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9. Latin American leaders brought drug policy debate to UN in Sept. 2013
Sun Dec 1, 2013, 04:18 PM
Dec 2013

At the annual UN General Assembly meeting held in New York, presidents from around the world have the chance to state their views on the key international issues of the day. Not surprisingly, the crisis in Syria, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Millennium Development Goals took center stage this year. Yet a careful viewing of the speeches of the Latin American presidents illustrates the growing voice of Latin American leaders calling for meaningful reform of drug control policies.

Across the region, a dynamic debate – focused on the failure of present drug control policies to achieve their desired objectives and the need for more effective and humane alternatives – is underway, most recently evident in an innovative report on drug policy released by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Declaration of Antigua from the June 2013 OAS General Assembly meeting calling for an Extraordinary Session focused on drug policy to be held in 2014. Last week at the UN, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico united in bringing this regional debate to the General Assembly meeting, calling for consideration of alternative approaches to the drug issue, and for the efforts underway within the OAS to be used as tools for debate within the UN in the lead up to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs to be held in New York in 2016.

The governments of Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico all called for developing more effective responses to drug trafficking based on promoting public health, respect for human rights and harm reduction. (Interestingly, all three countries used “reducción de daños” in their speeches, or harm reduction in English, though it was translated into “impact reduction”, “lessening damages” and “damage reduction” in the three speeches respectively.) In doing so, they essentially called for a paradigm shift – from a security approach to a public health and human rights-based approach – in dealing with issues related to illicit drugs. At the same time they recognized the need to reduce the levels of violence associated with the drug trade and reiterated a growing call from the region for increased international efforts to decrease the illegal flow of arms and money that fuel criminal networks. Finally, they united in calling for an open and wide-ranging debate leading up to the 2016 UNGASS, and pointed to the Declaration of Antigua of the General Assembly of the OAS as a “first step which leads us to the desired direction” towards the 2016 UNGASS.

...Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina went furthest of all in his comments, both in his address to the UN and in a separate speech at Columbia University. At the UN, in addition to the statement coordinated with Costa Rica and Mexico, President Pérez Molina commended the “visionary decision” of the citizens of the States of Colorado and Washington on their recent enactment of legal, regulated marijuana markets, as well as President Obama for his “wise decision of respecting the voice of the citizens of Washington and Colorado, to allow these innovative experiences to provide results.” He also added that the people of Guatemala “respect and are proud of” the government of Uruguay’s actions in proposing legislation regulating the cannabis market instead of “following the failed route of prohibition.” He emphasized the importance of experimentation with new models by each country to address the drug problem and announced the creation of a National Commission to explore more effective means of dealing with drug issues in Guatemala. Finally, he expressed his hope that the 2016 UNGASS “will draw on these innovative experiences, and pronounce itself decisively for public policies that are subject to objective evaluation.”
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