The Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Heads of Delegation of the Member States of the Organizations of American States (OAS) gathered in Antigua, Guatemala, at the forty-third regular session of the OAS General Assembly;
After four decades of the monologue of the “war on drugs”, the Americas open the door for the debate, breaking the taboo to discuss new approaches to dealing with this problem. This does not mean that there is a consensus regarding the alternatives and even less that the legalization or decriminalization are just around the corner. This means that governments around the continent are willing to have an open debate ...
At last week's annual summit of the Organization of American States, Latin American leaders distanced themselves from the United States' drug policies and agreed to consider the widespread legalization of marijuana.
This is at the heart of the awakening in Latin America, a feeling that drugs prohibition has allowed rich and powerful cartels to rise to such prominence that they threaten the institutions of the state – the police, the judicial system, the army, the media, and the body politic. In Latin America it is not about rehab and criminality, it is about an existential threat to the state.
George Soros has called for an end to the West's "war on drugs". Soros has thrown his weight behind a push by Guatemalan President Perez Molina, who recently declared that prohibition should be abandoned. Speaking at the World Economic Forum, Soros said that the narcotics trade threatened stability in many countries. President Molina said he would organise a meeting of Latin American leaders next June to discuss the issue. Costa Rica, Mexico and Colombia have opened talks with U.S. officials to prepare for the legalization of marijuana in some U.S. states, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla declared.
Leaders from across Latin America responded within days of the Colorado and Washington vote, demanding a review of drug-war policies that have mired the region in violence. Latin American decisionmakers are now openly questioning why they should continue to sacrifice police and soldiers to enforce drug laws when legal markets for marijuana now exist in the U.S.
As the underlying rationale for the war on drugs falls apart, some may wonder whether Latin America is really prepared to push back against Washington's militaristic approach toward marijuana trafficking. While such a prospect would have been unheard of just a few years ago, recent developments in the U.S. suggest that change could come fast at the hemispheric level. Indeed, successful pushes for marijuana legalization in Washington state and Colorado brought together some unusual political constituencies.
Guatemalan PresidentOtto Perez said he is feeling less alone in his drive tore-think the fight against drug-trafficking than a year ago, when heshocked fellow Central American leaders with a proposal to decriminalisedrugs. Perez has proposed what he calls a "third way" inbetween all-out drugs legalisation and complete prohibition. He saysthe latter approach has failed as illegal drug use remains high despitedecades of being outlawed around the world.
A whiff of change is in the air regarding drug control policy. Officials in two American states, Colorado and Washington, are pondering how to implement their voters’ decisions last November to legalise cannabis. One immediate consequence is that the United States will be in breach of the UN Convention. Good. It should now join Latin American governments in an effort to reform that outdated document to allow signatories room to experiment. Imposing a failed policy on everybody benefits nobody.
German officials take a decidedly cool stance toward drug policy reform. No top politician with a major German party is about to call for a new drug policy or even the legalization of marijuana. Drugs are not a winning issue, because it's too easy to get burned. Germany lacks the political pressure to change. There were 986 drug-related deaths in Germany in 2011, the smallest number since 1988. Drug use is declining in all age groups. So why change anything?
The Secretary General of the OAS highlighted the assignment received during the Sixth Summit of the Americas in 2012, which urged the OAS to analyze the results of drug policies in the Americas and to explore new approaches to strengthen these efforts and make them more effective. The Foreign Minister of Guatemala emphasized that, 50 years after signing the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, "the world starts the task of reflection and evaluation of what we have been doing and how we can achieve more effective results."
There is increasing evidence that the war on drugs has failed, with criminalization often creating more problems than it solves, said Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Program. Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister, said Latin American leaders should be encouraged to develop different policies to tackle the drug scourge. "I've been a health minister in my past and there's no doubt that the health position would be to treat the issue of drugs as primarily a health and social issue rather than a criminalized issue."
Relationships with countries racked by drug violence and organized crime should focus more on economic development and less on the endless battles against drug traffickers and organized crime capos that have left few clear victors. The countries, Mexico in particular, need to set their own course on security, with the United States playing more of a backing role. That approach runs the risk of being seen as kowtowing to governments more concerned about their public image than the underlying problems tarnishing it.
There was a lot of drug-war hand-wringing in the U.S. leading up to President Obama’s visit to Mexico. That’s because Mexican President Peña Nieto is in change-the-conversation mode: he wants Washington to focus less on his country’s awful drug violence – some 60,000 narco-related murders in the past seven years, with little sign of abating – and more on its robust economic potential. The fear in some Washington circles is that Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which in its dictatorial 20th-century heyday was every drug lord’s cuate, or best buddy, is putting the fight against Mexico’s vicious cartels on the back burner.
An Organization of American States study in response to calls by some Latin American leaders for rethinking the war on drugs advocates serious discussion of legalizing marijuana. “Sooner or later decisions in this area will need to be taken,” the study says, although it no proposals or specific recommendations on any issue are made. The $2.2 million study was hailed as historic by drug policy reform advocates who call the more than $20 billion that Washington has spent on counterdrug efforts in Latin America over the past decade a damaging waste of taxpayer money.
After more than four decades of a failed war on drugs, calls for a change in strategy are growing louder by the day. In Latin America, the debate is positively deafening. Statesmen from Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Uruguay are taking the lead for transformations in their own drug regime, which has set a strong dynamic of change across the region and around the world. Their discussion has expanded to the US, where public opinion toward regulation is also changing. (See also: Western leaders study 'gamechanging' report on global drugs trade)
The decriminalization of drug use and the regulation of marijuana consumption are the principle recommendations made in The Drug Problem in the Americas report presented by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, as an alternative to the war on drugs. The document stems from the request made to the OAS by 34 chiefs of state and governments, including the United States, so that alternative drug policies can be discussed.
Seven of the world’s eight most violent countries lie on the bloody trafficking route from the cocaine fields of the Andes to the nostrils of North America. So it is unsurprising that Latin American leaders are fed up with the way drugs are policed. The international rules on prohibition were laid down by the United Nations more than 50 years ago, making drug policy difficult for individual countries to reform. But diplomats and do-gooders are finding ever more chinks in prohibition’s legal armour.
Following the release of a major draft report on drug policy in the Americas, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States (OAS) called for the beginning of debate aimed at reforming those policies throughout the region. Many of the region’s leaders have expressed frustration with the limits and exorbitant costs of current policies and their desire for a more creative debate. But according to John Walsh, who participated in writing the OAS report, there is a lot of scepticism over whether the OAS will be up to the task, especially given U.S. domination of the issue.
It was nearly standing room only Monday at UN Headquarters in New York, for a presentation of the Organization of American States’ reports on “The Drug Problem in the Americas” and the Declaration of Antigua Guatemala, “For a Comprehensive Policy against the World Drug Problem in the Americas,” adopted during the 43rd Regular Session of the Organization of American States General Assembly in La Antigua, Guatemala from 4 to 6 June 2013.