Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission’s final report:
“We convene today to examine the findings of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, which were sent to Congress in the commission’s final report this week. It’s a personal pleasure and honor that we hold this meeting as we wrap up the work of the 116th Congress. One of my proudest moments as a member of this body was when President Obama signed my bipartisan legislation to create an independent commission to evaluate U.S. counternarcotics policies in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“As we grapple with this challenge here in Congress, the country continues to struggle with the devastation that drug overdoses have brought to our communities. As the Commission points out in its report, more than half a million Americans have died from overdoses over the past decade with an unprecedented 71,000 deaths in 2019. It’s really unbelievable when you see how many people have died.
“It’s a tragedy. It’s hard to think of many issues more in need of Congress’s urgent attention. We need to increase investments in drug treatment. We need to pursue robust criminal justice reform. And we need to focus on improving drug supply reduction policies in the Americas.
“And that’s why we’re here today. The idea behind my legislation was simple. In recent decades, the United States has spent billions of dollars fighting the drug trade in the Americas, but the successes have been few and far between. Put simply, the drug war declared by Richard Nixon in June of 1971—nearly 50 years ago—has failed. As the number of lives lost climbs, it’s clear that we have too much at stake not to improve U.S. drug policy and ensure that our policies are focused on maximizing impact and minimizing harm.
“And the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission and its bipartisan commissioners have given us a roadmap. Their report offers a fresh approach to drug control policies. They tell us plainly that we’re too focused on crop eradication, that the U.S. drug certification process is ineffective, and that the State Department should have a leading role in developing U.S. counternarcotics policies abroad. It’s really quite good.
“As we collectively rethink U.S. drug policy in the Americas, I also hope we will take a closer look at how to improve accountability for U.S. law enforcement agencies operating in the region, including DEA-vetted units whose actions have at times led to tragic civilian deaths. The Department of Justice’s Inspector General is currently preparing a report for me looking at this very issue which I hope will complement the Drug Commission’s work.
“And to help put an end to corrosive violence in Mexico, we must do much more to crack down on the illegal trafficking of firearms at our southern border. To that end, I joined Senator Durbin in requesting a report from the Government Accountability Office that should highlight key areas for us to strengthen our response to illegal firearm trafficking to Mexico.
“On a personal note, today’s work is somewhat of a bookend for my years of work on Latin America, including as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. I care deeply about Latin America and believe that we all must work collaboratively to end the scourge of crime, violence and drug trafficking that has affected far too many of the region’s citizens.
“While I won’t be in Congress next year, I look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration and my colleagues on this Committee to make sure that the good work of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission is implemented.”