Latin America Must Make Drugs Legal to Stop Killings, Says United Nations Chief

A woman holds a placard that reads "Stop the drug war" during a march with human rights activists and families of victims of violence in Monterrey, Mexico, on April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

Countries in Latin America should consider legalizing drugs to ease the human cost linked to the deadly trade, a United Nations chief has said.

Alicia Bárcena, who heads the Santiago, Chile-based Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, said that countries in the region needed to look at drastic measures to tackle the trade, which kills tens of thousands of people each year. "It's time to seriously consider legalizing drugs," she told a Latin America forum in Paris, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

"I'm going to be very provocative. Who would drug legalization be good for? Latin America and the Caribbean, for God's sake. Because the illegality is what's killing people," said Bárcena, who is from Mexico.

Mexico is a hub through which cocaine is smuggled from Peru, Colombia and Bolivia to reach the United States. In 2017, it had its deadliest year on record, with 29,168 reported murders—higher than the murder rate at the height of Mexico's drug war in 2011, according to government data.

On Sunday, Rosalinda Garcia, the wife of top drug lord Nemesio Oseguera, known as "El Mencho," was arrested on charges of laundering funds for his New Generation Jalisco cartel, which is blamed for heroin shipments to the U.S., Sky News reported.

Oseguera is Mexico's most wanted drug lord, after Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán was extradited to the United States last year to face trial. The U.S. State Department is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction.

The Jalisco gang is fighting with Guzman's Sinaloa cartel and other gangs across Mexico for supremacy over drug trafficking routes.

Most countries in the Americas have tough drug policies, but an easing of marijuana laws in parts of the United States has bolstered the case for supporters of legalization.