Earlier this month, from June 2-6, in Antigua, Guatemala the Organization of American States General Assembly was held. The theme this year was chosen by the host government, in this case Guatemala and was titled “For a Comprehensive Policy against the World Drug Problem in the Americas.” For this topic to even be discussed at a multilateral organization like the OAS is a huge step forward.
The OAS seems much more open to civil society than other multilateral agencies. There was a sense that people could stand up for their convictions and since it is a smaller gathering than that of the United Nations, it was easier to find people with whom you wanted to connect. Civil society was provided with a space to make statements on various issues, although the main one was related to drugs and drug policy.
A highlight of the General Assembly was how much the OAS scenarios report was mentioned. If you don’t know much about the report, you can find more here. While Secretary General Insulza was clear that this was not meant to be a blueprint, but rather to serve as a tool, it is clear that the winds of change are flowing through the region.
Secretary of State, John Kerry, was on hand to provide the statement from the United States and while he discussed a “full commitment to dialogue in the region,” he also spoke about the need to “eliminate the scourge (of drugs) or at least reduce it.” This type of language only continues to stigmatize drug users and doesn’t help us to move towards a space of dialogue. No one is in favor of problematic drug use, but there needs to be a more nuanced understanding.
Compared to the United States, Nicaragua and a few other of the Caribbean countries were completely prohibitionist, stating that they will not open the space to legalization or even decriminalization and advocating for a “drug-free country.” On the other spectrum, Mexico never fully mentioned the true impact of prohibition in the country, preferring to highlight the need for prevention and treatment and mentioning at least 10 times in their 5 minute speech that they are seeking to become a “Mexico at peace.” While I also seek a Mexico at peace, we must move beyond the rhetoric and find concrete policy alternatives that put peace, human rights and dignity at the center, rather than continuing with the same policies and simply changing the discourse.
The General Assembly ended with a declaration from the member states which commits them to holding a Special Session on drugs in 2014. This will be a crucial step towards creating some sort of hemispheric coalition prior to the United Nations 2016 General Assembly Special Session. While this might seem like a lot of meetings, many people have been waiting years to feel change on the horizon and we can almost see it.
Many people wrote on the OAS process and below are some highlights:
Latin American Leaders Chart Course for Drug Policy Debate By Coletta Youngers