While diverse issues were touched upon, the panel stressed the need to open an honest debate about drugs and to define and implement real options to safeguard the lives of our citizens and the welfare of our communities.
The consequences of the war on drugs
The first panel of the Conference touched on the Consequences of the War on Drugs with presenters such as María Paula Romo Rodriguez, Member of the National Congress of Ecuador, Daniel Mejía Londoño, a researcher at the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia, Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento, Bolivia’s ambassador to The Hague, Alejandro Madrazo Lajous, professor and researcher at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE), Mexico, and Hernán Merlino, as a moderator.
From this meeting was possible to demonstrate that the current situation of the war on drugs has more negative than positive impacts. It also absorbs budget from other priority action areas such as prevention, education and harm reduction, which, after all, is really the source of the violence we are experiencing throughout the region and mainly in Mexico.
In the session on 'Overview of Intergovernmental Organizations', Maristela Monteiro, a consultant to the Pan American Health Organization, argued that any comprehensive policy towards drugs must differentiate between types of drugs and types of consumption. She said it is necessary to observe the epidemiology of drug development by investing in public health, childhood, violence reduction, quality education, access to health services and parent education. The need to invest in reducing stigma and providing health services to all without discrimination and in full respect for human rights was also brought up.
For his part, Rafael Franzini Batlle, Deputy Executive-Secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control of the Organization of American States, argued that democracy is essential for the proper development of the peoples of the Americas and that strategies driven by the Commission are the result of consensus among countries and not the expression of the will of an international organization. In this sense, multidimensional security strategy of the OAS includes the various threats identified by the states and among them is the drug trade. In another tenor, he spoke of the need to strengthen hemispheric cooperation mechanisms to provide quality treatment services based on scientific knowledge and respect the dignity of the individual.
The Regional Representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, Antonio Mazzitelli, argued that the worst enemy to reform drug policy is public opinion, because there is still greater consensus throughout the region on criminalization rather than decriminalization. According Mazzitelli, it is States that make international conventions that established the current drug control. "None of the Member States of these conventions has promoted (except Bolivia) a reform of this system," he said. Therefore, the position of the UNODC on the drug phenomenon must respect the will of the States and differentiate consumption as a health problem, while traffic remains a problem of criminality.
Finally, José Enrique Zelaya Bonilla, Coordinator for Mexico’s Office of the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS), emphasized the need to stop HIV transmission among injecting drug users (IDUs). He explained that intravenous drug use affects mainly Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, although Latin America has already shown a significant increase in this type of use. According to the UNGASS report very few Latin American countries present a study on the prevalence in injecting drug use. "Access to health services need to be strengthened," he said, “because the provision of syringes by IDUs in global average is less than 2 syringes per IDU per month”. However, the evidence shows that harm reduction and methadone and buprenorphine are effective and see cost-benefits in the treatment of opiate dependence.
Reform Drug Policy in LAC, a process and a call to action
Reforming the current system myst part from the fact that we live in a context of a failed war and an understanding that one policy does not fit all and that drugs will continue to exist whether we like it or not. This reality can not be ignored any longer.
Espolea celebrates the realization of this collective effort and thanks the partner organizations of the conference on the interest and hard work to bring us all here. We are confident that this forum will allow us to speak out on drugs and speed up the debate on a reality that affects us all and makes us question the validity of the paradigms that underpin current policies.