The 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) started yesterday, 45 km southwest of the Guatemalan capital in Antigua. This year’s meeting marks the the first time that the General Assembly will focus on alternative approaches to the drug war, debating controversial recommendations including decriminalization. At the invitation of the Guatemalan Government, Beckley Foundation Founder and Director Amanda Feilding is in Guatemala to attend this important meeting.
Chancellors and delegates of the 35 active member states have gathered for the three-day conference, operating under one central theme: ‘A comprehensive policy against the world drug problem in the Americas‘.
“We are opening the discussion [on drugs], this has not been done before. Expect to receive the positions of all the American countries,” said Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, after meeting this weekend with the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, in Guatemala City.
The United States, the world’s largest consumer of cocaine, sent a delegation headed by Secretary of State John Kerry, Assistant Secretary for the fight against drugs William Brownfield, and drug czar Gil Kerlikowske to this week’s discussions.
In May, a study into the drug problem in the continent and an investigation of new approaches was presented in Colombia. Prepared by experts at the request of Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, the report, titled ‘The Drug Problem in the Americas‘, provides the basis for discussions in Guatemala this week. President Manuel Santos has since published an article on the Guardian website describing the report.
This report collected, analysed and presented the results from studies measuring the unintended harms caused by the war on drugs in Latin America. It also summarised arguments for reform that have been repeated over the last few decades, outlining four scenarios of what the future would look like under various new approaches.
At a fringe event on Monday 3rd June, representatives for non-profit and civil society organisations met to present and discuss their findings and recommendations with the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, the Assistant Secretary General and official Heads of State.
At this civil society meeting, Amanda Feilding presented the Beckley Foundation’s latest report on the impact of the illegal drug trade in Guatemala. Titled ‘Illicit Drug Markets and Dimensions of Violence in Guatemala‘, the report looks at socio-economic indicators while exploring Guatemala’s illicit drugs market. It makes evidence-informed policy recommendations based on the Beckley Foundation Latin American Chapter‘s original research. The Beckley Foundation Latin American Chapter outlined reform and public engagement tactics that we hope will lead to public-health minded alternative approaches to the War on Drugs.
It is unlikely that any concrete resolutions will be issued as a result of discussions at this international forum; opposing views regarding the future of the War on Drugs are likely to hinder change. That said, the central theme, and location of the general assembly in the country of the first Latin American President to strongly advocate reform, marks significant progress in the global conversation on drugs. At the very least, this week’s OAS meeting should prove to be a stable platform for countries to air concerns, highlight national grievances, and constructively criticize the current system.
Guardian – President Manuel Santos’ article on the ‘Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas’.