Drugs and violence, other responses are possible?

The classic paradigm of the «war on drugs» has led to several countries in the region facing extraordinary levels of violence. Increased structural inequality and social exclusion are some of the factors that influence this phenomenon. What strategies could reduce the current rates of violence? How to strengthen South-South cooperation and address common threats to Latin America and Africa?

Rafael Silva West, former General Manager of Drug Policy and Chairman of the State Drug Policy Council of Pernambuco (CEPAD / PE), Brazil, recounted the experience of his country’s programs for crack users in extreme vulnerability. «We develop services on the street, 24-hour centers, hosting services». She then gave some statistics that account for the magnitude of the program. “5,714 people were treated between 2011 and 2015″. “For every two people, one had suffered an attempted murder, creating an environment of violence. 65% had received a death threat because of drug issues in the past 6 months, but 70% felt safe when they are in the program,” he concluded.

Adeolu Ogunrombi, from the YouthRise network on drug policy in West Africa, said that «the experience of violence is very different in different countries» and noted that in his region, «it is estimated that 30% of drugs that transit the region are consumed locally.” “It’s not just traffic.” Compared with the Latin American experience, «the groups that traffic drugs in West Africa are more informal and most gangs are not part of a system that is possible to research.” “Those who participate in the market do not interact in an confrontational manner,» he said.

Oscar Giovanni Zepeda, founder of the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace and the organization United Evangelical Churches for Peace in El Salvador, said that «there are 15 to 20 daily deaths from violence in El Salvador following the pacification initiatives, when the rate was 8 to 10.” “Many priests are working but we must learn to organize as churches and as communities, we have held roundtables on pacification, society, and police. The children in our country are being slaughtered there, the youth have been stigmatized,“ he said.  «We have held marches to call for peace in our country but the government does nothing more than create taxes for public safety.”  He also reported that «there are many people leaving the country, entire communities sometimes. Because young people in the area, will die and no ones cares whether they are gang members or not, «he said.

Andrés Antillano, researcher at the Institute of Criminal Sciences, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of the Central University of Venezuela began criticizing the narrative «drug-violence» that «reinforces the criminalization of poverty, with speeches in which people who use drugs are poor and excluded and would never seem like artists that can create.” For the Venezuelan researcher, the issue should be studied «as a problem of structure and class» and that «violent crime do not have as much to do with drugs as with the structural conditions of exclusion and inequality. This relationship / drug-violence narrative serves to criminalize poverty,” he argued.

«There is a problem associated with drugs but it has to do with social exclusion,» he concluded.

Finally Lilian Bobea, an expert on security and defense, security and civil-military relations explained that «there is little relationship between drug use and crime.» For the specialist, young people are the most affected by violence. «We’re talking about a continent that is young, and where they are being increasingly criminalized,» she said, adding in the most violent countries in the region, «these countries have a history of violent governments.» «Between 16 and 18% of violence is in the hands of the police,» she argued. «We can not talk about the peace process if we do not understand how violence is generated,» she finally noted.

Julian Quintero, Director of Social Technical Action Corporation (ATS) in Colombia, moderated the panel.