United States remains the fifth largest exporter to the island nation.)

This embargo, which was initiated in response to the Cuban nationalization of private properties as part of the institution of a communist regime, reached full strength in February of 1962, and has continued unabated since then.  In fact, the American embargo was re-affirmed in 1992 with passage of the Cuban Democracy Act, and again in 1996 with Helms – Burton Act which further prevents private American citizens from having business relationships or trade with Cuba.

At the summit, the host of the event, President Juan Manual Santos (Calderon) has been one of the more outspoken critics of this on-going trade policy and public relations nightmare.  President Santos argues, fairly successfully in my opinion, that not only is the embargo an outmoded method of diplomatic negotiation, but that is has been an ineffective one (in inspiring governmental and philosophical change in Cuba.)

President Santos respectfully requests that Obama reconsider the decades old policies of trade embargo. Photo by AP press

This comes after President Obama was embarrassed by a prostitution scandal involving several of his private security detail.  At the time of this writing, eleven members of the secret service along with five members of the military has been openly disciplined, and returned home.

Colombian prostitutes – photo found at multiple sites, including another wordpress blog and
(If this is your photo – let me know, so I can give proper credit)

Protests against the United States have been small scale and without injury as small explosives were detonated near the American embassy.

President Obama also fielded criticism on America’s ‘War on Drugs’.  While conceding that the efforts have been a multi-billion dollar failure (with the exception of small scale victories such as the capture/ death of Pablo Escobar in 1994), Obama refused to consider efforts to legalize drugs, as are under discussion in several other nations.

In other news – in a surprise move that may predict more future instability for Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has decided to forgo the summit as he pursues treatment for cancer (in Cuba).  This move leads to intense speculation regarding both the presidential and governmental prognosis in Venezuela.  Previously, President Chavez had been adamant that his cancer was curable and disputed reports of a more serious condition. There are now several media reports that the president has widespread metastasis affecting multiple organs.  (May I suggest that you consider HIPEC, President Chavez?)