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Latin America’s Crackdown on Drugs Defies Its Progressive Rhetoric

“We were having dinner—my daughter, grandchild, and me,” says Ramona, a 67-year-old Mexican woman who is serving a sentence of four-and-a-half years in one of Mexico’s most dangerous prisons. “I was lying on the couch watching a soap opera … when I realized that there were several men inside the house yelling at me to hand over the drugs.”

The police, wearing masks, ransacked Ramona’s house and allegedly stole her personal belongings before hauling her off to the prosecutor’s office. They claimed they had witnessed her selling marijuana and crack cocaine to a man, though the man himself said he had never seen her before.

Ramona’s case illustrates a startling trend in Latin America. Despite some high-profile signs of progress—including Mexico’s Supreme Court ruling last week on cannabis for personal use—new analysis from the Research Consortium on Drugs and the Law (Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho, or CEDD) shows that...

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