RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 11 (Reuters) - The war against drugs is failing and the U.S. government should break with "prohibition" policies that have achieved little more than cram its prisons and stoke violence, three former Latin American presidents said on Wednesday.
The respected former presidents urged the United States and Latin American governments to move away from jailing drug users to debate the legalization of marijuana and place more emphasis on the treatment of addicts.
Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria said there was no meaningful debate over drugs policy in the United States, despite a broad consensus that current policies had failed.
"The problem today in the U.S. is that narco-trafficking is a crime and so any politician is fearful of talking about narco-trafficking or talking about policies because they will be called soft," he said.
Gaviria has joined with former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo to try to change the debate on drugs in Latin America, where trafficking gangs have killed tens of thousands of people and weakened democracies through corruption.
From Mexico's gang wars to the drug-funded FARC guerrilla group in Colombia and daily shoot-outs between gangs and police in Rio de Janeiro's shantytowns, much of the region is scarred by drug violence and many believe U.S. policies have failed.
A United Nations meeting in Vienna next month will frame international drugs policy for the next 10 years, and the three former presidents, whose group is called the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, said it is time for change.
They pointed to falling street prices for cocaine and still high levels of consumption in the United States despite decades of policies focused on punishing users and cutting supplies from Latin American countries such as Colombia.
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