The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) is meeting in Guatemala to discuss the always sensitivedrug problemin the Western Hemisphere. This high-level meeting, which will be replete of VIP policymakers, will ideally serve to create a united front leading up to a global discussion on drug policies in 2016.
The ongoing meeting is the 46thspecial session of the General Assemblyof the OAS, and its theme is the ambitious statement “Towards a 21stcentury drug policy for the hemisphere.” The objective of the meeting is to create a common ground among the OAS member states leading up to 2016, when the General Assembly of the United Nations plans to review the global drug control system.
The OAS session will be an important event as most OAS member states will reportedly send their foreign affairs ministers or deputy ministers. For example, Colombian Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holguin will attend; she has declared that the “drug problem” is also a health problem, and therefore drug users “cannot solely be regarded as criminals.” Also in attendance will be Ruth Dreifuss, a former president of Switzerland and a member of theGlobal Commission on Drug Policy.
Since Guatemala is hosting the event, President Otto Perez Molina is expected to play a prominent role in the proceedings. The Central American country’s security forces have enjoyed recent success in stopping the flow of drugs across its territory. Just this past June, the Guatemalan police seized 1.2 tons of drugs (valued at $15 million USD) in the Quetzal Port. The drugs were hidden in a shipment of bananas that originated in Ecuador and was destined for the U.S.
As for the U.S. delegation, it will be headed byWilliam Brownfield, the U.S. “drug czar.” Brownfield will arrive to the Central American country after a brief trip to Panama. According to the State Department, Brownfield visited “a joint Panama-Colombia security forces base in the Darien” before travelling to Guatemala.
Finally, it is worth noting that this is one of the last major events that will be led by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. The Chilean citizen is currently in his “farewell” tour as next year he will complete his decade-long tenure at the helm of the OAS.
As for drug-related initiatives under Insulza’s lengthy term, in 2013 the OAS published the comprehensive “Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.” The document is important as it called for adebate on drug legalizationin the Western Hemisphere. While in Guatemala, Insulza gave a presentation at the Rafael Landívar University in which he praised the role that the OAS has played in the evolving discussion on drugs; he stated, “we are very pleased because we have changed the dimension of the debate not only in the Americas, but also in the whole world.”
The multi-faceted drug problem
Whether the OAS summit in Guatemala will manage to create a unified stance across the hemisphere leading up to 2016 remains to be seen. This is in part because the “drug problem” is an understandably broad issue and the 34 nations that make up the OAS have different ways of addressing it. The U.S. generally still supports the “war on drugs,” which focuses on law enforcement operations to crack down on drug trafficking, and Brownfield will probably focus on the importance of these initiatives.
As for other nations,Uruguayhas the most progressive attitude as it is currently finalizing the details of how to implement its 2013 landmark ruling via which marijuana was legalized. It will probably start being legally sold in2015.
As for Peru, its major challenge regarding drugs revolve around cocaine. In early September, the Peruvian police destroyed over eight tons of drugs in the northern city of Trujillo. This amount included most of the 7.6 tons of cocaine (valued at over $300 million USD) that the Peruvian police seized in August. This successful police operation is the biggest seizure ever of cocaine in Peru’s history.
Finally, there are reports that countries such as Mexico and Peru are now heroin producers. Hence, it is not just cocaine and marijuana that are an issue in Latin America; the range of drugs produced or trafficked in the region is ever increasing.
It is important that the OAS, the only regional bloc that has 34 out of the Western Hemisphere’s 35 free states as members, has a prominent role in the global debate on the future of drug policies, especially leading up to the 2016 debate at the United Nations. With that said, how much we can expect out of the ongoing meeting in Guatemala is debatable; the Western Hemisphere is a big place, and regional nations have their own priorities and ways of addressing this complex issue.