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Aldo F. Ponce

Prohibitive drug policy has spread throughout Latin America. Many countries heavily penalize consumption, and a few have even militarized the war against drugs. In this chapter I examine whether drug policy’s negative externalities-which include greater violence, victimhood, and perceptions of drug trafficking as a major problem-erode public perceptions of fairness of courts as well as trust in the justice system in Latin America. This study shows that the impact of drug policy on the perceptions of justice institutions and the political system is complex. While victimhood deteriorates trust in the justice system, concerns of drug trafficking as a major problem affect these perceptions in the opposite way. Furthermore, victimhood and perceptions of drug trafficking as a major problem tend to strengthen support for the broader political system. Aggressive law enforcement seems to allow Latin American governments to harvest this support, as this policy shows determination in dealing with drug trafficking problems. However, more aggressive law enforcement leads again to greater violence and victimhood. This vicious circle, which I call in this study the “drug trafficking trap,” leads to increases in both violence and law enforcement over time.