In Latin American countries whose situation around drug trafficking has become a matter of national security, the strategy being used to remove it is basically all out war: army against cartels.
The battlefield is in the streets, in malls, in bars and even in places that are supposed to be for family recreation such as soccer fields and parks.
Although many drug lords have been captured and others have been killed in battles, almost simultaneously there are new bosses of newly formed cartels.
Needless to say, the death toll accumulates into thousands and many of them were innocent people, pedestrians that one day were killed by a bullet while walking in the street.
There are several examples of countries in this position.
But you can also talk about what happens in the favelas of Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador
The strategy implemented by the governments of these countries have prioritised the use of weapons, has relegated to the background the fighting addictions fund, and the profile that has been created around drug users, i.e. the addicts, is a criminal profile.
In these countries, like the case of Mexico, the drugs debate is in relation to whether legalising marijuana, following the example of the recently approved reforms in two cities in the United States, where they opened a legal market for those who used it medicinally or for those who simply want to have fun.
But unfortunately they do not talk about other important issues such as, for example, that the rate of HIV infected people is likely to increase among drug users (those that are taken using syringes, such as heroin), and this is directly related to those who cannot access health services because a social stigma weighs on them as drug addicts, and according to the law they are considered as criminals.
On June the 26th, in commemoration of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (date declared by the United Nations), 26 cities around the world simultaneously conducted peaceful demonstrations, officially launching the campaign “Support. Do not Punish”.
Through this, various civic groups are urging governments worldwide to reform laws and policies that impose harsh penalties for drug users and, if they carry HIV or hepatitis C, they are also likely to spread it. Furthermore, the campaign aims to create awareness among society about the damage it causes to consider addicts as criminals.
In London, about 100 activists gathered outside the British parliament in Westminster, wearing T-shirts referring to the global campaign and masks of former US President Richard Nixon, a pioneer of the “war on drugs”.
They were accompanied by Caroline Lucas, Member of the British Parliament, who has been calling on the government to make changes to the laws on the subject. Lucas said, “By criminalising millions of people around the world as part of the “war on drugs”, we fail to address the root of the drug problem.
Governments now need to adopt an approach based on evidence that addresses drugs as a health issue, not a criminal one. By criminalising drug addicts we also run the risk of promoting the HIV epidemic. We need support, not punishment.”
The campaign “Support. Do not Punish” is an initiative of International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), the International Network of Drug Users (INPUD) and Harm Reduction International (HRI).
China, a case study
The campaigners have published a report entitled “Support. Do not Punish. Experiences of community advocacy and harm reduction programs”.
This is a study by the project called Community Action on Harm Reduction (CAHR), which was conducted in five countries: China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Kenya.
Noteworthy is the case of China, being one of the most powerful countries in the world and having such a controversial political system. In 2011 it was estimated that 780,000 people were living with HIV.
Nearly 30% of them contracted the virus via injection of drugs. Of the 2.35 million people who inject drugs, 6.4% are living with HIV.
In 2008, the public health system of the Chinese government began to provide treatment to users of injected drugs. In 2012, about 140,000 people received medical treatment.
That same year the government launched a 5 year plan in an attempt to reduce the rate of HIV infection and hepatitis by 25%, and so reduce the death rate caused by these conditions by 30%.
Data issued in a press release about the campaign suggests: “The war on drugs has led to harsh sanctions and mass incarceration of drug users, but has not reduced drug use itself or stifled the multi-billion illicit drug market.
Similarly, of the 16 million people who inject drugs in the world, nearly 3 million live with HIV and two-thirds live with Hepatitis C. People who inject drugs also represent one third of all HIV infections outside of Saharan Africa.”
(Translated by David Coldwell – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)