Press Releases

    9 October 2008

    UNODC warns of "hemispheric threat of drugs" to the Americas

    VIENNA, 9 October (UN Information Service) - At the first-ever meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Safety of the Americas, organized by the Organization of American States (OAS) in Mexico City on 8 October, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, warned "in the Americas, the biggest threat to public safety comes from drug trafficking and the violence perpetuated by organized crime". He called it a "hemispheric security issue".

    Mr. Costa told the Ministers that "as a hemisphere, the Americas face the world's biggest drug problem - whether we measure it in hectares of cultivation, tons of production, its market value or even by the gruesome number of people killed in the dirty trade". He pointed out that "the main difference with other drug-infested regions in the world is that drug demand in the Americas is largely satisfied by drug supply within the hemisphere". Citing a UNODC report on The Threat of Narco-trafficking in the Americas, Mr. Costa pointed out that South America produces almost all of the world's cocaine, and North America consumes half of it (most of the rest goes to Europe). The production, processing and trade in cannabis, amphetamines and precursors are also enormous in the Americas and their flows are predominantly intra-regional.

    "Urban violence in the US, biker gangs in Canada, violence and kidnapping in Mexico, pandillas and maras in Central America, thugs in the Caribbean, gangs in Brazilian shanty-towns, insurgency in Colombia - in every case there is a connection to drugs", said the Executive Director of UNODC. He also observed that money made from drug trafficking is a lubricant for corruption that undermines law enforcement and the integrity of public officials. "The laundering of these illicit proceeds through banks, real estate and in other economic activity blurs the distinction between the rule of law and the rule of money, and it enriches a few families at the expense of the masses".

    UNODC is working with the OAS and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to develop regional strategies to reduce vulnerability to drugs and crime among countries caught in the cross-fire of narco-trafficking. It is also involved in the Merida Initiative (a security/cooperation agreement between Mexico and the United States), and works closely with the Secretaria General Iberoamericana and the Inter-American Development Bank.

    Narco-trafficking poses a threat to urban security, to the extent that some neighbourhoods have become combat zones. Mr. Costa therefore urged municipal authorities to play a greater role in enhancing public security. "Experience shows that pro-poor housing reform, youth programmes, rejuvenating public spaces, widening access to public services and introducing public surveillance technology can create safer cities", he said.

    He also called for reducing supply and demand for drugs in the Americas. "Until more resources are put into drug treatment and prevention as well as viable alternatives for illicit crops, narco-traffickers will continue to ply their lucrative and deadly trade across the Western hemisphere", he said.

    During his visit to Mexico, Mr. Costa met with President Felipe Calderon and senior government officials who informed him of the impact of drugs and crime on public health and national security.

    For the text of Mr. Costa's speech, see

    The report on The Threat of Narco-trafficking in the Americas is available at

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    For further information, please contact:

    Walter Kemp
    Spokesman and Speechwriter  
    United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
    Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-5629
    Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629