In the week prior to presenting pioneering original research and recommendations at the OAS General Assembly, the Founder and Director of the Beckley Foundation – Amanda Feilding – was in Colombia at the request of the President, Juan Manuel Santos. President Santos is one of the most prominent and vocal Latin American head of state to speak out against the war on drugs. Since coming to office, he has successfully negotiated peace talks with the major rebel group in the country – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC). He has also played a significant part in turning the global debate around from total prohibition at all costs to potential decriminalization and regulation of narcotic substances.
Amanda was honoured to be able to speak with the Presidents brother during her time in the country. She said that they “had some deep and meaningful conversations about the impact of harsh drug-war tactics on Latin American states.” As an expert on issues regarding Guatemalan drug policy, Amanda was able to provide a unique perspective on the matter to the President’s sibling.
The trip also provided the opportunity to help Colombian politicians prepare for the President’s visit to the UK, which he completed last week. Whilst in the country, Santos presented the OAS report he commissioned last year to the parliamentary Home Affairs committee, and met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary William Hague. Hague was ebullient with praise for the President’s diplomatic skill in securing peace talks with the FARC.
“Colombia is one of our strongest partners in Latin America and one with whom we have a great deal in common. I congratulated the president on progress in the peace talks with the FARC and looked forward to seeing more progress on this, and on human rights concerns, in the future,” Mr Hague said.
President Santos also took the opportunity to interact with the british press. He told the Telegraph that “four decades of tough laws and heavy policing has failed. We have developed policies to attack each link in the chain yet we still have a big problem. We feel like we are pedalling hard on a static bicycle. We need a new approach.”
The Guardian published an article, penned by Santos himself, explaining the four scenarios described in the OAS’s report ‘The Drug Problem in the Americas‘. This report was to become the basis of discussions at the 43rd General Assembly of the OAS, which was hosted in Antigua, Guatemala and where the central theme was ‘a comprehensive policy against the world drug problem in the Americas.’
In efforts to further the reform agenda, President Santos said he would take the subject up with the United Nations by issuing a plea for an “international rethink” of policies at the UN General Assembly later this year. “I want to push discussion of what to do to be more effective with this ‘drug war’,” said the President.
Amanda has now returned from her sojourn to Colombia and Guatemala with greater insight and new ideas. Not all Latin American states are convinced by the arguments of President Santos and his contemporaries. However, the resolve of those in favour of reform is too strong to believe that other countries can avoid engaging in debate for much longer. The road will be long and the journey difficult, with its fair share of pit falls no doubt, but those who are choosing to walk it, against all opposition, do so with strength, vision, and belief.
The Guardian – article by President Juan Manuel Santos
The Telegraph – Interview with President Santos
The Financial Times – Interview with President Santos