The 5th Latin American and 1st Central American Drug Policy Conference began today in San Jose.

Apertura de la V Conferencia Latinoamericana y I Centroamericana sobre Políticas de Drogas
“Many aspects of the fight against drug trafficking lead to the criminalization of poor people”

So said the Costa Rican Minister of Security, Celso Gamboa, during the inauguration of the 5th Latin American and 1st Central American Drug Policy Conference taking place today and tomorrow in San Jose, and which is organized by the CONFEDROGAS Consortium.

Over 500 people attended the opening panel of the one of the most important meetings in Latin America regarding drug policy, which took place at the Radisson Hotel. Public officials, experts, and diverse sectors of civil society listened attentively to Celso Gamboa, Costa Rican Minister of Security, who inaugurated the Conference on behalf of Costa Rica’s president Luis Guillermo Solis. “Many aspects of the fight against drug trafficking lead to the criminalization of poor people”, he pointed out, remarking that there is a need to shift efforts towards “those who control the economic capital of these structures”. “Violence has been fought with violence and the result has not been successful but rather has generated more violence.” The public official emphasized that the “Legislative assembly is currently discussing the legalization of medical marihuana, which is a sign that the country is open to discussion, and open to new ideas”, and he concluded: “We must rethink the strategy with a public health vision but also as an economic matter, we have spent enough time with punitive measures. If we don’t commit to prevention we will only harvest negative fruits”.

Giselle Amador Muñoz, Executive Director of the Costa Rican Association for Drug Investigation and Intervention (ACEID in Spanish), asked for “an urgent dialogue that achieves modifications of our current drug policies” and highlighted that the 5th Conference is a “space for analysis and reflection between public and private institutions, academia, international agencies, and civil society”. She also referred to the current drug control strategy by citing Einstein’s famous phrase: “crazy is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting to have different results”.

With the idea of “a comprehensive human development strategy” and “development policies and programs that include the whole population”, Yoriko Yasukawa, United Nations Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Costa Rica, began her speech. The public servant remarked that “we have to go beyond the acknowledgement of people who use drugs as subjects with rights”, and clarified that “more than raising specific reforms, what we need is a paradigm shift”.

Amado Philip de Andres, Regional Representative for Central America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stressed that “it is necessary to provide the backbone of truly comprehensive drug policies”, and urged the need to take into account other experiences; “we have to look at the experience in other latitudes to see results and opportunities”.

Meanwhile, Jorge Luis Prosperi, Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Representative in Costa Rica demonstrated his concern for the limitations of equal access to health services in Latin America and argued that “people that have a problematic pattern of consumption are stigmatized and rejected, not only by society, but by health service systems”. In order to overcome this, he brought up the need for “a comprehensive approach to the subject; adding to the process community based organizations y strengthening the steering role of the Health Ministry”.

Cesar Nuñez, Director of the Regional Support Team for Latin America, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), brought to the inauguration a message of reflection from within ONUSIDA; specifying that “responses to HIV must be based in scientific evidence and in the principles of human rights”.

Paul Simons, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD in Spanish), initiated his speech highlighting “the importance of this Conference for the States in the region which will come together at the Extraordinary General Assembly of the OAS on the issue of drugs in Guatemala City on September 19th. The public official also highlighted “the role and the importance of civil society in the planning process of drug policies in the region”, and spoke of the “outstanding involvement of society in prevention and drug treatment networks”. Lastly, he suggested that in “the hemispheric strategy, the involvement of civil society is of great importance, and our member states have the obligation of encouraging a broad debate in which all actors of society become involved”.

Ana Gabriel Zuñiga Aponte, Vice Minister within the Presidency and President of the Board of the Costa Rican Drug Institute emphasized “the importance of mainstreaming human rights in any action that is taken in drug policies”. “The important thing is to understand that the issue of drugs must be humanized”, she clarified, pointing out that “civil society organizations must be incorporated in the drug policy dynamic”.

The Health Minister of Costa Rica, Maria Elena Lopez Nuñez, highlighted the importance of this conference as an “input for the formulation of drug policies”, and considered that “the actual approach has not had the expected success and, therefore, we must combine what we know with new alternatives”.

Finally, Graciela Touzé, President of Intercambios Civil Association in Argentina, stated that as representative of the organizing consortium CONFEDROGAS “we are convinced that we are living a historical opportunity within Latin America to advance towards consensual positions and coordinated actions that respond to the necessities and cultural context of our populations, with a true respect of human rights and better practices of public health”. She added: “The experience of the regulation of the cannabis market in Uruguay, among other countries of the region, are signs that our governments as well as our societies are acknowledging that the militarized approach is an exhausted paradigm whose negative consequences can no longer be tolerated”.

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The Conference counts with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (ILANUD). It was declared of cultural interest by the Presidency and by the Ministry of Culture and Youth of the Republic of Costa Rica

CONFEDROGAS is a Consortium formed in 2013 integrated by six civil society organizations committed to a profound shift in drug policy and aims to organize the Latin American Conferences on Drug Policy, as a permanent and periodical platform for the discussion and the elaboration of improved proposals. CONFEDROGAS is integrated by: Technical and Social Actions (ATS, Colombia), the Collective for an Integrative Policy toward drugs (CUPIhD), Intercambios, Civil Association for the Study and Attention to Problems related to Drugs (Argentina), Psicotropicus (Brazil), Transnational Institute (TNI, Netherlands)  and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

The Costa Rican Association for Drug Study and Intervention (ACEID) is a non-profit organization that began its work at the end of 2012 and constituted itself legally at the beginning of 2013, formed by a group of professionals, artists, and activists interested in the transformation of drug policy in Costa Rica toward a focus on human rights.

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