September 19, 2014
Leaders push shift from US-led drug fight
Leaders hint at getting away from ‘totally inefficient’ US-led policy to combat trafficking
Amid the usual pomp and ceremony of a state visit, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet yesterday touched on drug-trafficking — a sensitive issue locally — by suggesting the problem be taken up on a regional level at UNASUR, in a move that appears to be one more step away from the US policy on the issue, which President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner yesterday described as “totally inefficient.”
The leaders also put pen to paper on a series of bilateral accords during a meeting the pair described as a “fresh start” for Chilean-Argentine relations, which included hints of support from Santiago over Argentina’s dispute with the UK about the Malvinas.
“It’s not enough that two countries agree on drug-trafficking,” said Bachelet, who added that it was a “topic that should be taken to UNASUR.”
Bachelet’s comment on drug-trafficking was then echoed by Fernández de Kirchner, who took the opportunity to criticize the United States on its record in fighting drugs, after Argentina was last week criticized by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US State Department and the Argentine Catholic Church — on three separate occasions — over issues regarding drug-trafficking.
Fernández de Kirchner said “neither Chile nor Argentina produce drugs,” and described the two countries as “transit points.”
In what appeared to be a clear critique of US-led anti-drug efforts, Fernández de Kirchner said that “if 20 years ago a strategy is put forth to combat drugs, and drug-trafficking then grows, it’s evident that the methodology needs to be changed,” she charged, describing it as “totally inefficient.”
“I think it’s fundamental that countries that consume a lot of drugs participate in the fight (against trafficking) and agree on common protocol, because the reality is that our countries — beyond some addictions that might exist in Chile and Argentina — are transit points,” she said.
The absence of countries that produce and consume drugs at the negotiating-table represents “fiction or hypocrisy,” CFK charged.
Bachelet has come under scrutiny in conservative Chile for having suggested amendments to the classification of marijuana, specifically a law that considers pot a “hard drug.”
“The problem with drugs in Chile is not individual or medicinal consumptions, but the drug-trafficking networks that are rife in the streets of our country, and that’s precisely where we’ll be putting our efforts,” said Bachelet during an interview with CNN Chile in March.
For her part, Fernández de Kirchner said under “no perspective” is she considering any changes to drug laws, while taking aim at the media for “using the issue (of drug-trafficking) to force it into the media agenda and trying to show the government isn’t doing anything.”
‘Unthinkable years ago’
Yesterday’s official visit was hailed by both heads of state for its significance in increasing the cultural and political proximity of two countries that have historically seen themselves divided by more than just the Andes Mountains.
“For many, many decades — I would almost even say during centuries — we were really separated, different, distant and looking outward toward other continents,” said Fernández de Kirchner. She noted, however, that since the last CELAC conference in Cuba, “from Mexico southward, we’ve all been able to agree on common ground, with a vision and level of participation that was absolutely unthinkable years ago.”
Part of that growing closeness yesterday included a range of agreements that, among other measures, will see the opening up of new border crossings, the gradual elimination of the Sole Migratory Card for immigration, as well as disaster management cooperation, the likes of which yesterday earned CFK the praise of Bachelet, who described Argentina’s response to the Valparaíso fire that last month killed 15 people and cancelled her initial visit to Argentina, as “concrete.”
They also signed some more symbolic agreements, offering to support each other in the development of mining projects, the exchange of energy resources during emergencies, and in matters of national defence.