OAS to study a drug policy for the Americas

By Dialogo
April 16, 2012



CARTAGENA, Colombia – The leaders of the 33 countries participating in the VI Summit of the Americas unanimously delegated the Organization of American States (OAS) the task of carrying out further studies on strategies to fight narcotics throughout the region.
“The governments of the Americas agreed with the need to analyze the results of the drug policy that is in place and explore new approaches in order to be more effective,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said after the conclusion of the summit in Cartagena.
The goal, Santos said, is to discover whether there are more effective and less expensive alternatives that will curb narco-trafficking and drug consumption.
“A lot of the discussions about this topic are based on assumptions, but where are the studies that support these assumptions?” he asked.
But not all of the issues discussed on April 14 and 15 by the national leaders of the Americas led to consensus, as the heads of state did not sign the traditional declaration that ends the summit because they couldn’t agree whether Cuba should be allowed to participate in upcoming OAS meetings.
“At this meeting, we showed for the first time in the history of the summit that there are no forbidden issues,” Santos said. “We talked about all of the issues in a frank and respectful manner.”
Mexican President Felipe Calderón agreed, as he stressed the importance of having started a more “objective” dialogue on issues that had never before been discussed by OAS member states.
“The fact that, at this sixth summit, we talked about drug policy and about Cuba’s inclusion at the next meeting of the Americas, represents a radical and unthinkable change,” Calderón said.
During the meetings, several presidents emphasized the possibility of analyzing proposals that included consumer countries.
“The idea is to seek alternatives that allow for the building of a comprehensive policy that covers supply, demand and the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime; one that includes preventive measures and seeks to rebuild the social fabric,” Calderón said.
One of the measures already announced by the 33 participating countries is the creation of the Inter-American Center against Organized Crime, which will be headquartered in Mexico at the suggestion of Calderón.
“We want it to work, so we’re going to take the first steps to organize it,” he said. “We’re going to create the center and we’re going to invite other countries, organize meetings and provide technical assistance because the idea is to build a continental network that sets forth the policies and actions to be implemented in this area.”
Even without the traditional final declaration, the heads of state and government representatives signed a statement regarding the need to join forces to confront and combat “transnational organized crime” in the Americas.
In the statement, they say they are “deeply concerned” because international organized crime is a major threat to the safety and welfare of all of the countries present at the VI Summit.
Strong institutions and economies to protect against drugs
“In those societies where you’ve got strong institutions, you’ve got strong business investment, you’ve got rule of law, you have a law enforcement infrastructure that is sound, and an economy that’s growing -- that country is going to be like a healthy body that is more immune (to drugs),” U.S. President Barack Obama said during a panel discussion alongside Santos and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on April 14.
Obama stressed the need for employment and education alternatives that would help to “solve this problem.”
Alternatives to the current strategy for combating drug trafficking, such as legalization, which had been defended by some presidents prior to the summit, did not resonate publicly during the event.
“Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina, for example, did not comment publicly on this during the Summit,” says Marta Lucía Ramírez, who was Colombia’s Minister of Defense from 2002 to 2003, under Álvaro Uribe. “That is a sign that governments need time and further research before reaching any conclusions.”
Given the discussions held during the VI Summit, consideration of new strategies for combating drugs should now take place at the intercontinental level, with greater participation from other countries in shaping policies and making decisions, said Arlene Tickner, a professor of International Relations at the Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia.
“Nobody expected them to reach a consensus, but it would have been better if, instead of delegating this to the OAS, the countries themselves took on this difficult task of analyzing new proposals,” Tickner said.
Economic integration
More possibilities for greater regional integration were presented during the panel discussion among presidents Santos, Obama and Rousseff at the Business Summit, which brought together government officials and approximately 700 business leaders from the region.
The three heads of state reinforced their common interest in working for economic integration in the Americas.
Rousseff, the president of the world’s sixth-largest economy, said a regional economic integration should be carried out “among equals.”
“[The United States], in addition to being a leader in science and technology, must take the lead in working to ensure that regional relations take place on equal footing,” Rousseff said.
Rousseff also urged development banks, particularly the IDB, to become “closely” involved in this regional integration.
Obama committed to working in partnership with Latin America in order to “move in a better direction,” with greater collaboration.
“We’re ready to do business,” he said. “We are open to a partnership. We don’t expect to be able to dictate the terms of that partnership – we expect it to be a negotiation based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
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