Summit of the Americas: Stephen Harper Says Approach To Drug Cartels Not Working

Posted: 04/15/2012 6:10 pm Updated: 04/16/2012 8:44 am

CARTAGENA, Colombia - Something is just not working with the way the hemisphere has tackled powerful and violent drug traffickers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged Sunday as he wrapped up a meeting with the leaders of the Americas.

It was the first time Harper has suggested he is open to discussing new approaches to the war on drugs. Several Latin American countries, including Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia have called for an open and frank discussion about how to deal with the cartels.

"There is increasing doubt about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that, but nobody thinks these transnational networks are good guys, or that changing the law is somehow going to make them good people," Harper told reporters at a news conference following the close of the Summit of the Americas.

"I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do."

The gathering of 31 leaders agreed to analyse the approach to the drug situation in a more formal way through the Organization of American States (OAS).

While some voices in Latin America and the Caribbean have suggested legalization and regulation of drugs might alleviate some of the suffering and violence in the region, others have opposed the idea.

But there is some consensus that countries such as Canada and the United States, who consume the lion's share of the drugs produced in the south, should be doing more to solve the problem.

El Salvador's president Mauricio Funes told the Latin American network NTN24 that the U.S. is not doing its fair share, and actually spent more money fighting leftist guerrillas during the country's civil war than it is in helping fight the cartels. More than 1,000 Salvadorans have died in drug-related violence in the past three months alone.

Harper announced funding related to that battle on Sunday.

A new Canadian Initiative for Security in Central America will spend $25 million over five years to help with the training of law enforcement agencies and the providing of police equipment.

Harper made it clear that he sees no easy solutions as to what to do next.

The Conservative government recently introduced stiffer penalties for Canadians who grow even small numbers of marijuana plants. He spoke of the wide penetration of drugs across Canadian society.

"There is a willingness to look at the various measures that can be taken to combat that phenomenon, but just in terms of simple answers like legalization or criminalization, let me remind you of why these drugs are illegal.

"They're illegal because they quickly and totally, with many of the drugs, destroy people's lives and people are willing to make lots of money out of selling those products ...," said Harper.

Loading Slideshow...
  • The 9 Key Changes In The Tory Crime Bill

    With files from <em>The Canadian Press</em>. (CP/Alamy)

  • 9. Bringing Prisoners Home

    Provides the government, through the minister of Public Safety, more discretion to decide if a Canadian imprisoned abroad can transfer home to serve his or her sentence. (Getty)

  • 8. Rights For Terror Victims

    Introduces new measures to allow victims of terrorist acts to sue responsible individuals, groups or state sponsors in Canadian courts. (Alamy)

  • 7. Denying Work Permits

    Gives the Immigration minister new powers to deny work permits to foreigners based on the rationale they may be exploited. (Alamy)

  • 6. Victims Get More Say In Parole

    Provides victims of crime more say in parole decisions under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Increases size of parole board by 25 per cent. (Alamy)

  • 5. Fewer Conditional Sentences

    Reduces sharply the use of conditional sentences, such as house arrest, for a variety of property and other offences. (Jupiter Images)

  • 4. Pardons Harder To Get

    Changes the pardons system and makes certain ex-convicts, such as some sex offenders and repeat offenders, ineligible for life. Essentially doubles the waiting period for pardon eligibility to five years for summary offences and 10 years for indictable offences. Replaces the term "pardon" by "record suspension." (Alamy)

  • 3. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders

    Sets tougher penalties for young offenders, including mandatory consideration of adult sentences and possible publication ban removal for violent crimes. Expands the definition of violent crime to include reckless acts that don't actually cause harm. (Alamy)

  • 2. Mandatory Minimums For Sex Crimes

    Establishes new mandatory minimum sentences and longer maximums for sex crimes against minors, including the addition of two new offences related to grooming or luring minors. (Alamy)

  • 1. Mandatory Minimums For Drug Crimes

    Provides new mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences related to production and distribution, including mandatory sentences for growing as few as six pot plants. Doubles maximum sentences to 14 years from seven. Offers potential exemptions for those entering drug treatment programs. (Getty)

FOLLOW CANADA POLITICS

Filed by Jacqueline Delange  |