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How Latin America is reinventing the war on drugs

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"I am a coca producer, and they made us take out our crops so cocaine would disappear and narcotraffic would disappear," says Felipe Martinez, who heads a state entity in charge of monitoring and eradicating coca that exceeds legal limits in the Chapare. "But that didn't bring results. It brought blood, sorrow, orphans. We lost the right to be people."

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Bolivia's more go-it-alone approach symbolizes a fundamental shift in the drug war in Latin America – one that is creating a tense new relationship between the US and its southern neighbors and could help determine how many drugs ultimately end up on urban streets.

Countries across the region are adopting a more autonomous, sometimes nationalistic, response to narcotics control that increasingly questions Washington's priorities and prescriptions. From Bolivia, where drugs are produced, to Mexico and Guatemala, where they transit through, to Brazil, where they are increasingly consumed, officials are forging new policies or floating ideas to deal with a problem they believe 40 years of US-dictated solutions hasn't curbed.

The relationship between Latin America and the US has always been at its most fraught over the war on drugs, ever since Richard Nixon launched the initiative in the 1970s. Nowhere has Washington's scolding finger been more in the face of its Latin American counterparts. Nowhere has Latin America felt it has fewer options than to just acquiesce, dependent as it is on US aid and military might to overcome the cartels that control narcotics trafficking.

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