After Flirting With Decriminalization, Argentina Set to Get Tough on Drugs

No matter who wins Argentina's upcoming election, it seems the country is set to diverge from its flirtation with drugs decriminalization and embark on a highly questionable and extremely dangerous strategy of militarizing its drug policy.

With the October 25 presidential election just weeks away, all three main candidates have spoken out in favor of militarizing the country’s fight against drug trafficking, reports the PanAm Post. Both opposition candidates, Sergio Massa and Mauricio Macri, have expressed being pro the shooting down of planes suspected of drug trafficking, with the former stating he would deploy the military to fight drug trafficking organizations.

The ruling-coalition candidate, Daniel Scioli, meanwhile has pleged to create localized police forces to tackle the drug trade, alongside forming militarized urban squads, and last year referred to drug trafficking as "public enemy number one" in an interview with La Nacion.

Argentina is a key transit route for cocaine coming primarily from Bolivia, and is the second largest consumer of the drug in the region. In recent years, the city of Rosario in particular, a key trafficking hub thanks to its transport links to the Bolivian border, has seen drug-related violence escalate. In 2014 alone there were 248 homicides registered, five times the national average, according to Buenos Aires Herald.  At the last official count in 2013, Argentina had a homicide rate of 8.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants

It is somewhat perplexing, though, that each candidate believes that taking a tougher approach to the issue will bring about the desired results. One need only look at the disastrous consequences of militarization in Mexico in recent years to see that far from reducing drug trafficking and production, resultant violence has shot up; in the six years following former President Felipe Calderon's deployment of the army to fight drug traffickers in 2006, Mexico witnessed over 100,000 homicides, 70 percent of which were drug related. 

Furthermore, since 2006 there have been over 23,000 registered disappearances -- most notably the 43 college students in 2014 who were allegedly abducted by police and handed to a criminal group --  and at least 280,000 people are estimated to be internally displaced in Mexico, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, partly as a result of the drug war.

Not only will Argentina's election winner potentially set the country on a dangerous drug policy path, they will also be diverging markedly from the drug law reform current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called for during her time in office. 

In 2008, Kirchner called for the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use and spoke out against punishing people who took drugs rather than punishing those who trafficked them. Then, in 2009 the Supreme Court ruled that punishing people for possession of drugs for personal consumption was unconstitutional when it did not harm others. Despite the Court's ruling, however, lower courts interpreted the decision in such a way that still allowed for law enforcement officials to detain users, thus, in 2014 Kirchner again pushed for more lenient drug laws, supporting draft bills to decriminalize drugs. The likelihood of this being seen through now, though, seems slim at best if priorities are set elsewhere.

In addition to splitting with Kirchner's reformist sympathies, Argentina will also buck a regional -- albeit nascent -- trend toward drug policy reform. Uruguay legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2013 and sales of the drug are expected to begin early next year, while Brazil's Supreme Court is currently debating whether to decriminalize. Chile, typically a hardliner on drugs, even began the region's first ever medical marijuana program in the past year.

If Maasa, Macri and Scioli insist on ignoring the wealth of evidence that being tougher on drugs simply does not work, Argentina could see its security situation deteriorate in the coming years.