Friday, June 7, 2013

OAS Agrees to Disagree on Drugs

The 43rd Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly came to an end yesterday, with OAS member nations adopting a declaration reflecting widespread division in the hemisphere on drug policy.

It became clear yesterday that the Antigua General Assembly ended without a firm consensus on the future of drug policy in the hemisphere. While the “Declaration of Antigua Guatemala” (available here) contains language on the need for a drug strategy based on “full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that fully incorporates public health, education, and social inclusion,” it also recognizes the need for full implementation of international treaties on drug control.

Despite pressure from international and regional civil society groups, and the recent release of an OAS report calling for alternatives to the current approach, the declaration does not mention decriminalization or legalization of cannabis -- or any other drug -- as a viable policy option.

In this sense it differs little from the position of U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has embraced the idea of drug policy as a public health issue while firmly rejecting legalization as a solution to drug violence.

The New York Times suggests that the declaration’s watered-down language shows how many nations remain hesitant to join a “defiant march toward legalizing marijuana” in Latin America. The paper notes opposition to legalization from Mexico, Brazil, Peru, and Nicaragua, with the latter’s representative being especially critical of relaxing drug laws.

Still, there is reason for optimism for drug policy reform advocates, as the debate will likely continue. The declaration calls for “a process of consultation” on drug policy in the Americas, to be sustained at several regional forums on security and drugs over the next several months. After continued debate, a Special Session of the General Assembly will be held “no later than 2014.”

News Briefs
  • The General Assembly concluded with a vote on three of the seven positions on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).  Fortunately for supporters of the commission, the IACHR candidate backed by the ALBA bloc, Erick Roberts Garces, was not selected. EFE reports that American James Cavallaro and Brazil’s Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi are the two new members, while Mexican Jose de Jesus Orozco -- the current president of the IACHR -- was re-elected. Voting records show that the latter was reelected with 22 votes, while the former received 20 votes 19 votes, respectively. The Brazilian nominee just barely beat out Roberts Garces (17 votes), who was seen as favoring calls to defang the commission, as noted by Americas Quarterly.
  • The General Assembly also saw growing support for ending U.S.-backed efforts to isolate Cuba from the region. The foreign minister of Nicaragua, as well as representatives of Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Haiti, all expressed support for inviting Cuba to the 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama, according to Telesur. Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Nuñez called for the creation of an “ad hoc” committee made up of five OAS member states to assess the request.
  • Siglo21 reports that former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt’s retrial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity has been set for April 2014, roughly a year after his  conviction was overturned.
  • For the fourth year in a row, Colombia has been excluded from the International Labor Organization’s “blacklist” of countries where workers are at risk of having their rights are violated with impunity. El Espectador reports that the Colombian government is celebrating the news as a sign that its efforts to better enforce protections for labor unions and organizers are working.
  • After it was announced last month that U.S. ambassador to Brazil Thomas A. Shannon will be leaving his post by the end of the year, Folha de Sao Paulo reports that Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Liliana Ayalde is expected to be named to the position today.
  • The L.A. Times looks at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Costa Rica, Mexico and Costa Rica, which experts say was a bid to improve the country’s “image problem” in the developing world.
  • Nicaragua has granted a Chinese company a 100-year concession to build a rival to the Panama Canal, The Guardian reports.  According to El Nuevo Diario, Nicaragua’s Congress will begin to debate two bills authorizing the project today.
  • Deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has posthumously received the country’s 2013 National Journalism Award. AFP notes the irony in the selection, considering allegations that Chavez, and his successor Nicolas Maduro, have restricted free press in the country.
  • Time magazine has a powerful photo essay on Venezuela’s prison, illustrating corruption, overcrowding and criminal control rampant in the country’s penal system.
  • El Universal reports that on Thursday, Mexican officials announced they had rescued 165 mostly Central American migrants, including seven children, in a raid on a safe house near the U.S. border. It is the largest such find in recent memory, according to the Washington Post. Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters that the individuals were held by armed captors “for two to three weeks.” 

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