Uruguay's Ex-President Vasquez talking marijuana, cocaine

In a surprise that comes just days after an historic vote by Uruguay's lower house to legalize marijuana, the country's ex-president Tabare Vasquez said Uruguay should now consider ways "to regulate" the cocaine market.

Vasquez, who is positioning himself to run for president again next year and has a 62 percent approval rating, said in a television interview that the key question is education, not consumption. (See interview below)

"I think (legalizing cocaine) is not necessarily making it easier to consume it," he said. "We have to educate (the population) so they don't consume it. But more than making it easier, we need to regulate the consumption of drugs."

He later linked the proposal to his administration's successful anti-smoking campaign in the mid-2000s, and noted the vast number of deaths linked to smoking (an estimated five million per year) far outnumbers deaths linked to psychoactive drugs (closer to 200,000 per year).

In early August, Uruguay's lower house passed a measure to legalize the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana. The bill soon goes to the senate, where it is expected to pass easily. Once it passes the senate, it is signed into law, which will make the country the first in the world to completely legalize the drug.

InSight Crime Analysis

Vasquez's pronouncement is surprising on various levels. Vasquez had previously been coy about his position concerning the legalization of marijuana, and few expected him to come out so clearly in favor of the measure, much less talk openly about cocaine in the process.

The marijuana bill did not have popular support (63 percent were against it in the polls leading up to the house vote), so Vasquez's position on cocaine and marijuana may hurt him in the campaign.

SEE ALSO: Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

To be sure, legalizing marijuana has been a monumental task for the proponents of the measure. It took a sophisticated campaign that included YouTube videos (see below) to familiarize Uruguayans with the issue and win over Vasquez's own party, which barely managed to push it through the lower house.

Finally, cocaine is not marijuana and there is little consensus, even in the pro-marijuana camps, about how "to regulate" its consumption. 

Still, Vasquez is one of many leaders in the region who is trying to turn the drug debate from a security question into a health question. He knows health issues. He is himself a doctor and is quick to point out that his efforts are about regulating and legalizing the consumption of the now illicit drugs.

"We need to educate (youth) to prevent (consumption)," he said.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...