Drug-trafficking is a regional challenge for all the nations of North and Central America. This scourge, which inflicts widespread terror and death, respects no borders and it can only be effectively fought with a regional /global strategy.
This was the purpose of the recent trip by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to Central America, in particular Panama and Mexico. The trip highlighted the differences in how the problem is viewed and the difficulties in fighting it.
From the U.S. perspective, it is an question of the need for tough enforcement in these countries where the drugs are produced or pass through on their way to the North; in Latin America, the problem is viewed as a question of the high consumer demand in the United States and the guns that land in the South and feed the terrible level of violence and its consequences. One example of the impact was the recent incidents in the prisons in Honduras and Mexico, both over-populated by prisoners as a result of the violence and drug trafficking.
These two very distinct perspectives could have the same overall goal, but the lived experience is very different. It is difficult to understand on this side of the border the devastating cost in human life and the widespread suffering in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. That is why the words about U.S. help and collaboration in the war against drugs ring empty and false.
Without a doubt it is necessary that Washington help the Latin American democracies in their fight against drug trafficking, violence and corruption. However, more than words they need the U.S. to take action to reduce the demand for drugs at home, and to stop the trade in guns and money-laundering.
Napolitano’s visit to the region, as with that initiated today by Vice President Biden, are important and welcome. Communication is critical and all nations involved have a role to play.