Monday, September 22, 2014

Still No Drug Consensus in the Americas

On Friday, representatives of the 35 members of the Organization of American States met in Guatemala City in a special summit to discuss the achievements and challenges of the hemisphere’s approach to illicit drugs.  While there were some important advances made in the context of the lead-up to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 2016, the meeting was by no means a watershed display of regional unity on the issue.

For the moment, it appears Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was correct when he remarked in a visit to Guatemala last month that, on drugs, “[t]here is no common position, least of all in the Americas.”

Prior to the summit last week, there was hope that it would provide an opportunity for the Americas -- a region that has become a hotspot for drug policy reform and experimentation, as recent developments in Uruguay, Mexico, Chile and Colombia show -- to band together and push for major changes to the international drug policy regime at UNGASS 2016. The summit had been scheduled in the wake of last year’s OAS Secretary General report identifying legalization and decriminalization as valid policy options, and after OAS members agreed in the subsequent Antigua Declaration to move towards adopting a “comprehensive policy” on drugs in the region.

Earlier this month, 28 civil society organizations in the hemisphere published a joint declaration on the issue at the 5th Latin American Conference on Drug Policy in Costa Rica, under the banner of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). Among other things, the groups called for OAS members to adopt a drug strategy based on respect for human rights, as well as the distinction between “harms associated with drug use and harms associated with drug policy.”

Much like the Antigua Declaration, however, the resolution published on Friday was far weaker than many drug policy reform advocates surely would have liked. While the OAS General Assembly agreed on “the importance of Hemispheric and international cooperation to jointly tackling the world drug problem,” it did not adopt any stance on concrete policy actions. Perhaps the closest the resolution comes to the IDPC’s recommendations is in a provision asserting the need for “responses that prevent social costs or contribute to their reduction,” though this is to be carried out “according to the reality of each State.”

Still, Friday’s resolution is important for two reasons. First, it commits OAS organs like the General Secretariat and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) to continue to evaluate progress on drug policy in the coming years, with an emphasis on “scientific evidence, experiences and impact indicators.” Second, the General Assembly resolved to forward their resolution to the United Nations “for consideration” of UNGASS 2016, showing that there is at least a general agreement that the region as a whole will have to demonstrate at least some unity at the UN meeting in two years’ time.

News Briefs
  • Unlike other regional leaders like Juan Manuel Santos and Jose Mujica, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has cultivated a reputation as a crusader for widening the drug policy debate in the hemisphere, but has so far made no major push to enact reforms in his own country. However, last week saw some important progress on drug policy reform at a national level, when a civil society commission appointed by Perez Molina released a preliminary report on drug laws (.PDF file here) in the country on Thursday, as La Prensa Libre reports. Like the OAS resolution, the report does not call for any radical changes.  However, it raises some important points about drug policy in Guatemala, and its conclusion makes some sensible, albeit cautious, recommendations. For example, the report notes that Guatemala’s approach to drugs runs “counter to the legislative developments” elsewhere in the region, and that its failure to specify which amounts of drugs can be classified as destined for personal consumption rather than sale leaves considerable room for judges to impose their own standards. Among other recommendations, the commission calls for closer monitoring of black market pricing and purity data, for a deeper study of the “cost of the current drug policies” in Guatemala, and for a rigorous analysis of the size of the country’s illicit poppy crop. According to the report, a final version will be presented to the president in December, and the commission’s mandate was recently extended to the end of this year. After that, it remains to be seen what will come of Perez Molina’s claims that the report “might lead to” a bill legalizing marijuana and poppy cultivation.
  • In the race for the next OAS Secretary General, Uruguay’s Luis Almagro seems to be gaining momentum. El Pais reports that on Thursday, the Uruguayan foreign minister’s bid received the public backing of the government of Paraguay. Paraguay joins Chile and Brazil in endorsing Almagro, and there have been reports in local press that the United States also views the Uruguayan candidate positively.
  • Venezuelan police commissioner Ivan Simonovis, who has been lionized by the opposition as the longest-held political prisoners in the country, has won an important victory. Citing his poor health, a judge has ruled that he is eligible to be moved from his current facility to house arrest, though the AP notes that the Supreme Court has said he will be moved back when his health improves. The Wall Street Journal profiles remarks by some analysts who believe that the move was a part of a political calculation on President Nicolas Maduro’s part,  an effort to partially placate his opponents.
  • While Maduro’s efforts to crack down on smuggling along the Colombian border have been criticized by the Venezuelan opposition as a hopeless crusade, they seem to be making some impact, albeit one with negative side effects. The Miami Herald reports that border communities in Colombia that have traditionally relied on inflows of cheap subsidized goods from Venezuela have seen their access to affordable food drop considerably, leading to a spike in chronic hunger and malnutrition.
  • Today’s New York Times features a report on the crackdown on undocumented migration in Mexico at the behest of the United States, which has made the already perilous journey even more difficult for Central American migrants.
  • Despite the evidence that has come out recently to suggest that Mexican soldiers massacred 21 suspects in Mexico State in June, authorities are sticking to the official version of events, maintaining that the victims were killed during a shootout. El Universal reports that the Mexican Ministry of Defense has insisted that no wrongdoing occurred, and that it is willing to cooperate with a federal investigation into the matter.  Representatives of the Mexican Human Rights Commission (CNDH) have also told reporters that they are looking into the massacre allegations.
  • After Mexico’s Coahuila state became the second sub-federal jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage -- following Mexico City -- on September 1, Animal Politico reports that the measure has gone into full effect, with a state registry office recognizing the marriage of a gay couple on Saturday, for the first time in its history.
  • The political reforms presented by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, which include a proposal to end presidential reelection, will be debated today in Congress, Semana magazine reports.  On top of ending reelection, the bill would change the way the inspector general (procurador) and ombudsman’s positions are appointed, giving the executive branch the authority to present senators with a list of candidates rather than allowing lawmakers to name them directly.
  • Marking the 38th anniversary of the death of Chilean dissident Orlando Letelier in a car bomb placed by Pinochet regime intelligence agents in Washington DC, BBC Mundo has an interview with Juan Gabriel Valdes, the current Chilean ambassador to the U.S. who only escaped being a victim in the bombing by circumstance.