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Address of the OAS Secretary General in his Presentation in London of the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas

  July 30, 2013

Drugs are a serious political and social problem in our hemisphere. Nearly half of the world’s cocaine, heroin and opiate users and one quarter of those who consume marijuana live in our countries. A number of OAS member states have witnessed increased consumption of smokeable forms of cocaine, inhalants, amphetamines as well as the misuse of prescription drugs.

Drug consumption can cause a wide range of detrimental impacts on the user’s health. Addiction and dependency are not only harmful to the user but society at large. Demand for drugs has generated a profitable illicit business that threatens the well-being of citizens and the integrity of institutions. This illicit bonanza worth many billions of dollars is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and is operated by transnational criminal networks which, in many cases have expanded their activities to gun smuggling, human trafficking, prostitution, intellectual piracy, illegal mining, kidnapping and extortion. At the same time, drug trafficking and money laundering corrupt both public officials and private actors, affecting our economies and institutions and even risk, in extreme cases, our democratic governance.

The sum of all the evidence has lead us to conclude that the drug problem and its consequences differ not only by drug but by country and within country. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that geography, culture and economics play important roles in shaping how the drug problem manifests itself. Each country and region has different realities; the levels of drug use, its costs, and the amounts of violence vary in their intensity and social impact.

These diversity of these factors and perceptions, as well as a general perception that the policies and strategies that we are following have not succeeded in reducing the problem, gives rise to different proposals on how to tackle this serious threat.

At the same time, we must recognize that following independent, or even divergent paths to tackle the drug problem, is in stark contradiction with its transnational character and with the obvious reality that no new alternative strategy can be adopted without impacting neighboring countries and would not be effective without greater cooperation or tolerance.

In search of common ground to face this challenge, the Heads of State and Government of the Americas, during the VI Summit of the Americas, held in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2012, decided issue a historic mandate to the Organization of American States to review the present policies and their effectiveness and examine possible scenarios in the future of the Drug Problem. The OAS completed this mandate with rigor, delivering the “Report on the Drug Problem of the Americas” to our Heads of State this last May.

Our specific mandate, as expressed by the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, in his final report of the Summit was “To analyze the results of the present (drug) policies in the Americas and to explore new approaches to strengthen this struggle and make it more effective”
To fulfill this double mandate, we drafted a Report of two intertwined parts that should be considered together, although their themes and methodologies may differ.

The Analytical Report depicts the "Drug Problem" in its different dimensions, as objectively as possible, with its derivatives in terms of human health, social exclusion, violence and economic expression. It is the product of six monographic studies, which drew on the contributions of nearly one hundred thematic and area experts. Drawing on the relevant facts of the Analytical Report, some forty stakeholders from the Americas (public officials, community leaders, academics) elaborated four Scenarios, or stories that outline how the Drug Problem might evolve by the year 2025. These Scenarios are based on the participants’ perception of the issues and professional background, and reflect the consequences of what policies are pursued and what decisions are made in the future.

The Scenarios Report, as we have clarified several times, is not intended to be a proposal or a forecast of the future. It lays out events that are credible and relevant, which are in turn derived from different policy decisions.
I will briefly examine the main features of these two Reports.

The Analytical Report starts by focusing squarely on the human plight of drug victims, in an attempt to grasp the reasons why society has become concerned with use and has decided to control drugs. Thus we begin with the impacts of drugs on human health. Research in the neurosciences over the past few decades has found evidence of a close link between brain structures and behaviors associated with drug use, which has a wide range of detrimental impacts on health over the short and medium term. There is no doubt that drugs affect and alter multiple systems and organs, especially the brain, and the consequences are particularly dire among young people whose brains and bodies are still developing.

Drug addiction is not, as was once thought, a "poor decision," a voluntary choice, which could be undone simply at will. Science has helped us understand that addiction and dependency is an illness and needs to be treated as such.

Countries of the Americas experience what we call the "Drug Problem" in different ways. However, it is true that our region encompasses all events and activities related to the problem: from the cultivation of primary inputs in the Andes to the retail sale of drugs on the streets of major cities of North America and everything in between. It is difficult for a single set of policy recommendations to touch on the variety and extent of the challenges posed by a process in which so many different parts are played out.

Our choice was follow this process, tracking the course of illicit activity from the cultivation of crops, to the production of drugs, their distribution (or transit) along routes and the violence accompanying it, through to their sale and end-use. In undertaking this study, we examined the volume of activity, its various manifestations, its environmental impact, and the State's response to it, including the consequences and limitations of that response.

After this description the study goes into the consumption of drugs in our countries and the demand reduction response including currently practiced forms of treatment and prevention, and their effects on social exclusion and the exercise of human rights.

The available data show that 24 percent of all marijuana users in the world live in the Americas and 81 percent of those live in North America.

The Americas are also home to between 7 million and 7.4 million cocaine users, a prevalence rate of 1.2 percent, comparable to the rate in Europe. Although drug use has declined in North America and increased in South America, the main destination of this quintessentially American drug continues to be North America and Europe.

In the past 10 years, the use of cocaine paste, which used to be limited mainly to the Andean countries, has gradually spread to neighboring countries. North America accounts for most of the heroin use in our region. Nevertheless, its use, too, is beginning to appear in other countries in the region.
Globally, amphetamine-type stimulants are the most popular category of illicit drugs after marijuana. In the Americas, their use varies widely, from country to country. Ecstasy-type substances are also extensively used by young people in many countries in the Hemisphere.

In terms of State efforts to address drug use, only 18 of the 33 countries in the Americas evaluated under the OAS Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM) have reported the existence of a national anti-drug plan or strategy. Fifteen either had no current plans in effect or failed to provide information.

At the same time, drug use is also associated with widespread social exclusion and even outright rejection. To the extent that drug use is penalized or stigmatized, the segments of the population that are most vulnerable to problematic use are often excluded from public health care services, and, in general, to prevention and treatment programs. Thus, drug use could be considered both a consequence and a cause of social exclusion.

Social agencies sometimes regard problematic drug users as a social deviant, generally speaking with ties to crime and violence, and posing a threat to society. For that reason, problematic drug users are excluded from routine settings in which social and emotional ties are forged and social bonding takes place. Frequently, they are even excluded from the programs designed to treat their dependency.

Our scrutiny of the Drug Problem in its various forms enables us to conduct a detailed analysis of two phenomena of particular concern to our societies and governments: the drug-trafficking economy and the violence that goes with it.

Based on previous studies by the United Nations and government agencies, we estimate that the retail drugs market in the Americas is worth US$151 billion, or 47% of the global retail market.

As for the value chain of drugs, our study concentrated on the cocaine trade. Based on several sources, our estimate is that, in the Colombian jungle, to produce a kilogram of cocaine paste, costs between US$585 and US$780, and that the same kilo can be transformed into a kilo of cocaine valued at US$33,000 in North America. In other words, in the course of the illegal drug trade's chain of value, it can increase its value 50-fold.

Most of the value-added in this illegal economy is found at the end-market stage, where presumably much of the profit is also generated. Barely more than one percent of the value generated corresponds to the revenue of the original producers in the Andean countries, while the retailers in the developed drug-using countries pocket almost 65 percent of the revenue.

At the same time, those huge profits represent enormous volumes of money which trigger another grave problem for our hemisphere. We are referring to the corruption of public and private sector officials, who get entangled at some point in this economic process as facilitators or operators. We are talking, too, about the undermining of institutions mired in the business of "laundering" money and thereby forging dangerous linkages between what is legal and illegal.

Traditionally, the financial sector, and banks in particular, have been used for money laundering. However, and largely in response to prevention measures applied to the financial sector, criminal organizations have diversified their procedures and now also use other economic agents, including insurance companies, stock and securities brokers, exchange bureaus, wire transfer companies, casinos, mineral and precious stone traders and concessionaires, real estate dealers, and independent professionals.

When the corruption generated by the problem of illegal drugs and the organized criminal penetration of institutions reaches a certain level of intensity, State institutions may even be co-opted and reconfigured. No other illegal economy in the region can match the illegal drug economy's ability to erode institutions.

Based on United Nations estimates, we note that the drug-related profits available for money laundering through the financial system amount to between 0.4 percent and 0.6 percent of global GDP. It is also possible to estimate that roughly half of those profits are laundered in the jurisdictions in which they are generated and that they flow into the banking sector, the real estate sector, and other kinds of investments.

The second critical issue examined in the Analytical Report refers to the various types of criminal violence associated with the different stages in the chain of value of the illegal drugs economy, including the violence accompanying the end-stage in which those substances are used.

Most activities relating to the "Drug Problem" are deemed criminal. The perpetration of those crimes, especially those relating to the illegal drugs economy, triggers other crimes and, above all, massive criminal violence associated with the "protection" of those criminal activities and with disputes among rival criminal factions.

The world of crime and violence surrounding the "Drug Problem" is today the most visibly harmful aspect in regards to the security of the people in our Hemisphere and to the institutions designed to protect them and strive for their well-being and prosperity.

As I pointed out already, this activity has fostered the rise or strengthening of large transnational criminal networks, which have ended up extending their operations to other types of crime, so much so that one wonders whether even the disappearance of the illegal drug economy would mean an end to their criminal machinations.

Directly associated with the violence spawned by the illegal drugs economy is illegal arms trafficking, which has become another concern for citizen security in the region. Lethal violence from the use of firearms in Latin America and the Caribbean far exceeds the global average (which is 42 percent of all homicides). According to the OAS's 2012 Report on Citizen Security, 68 percent of homicides in the Caribbean are committed with firearms. In Central America, the figure is 78 percent, in North America 55 percent, and in South America 83 percent.

In relation to the criminal violence associated with the Drug Problem, our Report focuses on possible explanations as to why that violence is more intense in some countries than in others.

Our conclusion is that that difference is most likely due to two factors: economic and social conditions on the one hand and, on the other and in particular, the very different abilities of States to guarantee protection for their citizens and, above all, provide effective law enforcement.

As regards the former, much has been said -- and reiterated throughout the Report -- about the links between social exclusion, poverty, and crime. One characteristic feature of the drug trade is that, even though some kingpins become extremely rich, they, their lieutenants, underlings, foot soldiers, and henchmen come from disadvantaged social sectors, in which drugs perform a dual function: serving as a source of employment and way of life and, at the same time, acting as a means of hiring cheap and abundant labor.

Social development and the elimination of exclusion, especially in the drug production and transit countries, are keys to overcoming the Drug Problem. They do not, as some would claim, constitute the only conditioning factor, but certainly deserve a mention.

The second reason for differences in levels of violence is that those countries in which criminal violence and cruelty are most intense are also countries in which institutions are spread too thin and are poorly articulated, with little coordination among them; in which financial and human resources are limited, and where there is a lack of appropriate information with which to shape the formulation and implementation of security policies. Underlying all these woes is widespread impunity and hence an equally pervasive culture of contempt for the State. That culture triggers a vicious circle in which the community opts not to turn to institutions (crimes are not denounced, disputes are settled privately, people take justice into their own hands) because the police do not go after criminals, the courts do not hand down judgments, and prisons not only fail to rehabilitate, often enough they serve as shelters from which criminals continue to operate. Obviously, impunity can promote the use of violence without the lack of a credible deterrent. It can be concluded that a drug trafficker who will use violence and cruelty as a way of resolving disputes with rivals or law enforcement officials in countries in which he runs no real risk of punishment but will commit similar crimes without the use or threat of violence in countries in which such punishment may be deemed inescapable.

How can we attempt to refocus our efforts to better apply policies that better address the problem and respect human rights? Our report attempts to answer this question by providing some information about alternative policy mechanisms and approaches to the drug problem.

The latter part of the Analytical Report focuses on legal and regulatory alternatives to the problem, their origins and characteristics. It describes and analyzes current trends toward decriminalization of consumption-related activities, reducing penalties, and legalization; as well as the likely costs and benefits of those various alternatives; and other, non-juridical, options.

Yet our Report exposes not just what is going on today; it also shows what the future could bring. As I mentioned earlier, there is a second volume in our Report on the Drug Problem complementing the part I have just described. In this second part, we sought to show not today's reality, but rather what tomorrow could look like. By that I mean: illustrate some possible futures and consequences with respect to the problem.

We have called the Second Part of our report, Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas.

And as we are well aware that not just one future exists, but many that can be forged on the basis of decisions today, we offer four possible scenarios of what the future drug problem in the Americas could look like by the year 2025.

Three of the four scenarios depicted –“Together”, “Pathways” and “Resilience”- describe three different future alternatives, depending on whether the focus is on institution building, experimentation with legal changes, or the community's capacity to respond to the problem. In order to compare and make the best use of them, it is important to note that they are based on different visions of the Drug Problem. That is, moreover, an insight based on how they came about: the scenarios were constructed at successive meetings headed by people who come from different professional backgrounds and hold different views.

"Together" sees the drug problem as a serious problem of pervasive insecurity, triggered not only by drug trafficking and organized crime, but also by the frailty of institutions incapable of coping with the criminal phenomenon. Naturally, its focus is on strengthening those institutions so that they can exercise their oversight functions.

"Pathways" takes a very different tack, inasmuch as it sees the regulatory framework and suppressive measures to control drugs as being a core part of the problem itself. Here, the insight is that the way drug use and trafficking are carried out exacerbates the problem rather than solving it.

Consequently, this scenario stresses the need to seek alternative treatments and legal and regulatory frameworks, which include decriminalizing possession for personal use and even legalizing the production and distribution of marijuana in some countries.

"Resilience" -- the third scenario -- does not preclude the possibility of institution-building or in-depth reforms to the general approach, but it starts from the premise that the Drug Problem is a manifestation of underlying social and economic dysfunctions, which cause addiction and violence.

Consequently, this scenario emphasizes the need for action by a well organized community, based on support from local governments, companies, and nongovernmental organizations.

The fourth scenario, "Disruption," is different from the others, as it alerts us to what could happen if we are incapable of reaching a different vision that allows us to join forces to address the problem, while respecting diversity in our approaches to it. Its starting point is that the cost of the Drug Problem is already excessive, that there probably will not be any major changes in strategy, and that, therefore, each player should decide on a policy that best suits its own interests, which in some cases includes the abandonment of enforcing drug laws.

Each of these scenarios poses an enormous variety of individual, collective and multilateral opportunities and challenges that should inform the subsequent debate. With drugs, as with any other complex social phenomenon, there is a wide range of motivations and convictions that shape the social fabric. For that reason we are convinced that the scenarios provide a useful starting point for helping our leaders and our societies establish collective and sustainable roadmaps within a diversity of approaches.

In mandating the OAS to prepare this Report, the Heads of State and Government of the Americas bestowed upon us a heavy burden of responsibility. At the same time, however, they set very precise limits to our response. That is why the Report I am presenting today sets forth facts that can facilitate decision making, but does not put forward concrete or exclusive solutions. It is up to our leaders to find those solutions, knowing that, in the debates to come, they can rely on a solid basis for their deliberations.

We believe, nevertheless, that we have an obligation and responsibility to contribute constructively to those deliberations. The best way to do this is to submit for the consideration of the Heads of State and Government of the Americas and of all those who will subsequently take part in this dialogue, some conclusions that follow directly from the analysis presented in this Report.

I would now like to put forward what I consider to be the four principal conclusions of our reflections:
First, although the drug problem in the Americas constitutes a single process, it does allow for different approaches at each of its stages and in the different countries in which they play out.

The health problems associated with substance use are undoubtedly to be found in all our countries, because in all of them there is evidence of drug use. Nevertheless, the impacts of the problem in terms of severity vary by country and by drug. Heavy use remains associated with the developed economies of North America, though there is increasing evidence that countries in South America are witnessing increased problematic use.

In contrast, the impacts on the economy, the social fabric, security and democratic governance are greater in the planting, producing, and transit countries located in South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Likewise, while some countries have more resources and more robust institutions for coping with the damage done by the illegal market in and use of drugs, others have weak institutions that render them virtually incapable of dealing with the problem.

We must therefore acknowledge thatwhile all our countries bear responsibilities in the quest for solutions, these vary by country and region. , Overcoming the problem calls for a multi-faceted approach, greater flexibility, a sound grasp of often different circumstances, and, above all, the conviction that, in order to be successful, we need to maintain unity in the midst of a diversity that will necessarily occur. Greater flexibility could lead to acceptance of the possibility of amending domestic legislation and regulations. A number of countries in the hemisphere already provide for the decriminalization of possession of amounts of drugs for personal use – these efforts could be expanded. We are also witnessing new approaches to marijuana, with a number of countries and states pursuing options for medical distribution and even for the creation of regulated markets. . Our report stops short of recommending any of these steps, but rather emphasizes the need to discuss them and evaluate the results that such strategies may produce.

Second, the links between drugs and violence in our countries are complex and have a greater impact in countries in which the State is not able to deliver effective responses. . We admit that there may be other conditions that explain the prevalence of crime and violence in some of our countries. Our individual histories as nations, our cultures and idiosyncrasies, and, above all, the poverty and severe social inequality prevalent in several countries play a decisive role in the explanation of this phenomenon.

Nevertheless, it seems equally obvious that to resolve the problem there is always going to be a need for formal institutions that ensure citizen security and strive to secure the well-being and prosperity of all. No new approach can be successful without considering the need to strengthen institutional capabilities to face the threat of crime, including the reduction of impunity and better and more efficient judicial, police and correctional systems.

Third, a public health approach to drug use is required in all our countries, with more resources and programs to ensure success. National, international, and hemispheric drug policies have gradually come to treat addiction as a chronic and recurrent illness calling for a health-oriented approach involving a wide range of services. These policies include promoting healthy lifestyles, protecting users with measures designed to restrict the availability of psychoactive substances, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society.

It is clearly contradictory to say one wishes to treat those suffering from drug dependency or addiction as people suffering from an illness and at the same time punish them criminally for drug use. Sending seriously drug-dependent people to prison does not constitute appropriate treatment.

What's more, we think it might exacerbate their condition and cause irreparable damage.

Treatment for drug dependency needs to be available at all care levels in the health system, with particular emphasis on early diagnosis and primary care intervention. In many countries in the Hemisphere, there is a notable gap between public health goals and the actual care provided for disorders related to the use of psychoactive substances.

Furthermore, we recognize that a reduction in the demand for drugs in principal markets could have a strong and positive impact on other manifestations and consequences of the drug problem. Simply put, it is likely that there would be less drug trafficking and violence if the appetite for drugs were reduced.

We hope that this report and the ideas put forth in it serve not as a conclusion, but as the initiation of a dialogue on the matter. The debate, and its conclusions, now belongs to the audience to whom these reflections are addressed and will form part of a collective analysis and democratic dialogue in each of our countries.

The steps going forward in this matter take us to launching this dialogue within our region. The OAS, as directed by the resolution passed by the General Assembly this past June, will consult with national, sub-regional and international partners, civil society groups, think tanks, technical expert meetings, academia and forums such as this to promote this discussion and draw conclusions that can be used as feedback for a coming Extraordinary General Assembly Meeting of 2014 on the topic.

We have identified some general areas that warrant greater consideration, specific to the needs of our members. They include:

- A public health focus toward the drug problem,
- Strengthening state capacities and institutions to respond effectively to threats of violence,
- Decriminalizing drug use, reducing sanctions for drug offenses, penal reform and alternatives to incarceration, and
- Improving coordination and combating money laundering

Given the need for an open and informed debate, I can only imagine that those present here will help provide insightful inputs to this process. I look forward to participating here with you in discussing this topic of utmost importance to the states of our region and to take back with us key points of information that will further enhance our work to improve the lives of the citizens of the Americas.

Thank you.

Reference: S-013