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President of Guatemala and OAS Secretary General inaugurate Forty-sixth Special Session of the General Assembly

  September 19, 2014

The President of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, and the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today inaugurated the forty-sixth special session of the OAS General Assembly with both recognizing the need to review the drug policy that the region had pursued over the last four decades, the nub of which has been the so-called “war on drugs,” toward which attitudes had changed as the region looked to new, joint mechanisms for tackling this problem.

The Guatemala City meeting, which this morning began its discussions on the theme “Toward a hemispheric drug policy for the twenty-first century,” comes in the wake of developments triggered by the publication in May 2013 of the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, which was prepared by the OAS under Secretary General Insulza’s guidance. Less than a month later, the OAS examined the topic at its forty-third regular General Assembly session in Antigua, Guatemala, which gave rise to further debate, meetings, and experimental measures by member states.

Secretary General Insulza and President Pérez Molina recalled that that day's special session of the General Assembly was an opportunity for the countries of the Hemisphere to reach consensus on the drug problem and to establish a common stance ahead of the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session which will debate the issue. The head of the hemispheric institution and the Guatemalan premier both noted the publication of the OAS report as a watershed moment with a clear “before and after.”

The OAS chief said that the Organization's report succeeded in breaking a rigid mindset in the region were drug policy was concerned: “Both in our region and beyond, our report has touched off an open debate, as candid as it was unprecedented, on the available options in the search for more effective policies for dealing with the drug problem. The attention of the whole world is focused on these discussions, and their conclusions, which we hope to expand and strengthen at this special General Assembly session, place a greater responsibility on our shoulders.”

To illustrate the point, Secretary General Insulza mentioned that former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ricardo Lagos, Ernesto Zedillo, and César Gaviria had said that “[t]he OAS and the countries of Latin America are making a positive contribution in breaking the taboo that has for so long silenced discussion about a more humane and effective drug policy,” and that an editorial in an influential US daily has stated with respect to the OAS report that “[i]t effectively breaks the taboo on considering alternatives to the current prohibitionist approach.”

Elsewhere in his inaugural speech, Secretary General Insulza said that after a year and a half of discussions consensus had been achieved in four areas: The drug problem should be addressed under a public-health approach; judicial reforms are needed to offer alternatives to incarceration; transnational organized crime is a principal actor in the drug problem; and it is indispensable to strengthen judicial and public order institutions.

Regarding the first point of consensus, that the drug problem must be addressed under a public-health approach, he noted, “In the report we said that it was an out and out contradiction to treat drug addicts as people with health problems and at the same time criminalize them for using drugs or committing drug-related offenses.”

On the second area of consensus, concerning the need for judicial reforms to offer alternatives to incarceration, he said, “Enforcing harsh drug laws has led the incarceration rate in many of our countries to skyrocket, causing acute prison overcrowding.” In that regard he mentioned, “Several countries have already taken the decision to explore the possibility of taking steps to correct this situation to ensure that prisoners' human rights and basic guarantees are respected while at the same time maintaining and ensuring public security.”

With respect to the third point of consensus, that transnational organized crime is a principal actor in the drug problem, Secretary General Insulza said, “There is now consensus in our region that these criminal networks, which come under our definition of transnational organized crime, must be prevented and combated within a framework of international cooperation.” Insulza recalled that the regular session of the General Assembly held in Guatemala in 2013 declared “the commitment of the American states to increase efforts to prevent, detect, and punish operations that launder the proceeds of criminal activities, particularly illicit drug trafficking and corruption, and to strengthen international cooperation to prevent those proceeds from entering into, transiting through, or egressing from our financial systems.”

Concerning the fourth area of consensus, that it is indispensable to strengthen judicial and public order institutions, the Secretary General said, “Most countries in our Hemisphere, particularly those that can be characterized as transit countries for controlled substances, suffer from weak state institutions, a situation that is exacerbated by the corrupting practices of criminal organizations themselves and that enables those organizations to increase the use of violence as their main way of doing business.”

Secretary General Insulza noted that the OAS was the appropriate venue for debating the drug problem as the matter was clearly a hemispheric one. “Albeit to varying degrees, the drug problem affects practically all the countries of the Americas and causes a diversity of impacts,” he said, adding, “Only the OAS has the capacity to meld that diversity of approaches, interests, and options … through plainspoken dialogue guided by a vocation for unity and collaboration among our states.”

In closing, Insulza said, “At this stage of the journey, in this process of reflection and change, I will only reiterate the recommendations in our report: come what may and regardless of the obstacles that it may face, cooperation is necessary and must be sought by means of an holistic approach based on scientific evidence and experience, taking into account each country's realities and needs.”

For his part, President Perez Molina said that since taking office almost three years earlier, the debate on the drug problem had gathered strength in the region. “The report that the OAS presented to us led us to 16 months of discussions.” He added, “We are moving forward as a region in the search for new approaches and policies for confronting the drug problem.”

The President of Guatemala said that some countries in the region were experimenting “with alternative lines of action” and he trusted that they would share what they had learned in order to bring change to the Hemisphere. The Guatemalan premier expressed his hope that the General Assembly's discussions would reflect “the complexity of the challenges that we face as states where the world drug problem is concerned.” “We are mindful that the current international system imposes prohibition and encourages warfare,” he said. He also noted that the countries bearing the brunt of this policy were the transit countries, such as Guatemala, where the war on drugs had taken a heavy toll in human lives. In that regard, he called for flexibility when it came to interpreting the drug conventions so that “each country can innovate in accordance with its particular reality.”

The inaugural session of the General Assembly was attended by the Vice President of Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti; the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin; several ministers and vice ministers of foreign affairs, and other authorities from OAS member countries.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The full video of the event will be available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-386/14