On the invitation by the Guatemalan Government, Beckley Foundation Director Amanda Feilding spent this past week attending the OAS General Assembly meeting in Antigua. Amanda represented the Beckley Foundation at a number of events, ceremonies, and meetings. Amanda met with delegates and Heads of State, presenting evidence-informed recommendations based on original Beckley Foundation research, focused on shaping discussion around the main theme of the Assembly: ‘A comprehensive policy against the world drug problem in the Americas.’
Amanda’s work began on Monday at a meeting of civil society organisations with the OAS Secretary and Vice-Secretary General before the official opening of the General Assembly proceedings. The event was an opportunity to present and discuss work carried out by each organisation present at the meeting. Amanda’s contributed the Beckley Foundation Latin American Chapter’s research report, titled Illicit Drug Markets and Dimensions of Violence in Guatemala, recommending alternative approaches to drug policy reform in Guatemala. Amanda was humbled to receive much media attention from Central American newspapers, including interviews with Noti 7, Publinews, El Periodico and six other Guatemalan press agencies. [articles in spanish]
The inauguration ceremony took place the following day, with the speeches given by Secretary General Miguel Insulza and the assembly host, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina. In their speeches, both men emphasised the need for greater flexibility in international drug laws, referring to the Beckley Foundation publication ‘Roadmaps to Reforming the UN Drug Conventions,‘ edited and written by Professor Robin Room, with contributions from Lawyer Sarah MacKay.
The current UN drug conventions are prohibitively rigid, advocating a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that ends up paralysing any nation whose regulations don’t match their particular drug market profile. The Beckley Foundation’s pioneering Roadmaps to Reform details the treaty amendments that would be necessary if a country (or, better, a group of countries working together) wished to experiment with decriminalisation or regulated markets.
Following the Inaugural Ceremony, Amanda received a personal invitation to attend dinner at the Presidential Palace, where she continued discussions with the appointed delegates from the other 34 nations of the OAS in attendance. Amanda was granted the honour for her continuing role as advisor to the President and government of Guatemala, a relationship she has cultivated by directing the focus of the foundation’s work towards Latin America for more than a year.
On the last official day of the assembly, Amanda returned to the Presidential Palace to attend the launch of an Avaaz petition, also associated with drug policy reform. The campaign initially sought to obtain 100,000 signatures within 24 hours, which would be hand-delivered to Secretary General Insulza. Within hours, the campaign had reached this target and Avaaz decided to extend its initial goal to 200,000 signatures.
Checking in from the General Assembly, Amanda Feilding reports that the atmosphere across the three days of meetings is generally positive and productive. Though some member states remain to be convinced, overall, there was a definite feeling that great progress had been made, reinforced by President Molina and Secretary General Insulzas reaffirming speeches at the inauguration, both stressing the need for drug policy reform in the region. Indeed, the central theme and the OAS’s decision to be located in Guatemala this year are testament to the urgent need for change. Amanda and the Beckley Foundation are privileged to have been invited and to have contributed original material to the OAS General Assembly discussions; we remain optimistic that we may witness a sea change in global drug policy this generation.