“Making use of our democratic right to disagree with the dominant discourses and practices in the field of drugs”

In this way Pablo Cymerman, Executive Coordinator of CONFEDROGAS and Director of Institutional Relations at Intercambios Civil Association in Argentina, described the discussions and debates that mobilized more than 700 people in Santo Domingo during the VI Latin American and I Caribbean Conference on Drug Policy.

Government officials from across the region, UN representatives, civil society actors and experts agreed that Latin America is moving towards a paradigm shift in which prohibition is not the focus of responses to the problems associated with drug use.

“We started this conference by declaring the goal of this space from its inception: to generate debate and make use of our democratic right to disagree with dominant discourses and practices in the field of drugs,” said Cymerman

“During these two days of intense work, the complexity aroundproblems related to drug use has been made clear. The negative consequences generated by hegemonic policies adopted to date have also become evident,” he declared.

“This forces us to ask what we are doing and what we should do. For those of us who work in politics, in justice, in the media, in the health field, social action, education—this is our responsibility”he reflected.

Meanwhile, Santo Rosario Ramirez, Director of the Center for Integral Orientation and Investigation (COIN), which was the local coordinator of the conference, stressed the call-to-duty of the Conference, which made evident the amount of interest in this issues in Dominican society. “When we started with COIN, talking about the rights of sex workers and how to advance the inclusion of key populations such as LGBT seemed like an impossible dream,” he said. “Today after much work we can say that we have made great progress.” “We hope that these findings can influence public policies,” he said. “For COIN, organizing and carrying out this event represents the beginning of an important challenge: that all of this doesn’t just stay in the event itself” he concluded.

“Make visible and denounce the hegemonic paradigm of prohibition”

With this objective the members of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of People who Use Drugs (LANPUD) opened their final statements. “From LANPUD we feel the need to highlight and denounce this hegemonic paradigm of prohibition, based in pathologizing stigmatization, discrimination and criminalization of users of psychoactive substances. This paradigm is based on mechanisms of social and geopolitical control founded on racist, classist, sexist, heteronormative, adult-centric and exclusiveperspectives, “they said.

 “Respect for our cultures”

Growers of cannabis, coca and poppy also released a document in which they expressed “the urgent need for public policy reform around our crops, as the impact of current policy has so far only been negative for our communities.”  “We demand respect for our cultures, in which the use of plants plays a key role. The traditional use and cultivation of cannabis, coca leaf and poppy cannot be prohibited, criminalized or marginalized,”they said.  “We demand the immediate end to forced eradication as the main instrument of current public policies, as they are contrary to the dignity and the rights of communities that depend on cultivation to support their families,” the growers asserted. “We advocate sustainable development plans for our communities and participation in the design, implementation and evaluation of them. So far the so-called alternative development only exists in theory, but in practice nothing has changed for the reality of our communities,” they concluded.

Towards a comprehensive, health-based approach

The last declaration, submitted by the Inter-American Association of Public Defenders (AIDEF), affirmed that “the current drug policy developed in our countries emphasizes the criminal response, rather than a preventive response based in respect for human rights and the right to health. This has distanced us from the objectives of a comprehensive approach, especially in areas of health, crime, and social impact, causing serious distortions in both public policy and the social fabric.”