Latin American Drug Cartels Target Impoverished Children

Drug cartels are a rising problem everywhere, especially for those that are in poverty. Children, specifically children in poverty, are generally the most vulnerable population anywhere in the world. Latin American drug cartels target impoverished children specifically due to their innocence and willingness to obey. Although this situation seems unfixable, people are uniting together against Latin American drug cartels, providing much needed hope.

The Situation

In Latin America, 43 percent of children live in poverty. These children’s come from families with no money for food, clothing or shelter. Cartels know the struggles of these children, so they offer them work. Because many feel they have no choice but to accept work from Latin American drug cartels, 80 percent of children under 25 agree to work for them.

Young children in Mexico and other Latin American countries draw less suspicion than older individuals and are willing to work for little money. As a result, the cartels use them in every way possible. Cartels often send children unaccompanied to push drugs across borders. Subsequently, border security will help unaccompanied children, thus enabling drug traffickers to smuggle drugs across borders.

How Countries Combat Drug Cartels

Luckily for these children, countries are taking steps to eliminate cartels. Recently, Mexico initiated a joint investigative team with the U.S. to fight against drug cartels. The U.S. and Mexico have worked together to combat cartels since the 1970s. For instance, one program, the Merida Initiative, worked to stop the flow of illegal weapons from the U.S. into Mexico and, subsequently, Latin American cartels. Similarly, the U.S. and Mexico offer amnesty to drug dealers in exchange for information.

This new joint investigative team is based in Chicago and directly targets cartel finances. Cartels survive by distributing goods to suppliers and laundering money. Therefore, disrupting their finances and cracking down on money laundering will drastically slow their production. In doing so, the team intends to weaken and ultimately stop Latin American drug cartels.

How Nonprofit Organizations and KIND Help

Nonprofit organizations band together to help the children that drug smugglers employed previously. One organization in particular, KIND, is dedicated to offering such help. KIND protects children’s rights when unaccompanied children are detained by the U.S. and when they are on the move. KIND ensures detained children receive necessary legal aid, especially as these children are burdened with an immigration system they do not understand.

With the U.S. and Mexico targeting drug cartels’ financial assets and nonprofit organizations providing the necessary help, there is hope to eliminate drug cartels and keep vulnerable children safe. The U.S. and Mexico, along with nonprofit organizations, are executing solutions to keep drug cartels away from children and shut them down altogether.

– Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay

Drug Use in MexicoSouth of the border of the United States of America, the United States of Mexico is trying to stay afloat from rapid increase and usage of drugs throughout the country. However, current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has officially declared the end of the country’s war on drugs. In fact, he has declared peace over the nation. Below are some important facts about drug use in Mexico.

Drug Use in Mexico: The Numbers

Based on drug sales alone from Mexico to America, Mexican drug cartels take in about $19 billion to $29 billion annually.

In the time span of five years, nearly 48,000 people have been killed in suspected drug-related violence. In addition, there has been an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 killed due to the War on Drugs. This is since the beginning of Calderon’s presidency.

The War on Drugs and Civilian Defense

Recently, a force called autodefensas (autodefenses) has popped up around the country to help with the defense against drug cartels on their communities.

At the start of President Felipe Calderon election, he sent over 6,000 soldier’s into the state of Michoacán to help fight against the drug cartels that were ravishing Michoacán. As a result, this action began the War on Drugs.

From the start of the War on Drugs, civilians have formed their own ways of defending their country and communities. In fact, the movement of autodefansas doubled within seven years, starting at 250 members and reaching to 600 by 2013.

Next, the cartels are prone to ravish a community by exploiting business owners and forcing payments on the town without legal reasons for doing so. This keeps the cycle of poverty within the country swirling, certainly making it harder for people to break free of drug use or to make profits from their businesses.

The autodefensas groups formed out of a need to protect and supervise their neighborhoods from the corruption of the drug cartel. With men such as Alfredo Castillo, the Security Commissioner for the state of Michoacán, and Estanislao Beltran, they are attempting to break the cycle of the War on Drugs. Additionally, they hope to again be able to use their profits and agriculture to profit the well-being of their state and country.

Drug Use in Mexico

In 2016-2017, a national survey was done on Drugs, Alcohol, and Tobacco Consumption (ENCODAT) to determine the highest states of drug use in Mexico.

Top Five Highest States of Drug Consumption:

  1. Quintana Roo
  2. Jalisco
  3. Baja California
  4. Coahuila
  5. Aguascalientes

The survey consists of data from the age range of 12 to 65 per state. It concludes with the top three drugs (in no particular order of highest to lowest per state) to be marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.

Finally, the earliest age of drug use, on average, begins at the age of 17 for men and 18 for women.

How is Mexico Moving Towards Decreasing Drug Use?

ENCODAT is an organization that desires to bring awareness to the people about the effects of drugs. Additionally, the organization wants to advocate for the effects of the body. It also aims to implement life-long strategies that will improve each community.

Forums are set in place to discuss specific detriments to the body and community. ENDOCAT wants to bring about and encourage public spaces that are safe for both children and adults. They also want to change the perception that drug use is merely a criminal act. They aim in drug use being perceived as a health problem that needs treatment and care.

Through ENCODAT and awareness of the War on Drugs, drug use in Mexico can continue to decrease. Mexico is projected to no longer be one of the leading countries of drug use in the world.

– Hannah Vaughn
Photo: Flickr

Drug Law Reform
Reflecting on over 50 years of the War on Drugs campaign from today’s perspective, it can be concluded that strict drug laws around the world have proven to be costly and ineffective at reducing drug use.

Most governments engage in militarized approaches that target small-scale offenders and farmers. This approach devastates local communities and deepens poverty, particularly in the global south. However, human rights-based approaches to drug law reform around the world are paving a new way forward.

UN Conventions are International Guidelines for Regulation

The U.N. has placed three conventions to regulate illicit drugs internationally. These conventions require federal governments to prosecute anybody engaging in the production, distribution, sale or purchase of illicit drugs.

However, the problem with the drug laws around the world are not the U.N. conventions. The problem is that the governments have interpreted these conventions literally and they tend to focus on the criminalization of the persons involved in drug trade rather than educating and treating the participants in the right way. 

Drug law reform can still occur in line with the U.N. conventions since the conventions do not specify that governments need to criminalize drug use itself but they leave room for governments to create treatment and rehabilitation programs for drug users.

Existing Drug Laws Deepen Poverty

The current international drug laws hurt the poor people the most, particularly those in the global south.

In these areas, drug cartel leaders and large-scale distributors generally have the resources and intel to evade law enforcement. So when the government cracks down on drugs, the poor are hit the hardest.

Prosecuting small-scale offenders only deepens poverty. Small-scale farmers grow drug crops because they have no realistic alternative. These farmers already belong to some of the most impoverished rural communities.

When their land is not fertile enough to sustain food crops, growing drug crops becomes the only option. When farmers are imprisoned, their income prospects disappear and their families and communities are only left in deeper and more desperate poverty. A vicious cycle forms.

The Balloon Effect Hurts Local Communities

Just like squeezing the bottom of a balloon pushes air to the top, experts use the term “balloon effect” to refer to the displacement of drug production.

Government enforcement does succeed in driving away drug production––but only from regulated areas. Traffickers will often move to more remote areas where they can’t be tracked. But it’s in these remote areas that the ecosystems are most fragile.

Local communities in these remote areas rely entirely on their untouched natural resources to survive. When drug producers take over their land, these local communities are driven into poverty. It’s estimated that the illicit drug trade is responsible for 10 percent of the rainforest destruction in Peru.

Bolivia Takes an Innovative Approach to Drug Law Reform

Bolivia’s indigenous population has been farming and chewing coca leaves for hundreds of years in order to increase focus and productivity. But, as it is well known, coca happens to be the main ingredient in cocaine.

So as part of its War on Drugs strategy, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) forcibly eradicated many of these indigenous farms, violently arresting farmers and deepening rural poverty.

In response to this actions, Bolivia legalized coca production in 2011. The government limits the amount of coca that farmers can grow (they are allowed to produce on approximately the size of one-third of a football field), and the legal sale of this coca allows farmers to make a sizable income. With their income, farming communities can now experiment with new food crops as well.

This cooperative, community-first approach has led to the voluntary removal of nearly 10,000 hectares of coca. Over the course of four years after the implementation of the policy, illegal coca production in Bolivia fell by 34 percent.

Western Africa’s Model for Drug Law Reform Helps Drug Users

Experts across Western Africa convened for the West Africa Commission on Drugs and crafted a “model drug law” for the region. The model was published in September 2018 and aims to guide the region’s policymakers. It focuses on removing existing barriers to health care for drug users.

Globally, the risk of contracting HIV is 23 times higher for people who inject drugs. And out of all of those who inject drugs, only 4 percent that lives with HIV have access to treatment. The criminalization of drug use prevents many from seeking treatment.

Olusegun Obasanjo, Chair of the West Africa Commission on Drugs, highlights the necessity for help over punishment: “Pushing them to the fringes of society or locking them up in ever increasing numbers will not solve the problem.”

The model for drug law reform focuses on decriminalizing drug use and increasing harm reduction services. Harm reduction services, such as clean needle-syringe programs are proven to decrease HIV infection rates.

The War on Drugs has turned rural farms and already impoverished areas into battlefields. Arresting and imprisoning small-scale offenders, such as users and rural farmers, only deepens global poverty.

However, as proven in various different situations, human-rights based approaches work. Governments and nonprofit organization around the world can use Bolivia and Western Africa as shining examples of how drug law reform can instead focus on the specific needs of different communities.

– Ivana Bozic

Photo: Flickr

The 7 Virtues and Afghanistan's Opium EpidemicIn the war-torn country of Afganistan, groups such as the Taliban enlist the help of opium farmers to finance their terrorist operations. Since opium crops are the most effective way to make a profit, farmers living in poverty have little to no reasons to resist contributing to the drug trade.

However, farmers in Afganistan can defeat terrorism with this unexpected strategy- selling oranges and roses. A perfume company called The 7 Virtues pays a generous amount for these ingredients which are used in the perfumes so that families can have a sustainable livelihood. Their philanthropy benefits the people of Afghanistan, the United States, and the world in general.

Opium Production in Afganistan

There is a huge demand for opium in Afghanistan, but the consequences of this illegal drug extend far beyond the country’s borders. Afghanistan farmers produce between 70 and 80 percent of the world’s supply of opium, and the drug industry spurring on their production is responsible for opium-related deaths throughout the world. In addition to funding terrorist operations, growing opium encourages other illegal behaviors and contributes to Afghanistan’s violent atmosphere.

It is no coincidence that some of the poorest farmers in the world are producing opium in Afghanistan. To survive, families must resort to a form of employment they might abstain from under less desperate circumstances. However, selling legal crops is not very profitable. Experts concerned about the economic development of Afghanistan have warned against stifling the opium trade because they don’t want more than three million farming families to lose their main source of income. Renting land is expensive for shareholders, so they need to sell crops in high demand. Compared to legal crops, opium brings in the most revenue.

The 7 Virtues

Barb Stegemann, the founder of The 7 Virtues, is determined to address violence and economic instability in Afghanistan with economic power. Many businesses in the fashion industry exploit cheap labor without giving the workers sustainable wages, so the company hopes to set a good example for others to follow. It lifts more than 1,000 families in Afganistan out of poverty by paying twice as much for essential oils to the farmers as they would get by selling opium. By selling legal crops for a generous price, this simultaneously limits financial support for terrorist groups. The company does business with other countries affected by violence and conflict such as Haiti, Rwanda and countries in the Middle East.

Legal crop production benefits more people than just farmers in the country. Reduced activity from terrorist groups is good for U.S. national security and saves people from opium addiction all over the world. Stegemann’s motto is: “Good for the world. Good for your skin.” Not only that perfumes made by The 7 Virtues are phthalate and paraben free, but they are also not tested on animals. Due to their rising popularity, the perfumes will be sold in Sephora outlets. Partnering with a mainstream beauty store helps maximize their visibility among consumers and makes the perfume easily accessible for supporters of Stegemann’s company.

Other Methods for Opium Reduction

The elected government in Afghanistan has introduced several other methods for interrupting the opium trade. They’re currently testing the effectiveness of aircraft that spray herbicides over poppy fields. This practice is announced prior to the harvest season that gives opium farmers a chance to make the decision of planting legal crops. The government is also confiscating the property of landlords who encourage shareholders to grow opium poppy plants. Future plans include research on types of crops grown in provinces controlled by terrorist groups. This will provide information about where they collect revenue and allow the government to focus their opium eradication efforts.

Barb Stegemann began a legacy to demonstrate the power of investment for alleviating poverty. Instead of fighting terrorism with more violence, she proves that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved with a bottle of fragrance.

Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

War on DrugsAfter being elected President of the Philippines in June 2016, Rodrigo Duterte quickly declared a “war on drugs.” As a result, there have been more than 12,000 casualties to date with the majority of victims being the urban poor.

For two years, President Duterte’s “war on drugs” has caused numerous human rights violations by police, including extrajudicial killings. In some cases, the war has led Philippine National Police (PNP) to target children and impoverished populations, hindering poverty reduction.

How the “War on Drugs” Began

During his presidential campaign, President Duterte classified drug dealing and addiction as barriers preventing economic and social advancements for the country. Following his presidential election win, Duterte said, “go ahead and kill” drug addicts, which has been taken literally by the public. Suspected drug dealers and addicts became victim to vigilante attacks and police began conducting large-scale raids in Manila, Philippines.

Unfortunately, substance abuse is not uncommon in the Philippines. Marjoree Razal, a former resident of Manila, Philippines told The Borgen Project: “There are a lot of drug addicts and some children will begin using drugs at a very young age.” In fact, there are about 1.8 million drug users in the Philippines, and “shabu,” a form of methamphetamine, has been the most common drug of choice. According to a 2012 United Nations report, The Philippines had the highest rate of methamphetamine abuse in East Asia.

The “War on Drugs” Has Resulted in Human Rights Violations

According to data gathered by The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), between July 2016 and September 2017, the police had already caused the deaths of 3,906 alleged drug users and dealers. Thousands more have been killed by masked gunmen who were disguised police officers or hitmen working with police.

Razal said, “These killings did not become common until President Duterte took office. Most of the recent killings have been ordered by him.” An investigation conducted by The Human Rights Watch (HRW) uncovered that PNP has been continuously conducting extrajudicial killings of potential drug suspects and falsely declaring self-defense. Police are also guilty of planting weapons, ammunition and drug packaging on victims’ bodies to incriminate them of drug activity.

According to Peter Bouckaert of HRW: “The way the targeting takes place is that each community has to compile a list of drug users that is known as the “watch list.” From those lists, people are targeted for either police operations or they’re simply killed by unidentified gunmen.”

Since most of the extrajudicial killings have been done in Manila, Philippines, the urban poor population is being directly impacted as a result. Thousands of children have become orphans or are now living in single-parent households because of Duterte’s crackdown on drugs. Razal said, “It is not unusual for the government to mistreat the poor since the country thrives on money and power.”

The Effects of The War On Drugs

Rhoda, a 29-year-old widow, became a single parent after her husband was killed by police in the drug war. Rhoda now supports seven children by herself, but health problems prevented her from working last year. Since then, she has found a job selling beauty products and earns 4,000 pesos per month ($212).

Many children under age 18 have also died in the drug war since June 2016 because they were either with someone who was being targeted or, it has been suggested, were actual targets themselves. According to the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center, at least 54 children have been killed by PNP or masked gunmen since July 2016.

In response to the killings of children, Duterte said there would be an investigation to hold the officers accountable; however, no investigation was ever launched, and the officers in question are still on active duty. In fact, to date, nobody has been prosecuted for any of the extrajudicial killings.

Additionally, the Philippine judicial system is considered to be corrupt and works very slowly. Since drug dealers and addicts are a stigmatized group, it is difficult for them to receive any political support even when there is no evidence that proves they took part in drug activity. President Duterte claims “The war against illegal drugs is far from over” and vows it will continue until 2022 despite the opposition.

Improvements

The Catholic church has formed a campaign against violence in efforts to help and provide shelter for victims. The St. Francis of Assisi and Santa Quiteria Parish in Caloocan, Philippines created a drug rehabilitation program as a nonviolent approach to combat the country’s illegal drug problem.

Rev. George Alfonso, a priest of the parish said: “We are not denying that drugs are a problem in our society. But instead of acting about the war against them, we decided to do something to help the person.” The church believes that addiction is a result of a social issue, not just an issue of crime.

Furthermore, during the June session of the Human Rights Council, 33 states are calling for the end of extrajudicial killings along with an investigation into those behind the acts. Several “unofficial” investigations have been started to look into the extent of the human rights violations that have occurred so far.

Since President Duterte’s removal of PNP from anti-drug operations, extrajudicial killings have declined, but continue to occur. Instead, the government needs to adopt a policy for addressing drug-related issues that is non-violent and improves public health in order to limit the spread of diseases from certain kinds of drug use such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

By adopting harm-reduction measures, like education and access to rehabilitation, the amount of violence in poverty-stricken areas will begin to decrease and potentially bring about improved relations between the government and its people.

– Diane Adame
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Against Substance Abuse in Nigeria
Drug trafficking is on the rise in Nigeria, along with criminal groups using the country as a base to move narcotics to neighboring regions. As a consequence of cross-border trafficking, illegal drugs are easily available within the country. A study conducted in 2017 found that cannabis is the drug with the highest rate of prevalence in Nigeria with 6.6 percent of respondents having used it in their lifetime. Though cannabis is the primary drug used in Nigeria, the use of other illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines is increasing.

Dangers of Substance Abuse

Surprisingly, the greatest danger of drug abuse in Nigeria lies with substances that are not illegal. The abuse of alcohol and over-the-counter medications has increased significantly in recent years. Alcohol is the third most abused substance in Nigeria. In 2015, it was reported that an average of 11.3 liters of alcohol was consumed per person per year in Nigeria, which was among the highest levels of consumption for countries with a GDP measured in purchasing power parity of less than $10,000. The second primary type of drug used in Nigeria is opiates. Among the opiates being abused are several prescription drugs such as tramadol and codeine.

Despite the growth in awareness of the rising rate of substance abuse in Nigeria, there is very little data to show the extent of the problem. Studies have shown an increase in the consumption of illegal drugs through data such as arrest records, but capturing the rate of addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medication is much more difficult to ascertain. Not only is there a lack of addiction reporting, but there is also a lack of treatment. A vast majority of Nigerians live in poverty, and access to treatment for addiction is limited across the country.

Prevention and Treatment

New methods for prevention and treatment of substance abuse in Nigeria are underway. In 2013, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) initiated a program that focuses on fighting drug trafficking in Nigeria. Through the fight against criminal activity involved in the sale of illegal substances, the UNODC can reduce the availability of addictive substances in the country. This program also works toward ending addiction by gathering more accurate information on drug use, as well as improving treatment of addiction itself in hospitals and treatment centers.

Following the release of a BBC documentary on substance abuse in Nigeria and the development of addiction, the Nigerian government has instituted a ban on the import and production of a codeine-containing cough syrup, which will reduce the availability of codeine. Because the cough syrup was unregulated, people could buy it from pharmacies without a prescription, giving them easy access to addictive opiates. Other methods the government is using to fight against the growth of addiction include policies and taxes. The Nigerian government has instituted a new “sin” tax, causing tobacco products and alcohol to cost more. Hopefully, an increase in cost will reduce consumption.

With a health crisis that has severely increased in recent years, Nigeria has begun to institute new regulations and programs that will help people who may not have access to treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. Policy and program changes will help Nigeria fight substance abuse and improve the lives of those living in poverty or facing stigma for addiction.

Lindabeth Doby

Photo: Flickr

Legalizing Coca Leaf Production
A recent study on the benefits of coca leaf legalization has spurred lobbying efforts in Colombia, with advocates encouraging the country to legalize its production rather than attempting to eradicate the crop. Using coca leaves has been a traditional practice among indigenous South Americans for thousands of years. Before the leaf was harvested and manufactured into cocaine, it was chewed or made into a tea. It provides medicinal and health benefits like treating nausea and can be used for an energy boost.

Before industrialization, when working long days of hard labor, workers—especially some of the underprivileged farmers—would chew coca leaves for the effect of the stimulant but also to satiate hunger pangs while working on an empty stomach. Coca leaves also provide essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins like A, B1, B6, C and E. Chewing and brewing coca leaves is a natural way of taking dietary supplements.

Peru and Bolivia See Benefits from Legalizing Coca Leaf Production

The government of Peru formed the National Coca Company of Peru (ENACO) in 1949, pushing for legalizing coca leaf production in order to make items and medicines derived from coca leaves. Farmers growing leaves for chewing to be sold to ENACO got their land certified for legal growth in 1978. ENACO does not only cultivate legal coca leaves for local traditional uses, but also sells its products around the world. One of the most common uses is as a natural anesthetic for eye surgery; ENACO is one of two companies that produce coca leaves for this medicinal purpose.

Coca production in Bolivia, however, is more recent. Bolivia has the third world’s largest crop of coca leaves (after Columbia and Peru) with about 67,000 acres used for farming. In 2011, the Bolivian Community Coca Company was founded by the government for the legal cultivation and purchase of coca leaves to be made into flour, ointments, and other products. In 2013, the Bolivian government sought to market coca-based toothpaste to the public with the intention of battling the illicit use of the drug. By using the drug for products like toothpaste or flour, there will be more use of coca leaves for legal industrialization and less for illegal drug trafficking.

How the Legal Coca Leaf Could Help Colombia

Legalizing coca leaf production in the long term could benefit Colombia economically, politically and socially. Allowing coca leaf farms could offset expensive anti-drug efforts like crop substitution, where the government buys out farmers of their current crop and looks to replace it with a different, legal product. However, crop substitution is costly and non-sustainable, especially if the demand for cocaine does not change. If the uses for coca leaves remain the same while their cultivation is restricted by the government, it will merely increase the price of the drug and make crime worse.

Bolivia and Peru are examples of the benefits of legalizing coca leaf production. These countries show that the medicinal benefits can be harnessed to create a market that effectively limits the illicit use of the leaves by taking away from the crops that would be used to make cocaine. Opening a legal market for coca leaves to be made into useful items like flour, ointments, toothpaste and other products would help lower the amount of drug trafficking and create new opportunities for coca leaf farmers to sell this indigenous plant.

– David Daniels
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Thailand
The popular Australian mini-series 
Bangkok Hilton, about the arrest of Australians for drug-running in Thailand, is one of a number of media portrayals that feeds into the many stereotypes of Thailand. The media misrepresents Thailand by covering the problems that the country faces instead of the progress the country has made or the fact that Thailand is ranked as one of the world’s best tourist destinations. Negative aspects that the media often sensationalize include sex trafficking, drugs and AIDS.

Fighting Sex Trafficking Through Tourism

Although sex trafficking continues to be a problem within Thailand, the media often covers only the bad and not what the country is doing to fight sex trafficking. Thai authorities and officials have committed themselves to cleaning up the country through advocacy and tourism. “The Thai government alone cannot solve the problem. We need the hotel groups, we need the tourists, we need everybody who can to join in,” said Malina Enlund, a member of the anti-trafficking group A21.

Because of Thailand’s huge tourism sector, making up 19.3 percent of the country’s total GDP, the country has used its tourism to combat sex trafficking. Not only has the country begun training hotel employees and airline staff about how to spot sex trafficking, but the government has even insisted that its airline, Thai Airways, show an in-flight video about sex trafficking to all incoming tourists.

Replacing Opium Poppy Farming With Cash Crop Production

For decades, Thailand has been known as the epicenter of drugs in Southeast Asia. Thailand is developing at a fast pace, the culture is changing and people want a better standard of life. Unfortunately, drug trafficking gives many the economic means to do so.

However, the media misrepresents Thailand as a drug-stricken country with no escape, rather than focusing on what the Thai government has done to address the issue. One effective program instituted under King Bhumibol worked to “replace opium poppy farming with cash crop production.” This program has helped more than 100,000 people transform their drug crop production into “sustainable agricultural activities.” Stanford postdoctoral fellow Darika Saingam stated that the program is [a] win-win because it stymies drug trade and provides economic opportunity while also being ecologically sound.”

The Media Misrepresents Thailand by Ignoring Its Efforts to Combat HIV/AIDS

The media misrepresents Thailand by only reporting when Thailand sees an increase of HIV/AIDS within its population, such as a 2016 report that stated there were an estimated 450,000 Thai people living with HIV. In 2017, the Ministry of Public Health of Thailand launched the National AIDS Strategy, a 13-year plan to end the epidemic, “ensuring an effective, cost-efficient and high-impact HIV response” by 2030. It is evident that the country has listened to the outcry of its people and the international community and is taking action.

Although Thailand faces many problems, an obsession with the negative aspects is how the media is able to misrepresent the country as a whole. Such news reports fail to represent the culture and people of Thailand. Furthermore, it is important to understand that Thailand is taking the appropriate steps to become a safe, flourishing, and integrated country in the world and should be further recognized for its significant development.

– Emma Martin
Photo: Flickr

International Drug Trade
Drug trafficking operates on an international level and involves numerous individuals and groups, or cartels. According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, drug trafficking is a “global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances, which are subject to drug prohibition laws.

Drug Trade Touches Many Impoverished Countries in Different Ways

Afghanistan, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, is also one of the largest producers of opium. As violence has taken over the region since the mid-1980s, causing turmoil and rising costs of living, farmers have increasingly turned to growing opium poppies as a more lucrative option than producing food. Heroin is then produced from the opium and internationally trafficked. Trafficking to Europe takes place along the Balkan and northern travel routes from Afghanistan to Russia and western Europe. These two markets combined have an annual value of approximately $33 billion per year. The other top heroin producers in the world are Myanmar and Laos.

Cocaine is primarily produced in South American countries such as Columbia, Bolivia and Peru. The majority of the drugs trafficked from these places end up in the United State and Europe. In 2008, it was estimated that almost 17 million people worldwide were cocaine users, similar to the number of people who abuse opiates on a global scale. North America made up 40 percent of that population and Europe approximately 25 percent.

The magnitude of the problem resulting from the international drug trade for other countries, such as Mexico, is evident when examining the statistics associated with violent crimes related to drug trafficking. In 2011, there were more than 50,000 drug-related murders. That number has climbed to 200,000 drug-related murders since 2006. The competing cartels initiated the violence throughout Mexico and are therefore the predominant cause of economic insecurities and instability throughout the nation.

The issues associated with the drug trade have a ripple effect on those outside the cartels as well, worsening the overall problem. Extreme poverty to the point of not being able to buy food is experienced by about 30 percent of the population in Mexico as a result of drug cartel activity, with an estimated 40 percent facing basic poverty in terms of lack of healthcare and education. Mexican citizens who may otherwise be honest, law-abiding workers may succumb to the temptation of the drug trade, as what may appear to be their only option for survival.

Global Cooperatives Work to Counter International Drug Trade

Moreover, governments abroad are rife with corruption. As such, the stabilization of the economy for the masses is less of a priority than increasing the personal wealth of those benefiting from the illicit drug trade. Accordingly, poverty ensues. To address these concerns, in 2003, the Paris Pact Initiative was enacted into law as a means to combat the global illicit drug trade. The Paris Pact has 58 participating countries and 23 organizations.

The Vienna declaration of 2012 resulted in the development of four pillars designed to work towards finding solutions in the fight against the international drug trade, specific to the illegal trafficking and sale of opiates.  The first pillar is to strengthen already existing regional initiatives. The second pillar is to detect and block financial flows linked to the trafficking of opiates. The third works to prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals used in illicit opiate production. The final pillar is to reduce the abuse of such drugs through a multi-faceted approach. This initiative has been implemented in phases thus far.

The international drug trade is not operating unnoticed by any means. However, the power that the leaders behind the scenes have and the wide user base makes the fight against this type of crime particularly complex. Of greater import, the mobilization of the groups involved and their presence in every corner of the globe creates further difficulties. With that in mind, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has made great strides in raising awareness and addressing each area of the drug trade that causes problems for the rest of society. The most recent Vienna Declaration of the Paris Pact Initiative is a thoughtfully devised, comprehensive approach to creating a safer world, especially for those already subjected to the harsh realities that poverty as a byproduct of the international drug trade creates.

U.S. Partnerships Important to Continuing Progress

The United States plays a key role in leading other countries to monitor and deter criminal activity related to the sale and trade of illegal substances through the work of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. As a result of the United States’ partnership with other countries, a collaborative approach is made possible in combatting this significant societal problem because of the sharing of information and resources cross-continentally.

Other aspects that are associated with the illegal trade of illicit substances that involve financial matters, such as money laundering, are addressed by this department as well. An additional benefit of this collaboration of departments throughout the world is that it holds other countries accountable for monitoring illegal activity through their own governments or agencies and thus acts as an incentive to ensuring safety. The bureau also provides assistance to countries that may need extra resources to control criminal activity. Through this ongoing assistance, the world can continue to make progress towards resolving this multi-faceted global issue.

– Bridget Rice
Photo: Flickr

Initiatives Against Drug Cartels in Latin AmericaJuan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, says that a global problem requires a global solution. One problem in need of a solution for more than 40 years is drug cartels in Latin America.

The Problem of Drug Cartels in Latin America

Because of drug cartels in Latin America, especially around South America, thousands have been killed in Colombia, Mexico and other areas where cartels are deep-rooted in society. Santos is urging countries to rethink their strategies because the human cost is too high, despite current efforts. The drug business also hurts consumers and the environment as land is deforested in order to plant cocoa, which supplies cocaine.

The largest drug cartels in Mexico — the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels — control most illegal drug trades from South America to the U.S. Usually, cocaine is imported from South America then smuggled to the U.S. Some groups also traffic marijuana and methamphetamines. Cartels are also involved with extorting local businesses, kidnapping for ransom, prostitution rings, intimidation and murder.

There is a shared responsibility among the international community to reduce both supply and demand for drugs. Some substantial initiatives have been employed to combat drug cartels in Latin America by Mexico, Guatemala and the European Union.

Cutting Drug Demand with Social Programs

Pena Nieto, the President of Mexico, promised in 2013 that $9.2 billion would be invested in social programs to alleviate crime by tackling its root causes, instead of following a policy of force. These initiatives consist of improving health and social services, roads, parks, lighting, and job opportunities for mothers. School hours also increased in an effort to keep the youth occupied and away from gang activity.

Waging War on Drugs

Mexico’s army has been deployed to arrest members of cartel kingpins. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is the ruling party, headed by Pena Nieto, and has rebranded itself into a modern force focusing on economic growth, poverty reduction and tackling drug-related violence. Under the current governance, crime and violence are usually dealt with at a local level. Exceptional cases include the severe violence occurring in Michoacán, where the President resorted to sending troops to back up the federal police forces. Vigilante groups are allowed to keep their own weapons when they agree to integrate into the official security forces.

Decriminalizing Drugs

Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s president, proposed the method of regional decriminalization on growing drug trades. This effort could slim down profits obtained by the cartels from illegal drug trades in the black market, therefore crippling the drug business for brutal cartels.

Colombia adopted a similar approach by switching from the usual hard-line policies to the softer decriminalization method. Colombia hosted the 2012 Cartagena Summit of the Americas, which focused on decriminalizing drugs and expanded coordination between countries in combating drug calamity.

International Cooperation on Crime

Crimjust, a joint initiative implemented by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, is funded by the European Union. It was established to counter organized crime and drug trafficking through international cooperation. In 2016, Central American and South American countries like Panama and Colombia became one of the first few countries to join Crimjust in order to enhance their own national capacities to counter drug and illicit trafficking. The 2016-2020 program is expected to specifically strengthen investigations and criminal justice cooperation along the cocaine route in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa. Through Crimjust, the international efficacy in combating drug cartels in Latin America has been amplified.

– Heulwen Leung
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