Latin America carries a great burden of the costs of the failing war on drugs, and Latin governments have unsuprisingly become a key driver of high level debate around the future of international drug control policy and law. Last week saw three Latin heads of state addressing the UN General Assembly openly critique the war and drugs and highlight the urgent need for UN level reform (president Calderon of Mexico, president Santos of Colombia, and president Molina of Guatemala)
Today the same three states (Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico) have published a joint statement, presented in a letter to the UN Secretary General, that translates these sentiments into a coordinated challenge to the UN to review the current system and "analyze all available options, including regulatory or market measures". A translation of the full text of the statement has been reported by the Guatemala Times (below), and more background is available (in Spanish) here:
Joint declaration of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico concerning UN revision on drug policy. Oct. 1. The governments of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, are convinced that transnational organized crime and in particular the violence it generates when carrying out their criminal activities, present a serious problem that compromises the development, security and democratic coexistence of all nations, and that the United Nations must urgently address this issue:
1. That use of illicit drug is a powerful incentive for the activities of criminal organizations in all regions of the world.
2. That despite the efforts of the international community over decades, the use of these substances continues to increase globally, generating substantial income for criminal organizations worldwide.
3. That having financial resources of enormous magnitude, organizations of transnational organized crime are able to penetrate and corrupt institutions of the States.
4. That it is essential to implement effective measures to prevent illegal flows of arms to criminal organizations.
5. As long as the flow of resources from drug and weapons to criminal organizations are not stopped, they will continue to threaten our societies and governments.
6. That, consequently, it is urgent to review the approach so far maintained by the international community on drugs, in order to stop the flow of money from the illicit drug market.
7. That this review should be conducted with rigor and responsibility, on a scientific basis, in order to establish effective public policies in this area.
8. That nations should intensify their efforts to further strengthen the institutions and policies of each country in the prevention and punishment of crime, their social programs in education, health, leisure and employment, as well as prevention and treatment of addictions to preserve social fabric.
9. That states should endorse their commitment to fight with determination and according to the principle of shared and differentiated responsibility, transnational criminal groups through mechanisms of international cooperation.
10. That the United Nations should exercise it´s leadership, as is it´s mandate, in this effort and conduct deep reflection to analyze all available options, including regulatory or market measures, in order to establish a new paradigm that prevents the flow of resources to organized crime organizations.
11. In this regard, the governments of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico invite Member States of the Organization of the United Nations to undertake very soon a consultation process that allows, taking stock of the strengths and limitations of the current policy, and about the violence generated by the production, trafficking and consumption of drugs in the world.
We believe that these results should culminate in an international conference to allow the necessary decisions in order to achieve more effective strategies and tools with which the global community faces the challenge of drugs and their consequences.
In many respects this declaration echoes the calls for such a review that is already in process under the auspices of the Organisation of American States, (following discussions at the Summit of the Americas, in Feburary) and the less heralded Tuxtla Declaration from November last year.
What makes today's development significant is that the call is made directly to the UN via the General Secretary. This is a clear step up from the call to a regional body, such as the OAS, or a more vague call to drug consumer countries (as with the Tuxtla Declaration).
As such this represents yet another example of growing fractures in the long standing consensus around the international drug control system. This is yet another open and explicit statement that reform is needed - but this time makes a clear call for an exploration of what such reform could entail - to be instigated at the highest level.
Initial indications suggest that the UN is keen to ignore this request, but if, as seems probable, some other Latin countries support this declaration (e.g. Uruguay, is looking to develop a Government regulated cannabis market) and particularly if support can be established from other regions, such as Europe - then the momentum for a global review process convened by the UN will become difficult to resist.
Interestingly this recent move echoes a call made in the UK Parliament in 2002. When the Home Affairs Select Committe last enquired into the effectiveness of UK drug policy it made this final recommendation:
"24. We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemma (paragraph 267)."The committee included a young back bencher named David Cameron. One would hope that Prime Minister Cameron will now be pleased that his opposite numbers in Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico have had the courage to push forward the prescient call he made more than a decade ago.
Such a process is urgently needed, so there is cause to celebrate the progress we are now witnessing.
For detailed background and updates on drug policy in Latin America see www.druglawreform.info