Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Program, has publicly slammed global strategies to combat drugs, claiming there is increasing evidence that "the war on drugs" has failed. The former prime minister of New Zealand urged Latin American leaders to develop new policies to tackle drugs, which she says should be addressed as a public health problem rather than criminalized. "I've been a health minister in my past and there's no doubt that the health position would be to treat the issue of drugs as primarily a health and social issue rather than a criminalized issue," she told Reuters. "Once you criminalize, you put very big stakes around. Of course, our world has proceeded on the basis that criminalization is the approach. To deal with drugs as a one-dimensional, law-and-order issue is to miss the point." Although she did not directly comment on US involvement in the drug war, her words have been widely interpreted as a criticism of US drug policy, which she later denied. "She was speaking about the negative effects the drug trade has had on development in some Latin American countries in the context of the Human Development Report," said UNDP spokeswoman Christina LoNigro in a statement.
Latin American leaders have already been brainstorming new ideas to address drug trafficking and subsequent violence in the region. At the UN General Assembly last September, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and the leaders of Colombia and Guatemala called on world governments to help Latin American countries explore alternatives to the problem. Many leaders in the region have also spoken about the possibility of legalizing drugs. While Clark did not directly advocate for legalization, she stressed the importance of keeping profits out of criminal hands. "We have waves of violent crime sustained by drug trade, so we have to take the money out of drugs," she said. "The countries in the region that have been ravaged by the armed violence associated with drug cartels are starting to think laterally about a broad range of approaches and they should be encouraged to do that. They should act on evidence."