Monday, May 20, 2013

OAS Report Presents Legalization as ‘Drug War’ Alternative

On Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS) released a highly anticipated report on drugs and drug trafficking in the hemisphere, which for the first time includes decriminalization and legalization as potential and valid policy options in the hemisphere.

The first section of the report (.pdf), commissioned at last year’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia, is extremely comprehensive in its analysis of the drug problem, and offers some unorthodox suggestions on drug policy in the hemisphere. While these are not meant to be taken as solutions, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza states in his introduction to the report that they are designed to serve as “the start of a long-awaited discussion.”

The report’s main premise is that there is no single drug problem in the Americas, but “many problems related to: a) the different stages of the process associated with controlled drugs (cultivation, production, transit, sale, consumption), b) the ways in which these stages affect the countries of the region.”

Perhaps the most surprising conclusion in the report comes after its assertion that drug use must be addressed as a public health issue.  According to the OAS, “decriminalization of drug use needs to be considered as a core element in any public health strategy.” The report’s authors write that a shift is already underway to emphasize prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, as well as a change “from viewing drug users as criminals or accomplices of drug-traffickers to seeing them as victims and chronic addicts.”

Although most drug policy advocates would argue that not all consumers of every illicit substance are either victims or addicts, the inclusion of this language has been warmly received. Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told The New York Times that it “effectively breaks the taboo on considering alternatives to the current prohibitionist approach.” The Guardian notes that the Open Society Foundations’ Global Drug Policy Program has described the report as a “game-changer.”

The report has also been welcomed by some officials in the region, most notably Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, who attended its launch in Bogota on Friday. The president, who has endorsed drug legalization in the past, referred to the document as “a vital piece in the construction of a common way to fight this problem.”

While the first part of the report focuses more on assessing the current state of the drug problem in the Americas, its second part (.pdf) examines possible scenarios for how drug policy might change over the next twelve years. Three different possibilities are assessed, each of which is guided by different policy strategies, including strengthening judicial institutions, stressing prevention and decriminalizing/legalizing certain drugs. A fourth, “cautionary” scenario is also discussed, in which some regional governments make tacit pacts with drug trafficking organizations in a last-ditch effort to reduce associated violence within their borders.

Of course, decriminalization and legalization have long been opposed by the biggest market for illicit drugs in the hemisphere: the United States. Even as it has embraced the idea of drug policy as a public health issue, the U.S. has firmly rejected legalization as a solution to drug violence. This position was recently echoed by U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske in an op-ed in Colombia’s El Tiempo. However, with marijuana legalized in Colorado and Washington, and seven states likely to follow in the next few years, the government’s foreign policy position on drug legalization seems untenable. A potential test of this stance will come next week when Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Colombia next week as part of a regional tour.


News Briefs
  • On Friday, the Salvadoran Constitutional Court ruled that the appointment of two former generals as heads of law enforcement in the country violated the constitution, El Faro reports. President Mauricio Funes appointed Gen. David Mungia Payes as security minister, and Gen. Francisco Ramon Salinas Rivera as head of the national police, in late 2011 and early 2012 amid concern about a return to “mano dura” security policies in the Central American country. The president has said he will obey the decision, but leaders from the two main street gangs in El Salvador -- who reached a government-facilitated truce partially with the help of Mungia -- say the decision threatens their ceasefire.
  • The main doctor charged with treating former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has told the press that the imprisoned ex-leader has a worsening stomach condition, and has called for President Ollanta Humala to authorize his release on health grounds. This is unlikely, however, as a medical commission’s findings that Fujimori does not currently suffer from cancer calls into question the health claims made by his family and supporters.
  • Writing for Venezuela Politics and Human Rights, Rebecca Hanson looks at the Venezuelan government’s recent launch of “Plan Patria Segura,” a citizen security initiative which involves deploying military units to high crime areas.  The plan is especially controversial because there are “virtually no mechanisms by which citizens can control the military’s treatment of citizens or denounce their abuse of civilians,” according to Hanson.
  • Diego Garcia-Sayan, president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and an author of the a December 2012 decision which found El Salvador’s Amnesty Law did not apply massacres and human rights violations committed during the country’s civil war, continued to speak out against the law in comments at a journalism forum in El Salvador last week.
  • The defense lawyer for former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has told BBC Mundo  that he has faith that the ruling against his client on genocide and crimes against humanity charges will be overturned. Meanwhile the full 900-page judgment is available online.
  • El Nuevo Diario has published the results of a new CID/Gallup poll which shows that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) is far and away the most popular political party in the country, with 49 percent of respondents expressing support for the party.  No other party received support from more than 5 percent of respondents, suggesting that the FSLN has no effective political opposition.
  • While the peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels have lasted for six months, there has still been no preliminary accord on land reform, a major issue for the guerrilla group. Still, lead FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez has said that he is “satisfied” with the pace of talks, El Espectador reports.
  • Jorge Rafael Videla, the Argentine junta leader who came to power after a military coup in 1976, died on Friday at the age of 87. La Nacion has a collection of responses to the news from Argentine politicians across the political spectrum, and the Washington Post looks at Videla’s life, calling him a “wily and ruthless player in the military dictatorship’s reign of institutionalized terrorism.”