Since coming to power in the summer of 2022, Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro has vowed to scrap decades of orthodoxy in waging the ‘War on drugs’, seeking to move the country towards policies of decriminalisation and “a more constructive path.” Could this development, likely to test relations with Colombia’s US ally, herald a swing away from hard-line policies in Latin America more broadly? Is this policy shift sustainable, and can it succeed?
Many states in the region continue to face severe challenges associated with the booming global narcotics trade. In Mexico, a violent frontline on the ‘War on drugs’, the national Congress recently voted to keep soldiers deployed on the streets until 2028. Mexican troops will continue to conduct public security operations against narco-groups, despite President Andrés Manuel López Obrador having previously campaigned on a promise to return them to barracks. Critics have condemned this vote as deepening the problem of militarisation in Mexico, rather than providing any long-term solution to narco-violence and insecurity. But is President López Obrador’s U-turn a signal that those in power see few realistic alternatives?
Meanwhile in Brazil, where troops and military police have frequently been deployed in operations against narco-traffickers, the question of how to address the violence of the drug trade – and the violent state response –comes under renewed scrutiny with the recent election of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Can – and should – Brazil follow in the foot steps of Petro’s Colombia, or is a continuation of its more hard-line approach under the previous administration the most likely outcome? How is politics being influenced in Brazil and the wider region by the continued violence and insecurity of the drugs trade, and what might the future hold?
Amid the political and economic changes recently affecting Latin America, our expert panel convenes to discuss the ways in which politics and (in)security is shaping and being shaped by the global war on drugs and organised crime, drawing on the specific cases of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.
Chair: Dr Kieran Mitton is a Reader in Conflict, Security and Development at King's College London.
Speaker: Mónica Serrano is Research-Professor of International Relations at El Colegio de México, Senior Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute, and Senior Research Associate at the Centre for International Studies, Oxford University. She has authored numerous articles and book chapters on international institutions, human rights and drug policy. Her current research focuses on drug policy and human rights violations in Mexico and Latin America.
Speaker: Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho is Vice Dean (International) for the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, King's College London, and a former director of King’s Brazil Institute. He founded the Observatory of Democracy in Latin America (KODLA) in 2022. His research interests include Latin America, civil-military relations, and peacekeeping operations.
Speaker: Alexandra Abello-Colak is a Fellow at the Latin America and Caribbean Centre (LACC) at the LSE, where her research focuses on dynamics of urban violence and insecurity in the Urban South. She is particularly interested in the challenges of security provision in cities affected by chronic levels of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a related focus on the reconfigurations of state-society relations occurring in response to such violence. Alexandra is currently working on a research project that uses a systemic approach to explore dynamics of violence in Medellín, Tijuana, and Kingston.