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Special General Assembly of the OAS: Member States Underscore the Importance of Regional Consensus in Identifying Alternatives for Tackling the Drugs Problem

  September 19, 2014

The member countries of the Organization of American States (OAS), gathered together at the second plenary session of the 46th Special General Assembly in Guatemala City, Guatemala, today underscored the need to reach consensus on the hemisphere’s drug policy in order to deal with this problem in the 21st century, and to participate with a single voice at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly that is to discuss the topic in 2016.

Thirty heads of delegation spoke at the General Assembly held today:


María Ángela Holguín, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, recalled the backdrop to the drug problem debate and noted that in April 2012, at the Summit of the Americas, President Juan Manuel Santos promoted a discussion of the topic with his peers. It was that occasion, she said, that gave rise to the OAS mandate that led to the production of the diagnostic assessment and scenario documents “that have not only allowed us to keep the debate alive, but have enabled us to be prepared for and speak with a single voice at the special session of the United Nations General Assembly to be held in 2016.” Holguín emphasized the importance of the agreements reached at the Guatemala City meeting, but she pointed out that “they do not mean that the challenges of so many decades have disappeared. We must continue to work at the hemispheric and global levels.” She concluded by saying that today, the Americas had given an example “of their capacity and flexibility for allowing new perspectives, approaches, and roads ahead in dealing with this problem, which affects us all.”


José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, highlighted the opportunity that the region’s countries have to participate, “with a single voice,” in the international debate on the global drugs problem. He added that this opportunity must be used to generate commitments, recognize new realities, and gather relevant evidence and tendencies, “to enrich the pillars of the current policies and strategies used to address the drug problem.” He spoke of Mexico’s interest in assembling comprehensive policies to deal with the social harm caused by the drugs problem, to improve the attention given to victims, and to promote social inclusion and reintegration, health, and the reconstruction of the social fabric. “Substantive, plural, and transparent discussions and a greater inclusion of such stakeholders as international organizations, civil society, and academia are vital in assembling the global commitment needed to confront this challenge,” he said.


Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Denis Moncada said that his country “remained a solid bulwark in the fight against drugs through the development of its strategy for civic and human security.” He went on to say that this task was carried out by the police and the army, which make up the security system, and that they “emphasize prevention, promoting cooperation and the coordination of regional and subregional efforts.” Vice Minister Moncada reminded the meeting that the topic was one of “shared but differentiated joint responsibility,” and he underscored that as a part of the process of dialogue and reflection underway in the hemisphere, “we must return to the analysis of the structural causes behind the drugs problem and continue to promote exchanges of experiences and good practices in order to strengthen international cooperation.”


Ambassador Juan Pablo Lira, Permanent Representative of Chile to the OAS, said that in his country, the scourge of drugs was seen as a “crossborder and multifaceted phenomenon” that fuels violence, corruption, and organized crime and that often undermines the foundations of democratic institutions. Speaking of the resolution adopted during the Assembly, he described it as “the most accurate reflection of the willingness of our peoples and governments to address this issue in a comprehensive and resolved way in which cooperation plays a central role in attaining the results to which we all aspire.” In addition, he said he believed it was a balanced document in which “despite our diversity, we are showing a determined drive toward unity in tackling this serious problem and placing people and human security at the center of our concerns.” Finally, he noted the importance of facing new drug-related challenges within the framework of the three international conventions that exist on the topic.


Manuel González Sanz, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Costa Rica, said that the document adopted by the Assembly “takes steps in the right direction.” He went on to describe some of the positive advances that it contained, including: unreservedly acknowledging that the enormous challenge posed by drugs must be resolved through a multilateral approach and diplomacy; accepting the humanistic vision that must guide the countries in identifying effective solutions to the problem; reiterating that it must be tackled on the basis of scientific evidence; and establishing that pursuant to the resolution, states must periodically review their drug policies in accordance with the principle of humanism. Minister González said that domestic legislation “must work toward solutions to the problem of insecurity caused by drugs that do not involve incarceration, favoring prevention above punishment and ensuring alternative forms of punishment for nonviolent crimes.”


William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, applauded the work of the OAS in the fight against drugs and noted that the resolution accomplished two important objectives: “It provides clear guidance as we update our Drug Strategy and Plan of Action next year and it clearly articulates our region’s priorities to the broader international community as we prepare for the UN special session on narcotics in 2016.” The U.S. diplomat said that the UN event “will be an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the UN drug control conventions and to engage in dialogue with civil society and other stakeholders on how the international community can unite in the fight against drug abuse and its consequences; this resolution is an important contribution to that process.” He also spoke of the member states’ commitment to considering the human impact of drug policies on society, social cohesion, citizen security, and public health in their antidrug strategies. The complete speech is available here.


Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Yáñez reminded the meeting that in 2006, his country had embarked on a process of institutional strengthening in its fight against controlled substances, considering the problem to be a matter of joint responsibility shared by various agencies. Vice Minister Yáñez thus explained that the national antidrug plan was focused on individuals, their treatment, and their reincorporation into society, with due consideration given to the causes, which had allowed the country to keep the problem under control in its territory. He also stated that these measures were complemented by an institutional framework that has been successful in both seizing and controlling transshipments of controlled substances and in arresting and extraditing large-scale traffickers.


Gonzalo Gutiérrez, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Peru, underscored the importance of the efforts that have been made in the region to bring together viewpoints and build consensus on a topic that varies greatly in how it affects each individual member state. For that reason, the Peruvian diplomat stated, his country had expressed its conviction that antidrug policies must be framed by the applicable international conventions, which provide a basis that enjoys broad consensus and allows the problem’s different aspects to be tackled pragmatically and its complexities to be addressed effectively. He added that nature of the problem differs from one country to the next, “which requires us to formulate broad mechanisms that are appropriate to resolving this particular situation.”


Carlos Castaneda, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that in addition to being a threat to governance, democratic stability, and the rule of law, the drugs problem was extremely harmful in socioeconomic terms. He also noted that this problem has an impact on health, education, and public security, on account of the harm caused by the trafficking and consumption of different illicit substances in all areas of the lives of addicts and of those people who surround them. In addition, Vice Minister Castaneda said it was a priority for the countries to design common strategies to counteract this scourge, based on the principle of joint responsibility and working in conjunction with civil society.


Duly Brutus, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that his government unreservedly endorsed the efforts of the region’s countries to formulate new approaches and a comprehensive policy for tackling the drugs problem in the Americas, and that they served as shields and pillars in that fight. He added that for that reason, his country will continue to participate in all the discussions for identifying new solutions, considering the reality of each state, in order to secure improved standards of living for our peoples and preserve social balance. Minister Brutus noted that his government had not lowered its guard with respect to the security problems related to drug trafficking and he reported that his country was strengthening its police forces.


The Interim Representative of Canada to the OAS, Jennifer Loten, said her country is concerned that calls for decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs underestimate the resilience of organized crime. These calls, she said, downplay the harm that drugs cause to individuals, their families and their communities. With respect to the situation of her country, the representative explained that her government put into action in 2007 a National Anti-Drug Strategy focused on prevention, access to treatment for those with drug dependencies, and on getting tough on drug dealers and producers who threaten the safety of young people and communities. The Canadian diplomat said that recently her country has detected an increase in the consumption of prescription drug abuse and new psychoactive substances, a problem that is growing in other parts of the Hemisphere as well. Similarly, she said “Canada considers the OAS our strong and steadfast partner” in terms of combating drug trafficking and reiterated the support of her government for the Hemispheric Drug Strategy, its Plan of Action, and the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM), all of which were developed in the framework of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). The complete speech is available here.


Hubert Charles, Permanent Representative of Dominica to the OAS, said he believed that the most promising approach for solving the drugs problem involved evaluating the progress made in enforcing the main international conventions governing consumption and trafficking, which he believed were on the increase and made worse by poverty and social exclusion. Ambassador Charles explained that in order to counteract the threat to social cohesion and personal development posed by the use of illegal substances, his government has developed a strategy to reduce demand through treatment and rehabilitation plans. He also said that this special session of the OAS General Assembly was an opportunity to forge a commitment for agreeing on a hemispheric response, one that was not only based on penalties and punishments. The complete speech is available here.


Ricardo Patiño, Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility, said that three broad areas had to be taken into account in tackling the drugs problem: “First, recognizing the social structures that fuel this phenomenon; second, identifying the stakeholders responsible, by promoting and cooperating with mistaken approaches and nonproductive practices; and third, recognizing bold experiences in the consolidation of new approaches for dealing with it.” Minister Patiño stated that “it is clear that supply exists because demand exists,” and he said that the countries of the hemisphere must jointly “assume their differentiated responsibility.” He noted his pleasure at the resolution adopted by the OAS Assembly and said that “the topic that brings us together today” must become “a crusade for humankind.”


John Beale, Permanent Representative of Barbados to the OAS, said that his country’s position was set out in the joint statement of the Caribbean Community states (CARICOM) presented by the delegation of Trinidad and Tobago. Ambassador Beale stated that “the government of Barbados is fully aware of the self-destructive potential of the use of illegal drugs” and of the threat to the Caribbean country’s economy posed by the illegal narcotics trade and the social evils that accompany it. He added that on account of its geographical location, Barbados stood between the countries of the south that produce drugs and the nations of the north that consume them. He also reaffirmed his government’s commitment to controlling and eliminating the drugs problem, and he said that his country supported educational programs aimed at reducing demand.


Permanent Representative of Belize Nestor Mendez said that the hemisphere has acknowledged that current drug policies have not yielded good results, and he expressed his country’s support for those initiatives through which the OAS seeks to tackle the problem in a comprehensive fashion. “The world is watching to see where we go,” said Ambassador Mendez, and he added that the hemisphere had placed itself at the global vanguard with the new approaches it is adopting for dealing with the drug problem, with the endorsement of initiatives that, in the future, will be used in other regions. He also emphasized the importance of reaching a regional consensus so that the hemisphere can speak with a single voice at the United Nations Assembly that is to discuss the topic in 2016.


Breno Dias da Costa, Interim Representative of Brazil to the OAS, noted the large attendance at the 46th special session of the General Assembly and said that it reflected the importance of the principle of joint responsibility on the topic of drugs. Ambassador Dias da Costa underscored the importance of addressing the problem from a public health point of view, and he said that his country had reorganized its national drugs policy and that, at present, it had a specific treatment program for drug users and addicts. He also spoke of the importance of combating the criminal gangs that profit from drug trafficking, and he said that in spite of the progress made in the region, “the topic of drugs continues to be a great challenge for every country.” The Brazilian diplomat also underscored that scientific research was needed for adopting drug policies, and he said that drug users should not be punished with custodial sentences.


Diego Pary, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the OAS, said that the drugs problem was a matter of concern to all states, and he expressed the opinion that “constructive debate within the OAS allows us to share our experiences to deal with the question at the regional and global levels.” He spoke of the new alternatives that are being discussed “given the failure of the war on drugs.” Ambassador Pary said that since 2006 his country has decided its own drug policy and “has spent funds from Bolivia’s own public coffers” to fight against this scourge. At the same time, he defended the historical significance of coca leaf consumption for the peoples of Bolivia and underscored that it was a totally different product from cocaine. In this regard, he said that the UN had acknowledged his government’s successes in reducing coca cultivation in 2013.


Juan Carlos Molina, Secretary of Programming for the Prevention of Drug Addiction and Combating Drug Trafficking (SEDRONAR), speaking on behalf of Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández, thanked the OAS for the support it has given his country in its fight against vulture funds, which he compared to drug traffickers. Secretary Molina defended alternative policies aimed at lowering the numbers of people arrested for drug consumption and possession, and he reported that a working group had been set up within the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), which was working on a technical report on alternatives to incarceration for presentation to the OAS’s political bodies. In addition, he stated that the paradigm adopted by his government was that of social inclusion, and he described that paradigm “as a fundamental basis for dealing with the global drugs problem.”


Luis Porto, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, stated that the report on drugs produced by the OAS “had itself opened up a new phase.” Undersecretary Porto said that on account of the different circumstances facing the countries of the hemisphere, it was not possible to seek out “single solutions” to the problem. He emphasized the need for contributions from all the sectors involved in the hemispheric problem, and he concluded by saying “we all know there are differences between our countries, we know that the Americas are heterogeneous,” but that the road toward a regional solution involves seeking out areas of commonality.


José María Argueta, Guatemala’s Ambassador to the OAS, stated that the drugs problem was “essentially a public health problem, and that tackling it required comprehensive policies.” In that effort, Ambassador Argueta said, “the resolution we are adopting today represents a further step by the hemisphere on that long road toward dealing with the global drugs problem.” He called the resolution a “uniquely important” step, in that it sets down, for the first time ever, “the position of hemisphere vis-à-vis this scourge, with a view to its presentation to the UN General Assembly in 2016.”


Mireya Agüero de Corrales, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, highlighted four aspects of the problem that were fundamental for her country: first, people are “the focal point of any antidrug policy”; second, “the commitment of states as members of the international drug oversight system, within the framework of the international obligations that we all uphold,” cannot be ignored; third, the recognition of the complexity of the problem and the need to tackle it comprehensively; and fourth, the objective of those efforts is “the strengthening of the rule of law, the repairing of the social fabric, justice, human rights, health, development, and citizen security.”


Julia Hyatt, Alternate Representative of Jamaica to the OAS, reiterated her government’s commitment toward bolstering its efforts to reduce supply and demand and toward honoring its international commitments. The Jamaican government’s plan, she explained, seeks to reduce the harm drugs cause to society, communities, individuals, and their families. In addition, she spoke of processes underway in her country to decriminalize the use of small amounts of marijuana, together with its possession for religious or therapeutic purposes.


Embau Moheni, Minister of State at the Ministry of National Security, spoke of his government’s efforts to control drugs in six thematic areas: institutional strengthening, demand reduction, supply reduction, control measures, monitoring, and evaluation. Those efforts seek to ensure comprehensive well-being for all citizens, said Minister Moheni, through multidisciplinary approaches to prevention, addiction treatment, and rehabilitation that involve all sectors of society, based on the enrichment of human life. The representative of Trinidad and Tobago spoke on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The complete speech is available here.


Fidias Aristy, Chair of the National Drugs Council of the Dominican Republic, reaffirmed “the inescapable commitment of assisting in the noble purpose that unites us and calls upon us to promote human rights in the search for new approaches and effective solutions to the global drugs problem.” He also underscored the need to act with the necessary prudence and tolerance, but said that the concept of tolerance “should not be confused with indifference toward the state’s duty of ensuring law and order.”


Luis Miguel Hincapié, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama, stated that “the emergence of new manifestations and psychoactive substances requires us to step up our actions to combat illicit drug abuse.” He underscored the need to bolster citizen security, international cooperation, and treatment programs for drug addicts, together with other actions. “The Republic of Panama reiterates its unwavering support for all initiatives to combat the global drugs problem based on the common, shared principle of respect for the internal sovereignty of states and, in addition, it expresses its intent to continue cooperating with the international community through exchanges of information based on the principle of reciprocity,” the Minister added.


La Celia Prince, Permanent Representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the OAS, expressed her government’s support for the joint statement of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) presented by the delegation of Trinidad and Tobago, and, in addition, expressed her “satisfaction with the contents of the resolution” adopted by the Assembly. “We believe this document is a good point of departure” from which we can tackle this problem, she said. Specifically, Ambassador Prince spoke of her governments’ support for considering the scourge of drugs as a health issue and for the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM) of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).


Luis Alberto Rojas Ramírez, Minister Executive Secretary of the National Antidrug Secretariat of the office of the President of Paraguay, acknowledged that his country “has made serious mistakes in the past” in its antidrug policy, by believing that the problem was limited to drug trafficking. With that admission, and with the awareness of being the area’s leading cannabis producer, he said, the government has set about developing a comprehensive strategy that includes a commitment to “active participation in the multilateral institutions dealing with this topic”; developing “its own drugs policy based on the country’s reality and the international situation, without adopting foreign recipes as magic solutions because such solutions do not exist”; creating a scientific center to study cannabis that is expected to produce its first results in 2016; and creating the “appropriate legal framework,” beginning with a legal review of drug-related criminal offenses.


In addition to adhering to the CARICOM joint statement presented by the delegation of Trinidad and Tobago, Bayney R. Karran, Permanent Representative of Guyana to the OAS, explained that his country was geographically situated at a “pivotal point” between the producing markets to the south and the consumers of the north. That unfortunate location, he continued, means that “the tentacles of drug trafficking” cause “too many deaths, too many families ruined, and too much insecurity.” Ambassador Karran emphasized the role played by the OAS in promoting the debate on drugs, and he expressed his government’s conviction that the solution “depends on effective bilateral and multilateral cooperation.” Regarding the resolution adopted by this “historic assembly,” he said he was optimistic because “we have a clear consensus and an attainable goal.”


Jacinth Lorna Henry-Martin, Permanent Representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis to the OAS, confirmed her government’s adhesion to the CARICOM consensus presented by Trinidad and Tobago and reiterated its “support and endorsement of the resolution approved today,” which would serve as the “basis for a hemispheric strategic action.” In particular, Ambassador Henry-Martin stated that the document sought to apply “new approaches to an age-old problem for which all traditional recipes have failed.” She also praised the fact that the approach adopted within the OAS on the basis of the recommendations set out in the Report on the Problem of Drugs in the Americas used “consideration of the health and social implications of this problem” as its starting point.


Niermala Badrising, Suriname’s Permanent Representative to the Organization, supported the statement given on behalf of CARICOM by Trinidad and Tobago and applauded “the leadership role the OAS has been playing in addressing the drug problem.” Ambassador Badrising said that the OAS was “amply endowed” to continue performing that leadership role. She also expressed her government’s “full commitment” to the fight against drugs, citing such examples as the preparation of a national antidrug master plan for the 2011-2015 period and a national security strategy, in addition to the creation of the position of antidrug policy coordinator and the implementation of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation plans for addicts. In conclusion, Ambassador Badrising expressed Suriname’s “unconditional support” for all initiatives aimed at tackling transnational crime, for which purpose the country would “continue to be a partner at the regional and subregional level against the drug problem in the Americas.”


Sonia Johnny, Permanent Representative of Saint Lucia to the OAS, endorsed the CARICOM statement and explained that her country was only a minor producer and consumer of drugs but that it was “in the midst of one of the world’s major trafficking routes” and that this has led to the destruction of lives and families and to increased violence, and that it has infiltrated the financial system and fostered corruption. For that reason, her government “expresses its political will and commitment to adopt and explore traditional and new policies to holistically approach this phenomenon.” In particular, she described several community-based initiatives launched by her government as part of a strategy with a “balanced and multidisciplinary approach that requires common and shared responsibilities among agencies” of the government. Ambassador Johnny, the current Chair of the OAS Permanent Council, also explained the efforts made by Saint Lucia’s executive branch to reduce the availability of firearms, to discourage first-time drug users, to facilitate initial treatment and rehabilitation, to control the flow of illegal drugs, and to ensure that prisons are not merely places of punishment, but also of rehabilitation. Regarding the multilateral approach, Ambassador Johnny said that she was convinced that “to combat the drug problem, synergies, partnerships, and collaborations must be maintained and strengthened.”

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-390/14