» Conclusions and perspectives » Conclusions and perspectives
Español | English | Português


Over 300 people from 30 countries took part in of the Third Latin American Conference on Drug Policy  which  was held in Mexico City on September  13 and 14, as organized by the Intercambios Civil Association , Argentina and the Colectivo por una Política Integral hacia las Drogas (CUPIHD), the host country.

In addition, for the first time  the Latin American Award on Drug Related  Journalism was awarded  to the following:  Diego Osorno, Mexico (first place), Wagner Neuenschwander Sarmento Thiago, Brazil, (second place), Juan Ignacio Próvendola, Argentina(third place), and Ricano Yetel Noguera, Cuba (honorable mention).  Also, more than a dozen satellite events took place the days before and after the Conference.

Specialists from various regions, along with activists, social organization members and government officials, discussed the “other drug policy”: “Drugs can no longer be the scapegoat for the metastasis of corruption, misery and injustice that our societies suffer daily. We do not want less control over drug policy, but a better control, “said Jorge Hernández Tinajero, director of CUPIHD, in the opening ceremony.

Graciela Touzé, president of Intercambios, noted that “the conference is a political act to install a new paradigm on the drug issue.” So, she asked: “Are drugs the cause of poverty, insecurity and violence that affect entire countries, or is the war paradigm, that still holds, deepening the gap between drug policy and democracy?”

For his part , Cesar Nunez,  regional representative of UNAIDS, recalled that the objective set by the UN, is 50 percent  reduction of  the transmission of HIV / AIDS among drug users by 2015. His position was clear: “What is needed are not technical answers, but political decisions.”

Philippe Lamy , from the  Organización  Panamericana de la Salud (OPS), stressed that “the right to public health must be guaranteed, for which sound epidemiological data is critical,  and  we need to provide treatment and support for  research  in monitoring the use of drugs “.

In turn, Carlos Tena Tamayo, of the National Commission Against Addictions (CONADIC) of Mexico, said that the national drug survey in 2008 showed that “in the country 1.2 million people use drugs, but only 400 thousand have addiction problems.  This rate is low compared to the world average, but this increase is concentrated in minors, especially women. Nationally, the largest  problem is alcohol addiction ”

A war where the enemy are the poorest

What is the effect of the repressive drugs policies in Latin America? Starting with that question, the members of the “Consequences of the War on Drugs” round table discussed the human rights abuses, massive displacement of people and violations of constitutional principles.

The Deputy of the National Assembly of Ecuador, María Paula Romo, reported that in her country, the main victims of the repressive system against drugs are women: “The people deprived of liberty for drug related offenses account for 40 percent of prison occupancy. Of the total amount of women, 85 percent are incarcerated for drug-related offenses. These women do not run the cartels, nor are major traffickers. They are arrested for carrying small amounts. ”

Meanwhile, in Mexico, the laws were amended to conform to the policy of  the drug war, “ignoring fundamental principles and the guarantees of personal liberty,” according to Alejandro Madrazo, of the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE).

For his part, the ambassador of Bolivia in La Haya, Roberto Calzadilla Sarmiento, was emphatic on the legitimacy of the defense of the coca leaf and its traditional use as part of the Bolivian identity. “After the expulsion of the DEA, we demonstrated that we can exert efficient control of coca crops without foreign interference.” In 2010, Bolivia eradicated 8 000 hectares of coca and so far in 2011,another 8 000. “We have done this by ensuring respect for human rights and social dialogue,” says Calzadilla.

Daniel Mejía Londoño, a researcher of the Universidad de los Andes , outlined his research on the results of Plan Colombia in terms of availability and prices of cocaine and its relation to the attempted eradication of the coca leaf crops. “The country spent $ 700 million a year. This is the largest intervention ever made in the illegal markets. ”

According to Mejia, the eradication had a rapid effect on the number of hectares planted, but it did not sustain long term and caused the displacement of crops beyond the Colombian border into Peru. Also it proved highly damaging to the environment, human health and subsistence agriculture.

The prospect of intergovernmental bodies

All the agencies of the United Nations are in favor of the harm reduction strategies, which are postulated not to require the stop of drug use when the users do not want or cannot, but to propose the regulation of own  intake and take care of the general health.

Antonio Mazzitelli, on behalf of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said the UN conventions subscribed by States “do not ask for the criminalization of consumption per se, but of the production, trafficking and marketing. In their freedom, states may use alternative justice measures, in order to facilitate access to rehabilitation treatments for consumers with problems. ”

The UNAIDS coordinator for Mexico, José Enrique Zelaya Bonilla made it clear that “opiate substitution is extremely effective as well as comprehensive prevention programs that include needle exchange.” The specialist noted that the most important is “to end the criminalization of the drug user.”

In turn, Maristela Monteiro said that OPS  promotes “an integrated approach to prevention and care in drug and alcohol issues including: primary care, mental health, self-help, criminal justice, social service programs, harm reduction, labor programs  and other points. ”

From the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Deputy Executive Secretary Rafael Franzini Batle defended the proposed “drug treatment courts,” which in his view “is a change, because the addict is no longer in jail. ”

Mazzitelli, the representative for Latin America of the UNODC, also supported the court system of treatments, which generated controversy, and defended the paradigm of current drug war. “We do not have a system of prohibition, but of control. So far none of the Member States, except for Bolivia, has called for reform to this system. In other words, states are satisfied with these conventions, “he said.

Also he made a clear destinction:: “The care of drug users is a health issue, but the market is a safety issue and should be treated as part of organized crime.”

Ritual or recreational uses?

The tension between the symbolic and religious culture present in the indigenous culturesin relation to coca, as well as ayahuasca and peyote with  the existing recreational use  were part of the panel discussion on “Drugs, identities and worldviews,” which was held in the first day of the Third Latin American Conference on Drug Policy.

“For the farmers of coca leaf,   the principal element in rituals of Mother Earth,” began Mary Ann Eddowes, director of the Association of Peruvian Coca Leaf and member of the Transdisciplinary of Traditional Medicine. For this reason, she made a call for a paradigm shift in drug treatment in their country: “We hope the new government of Peru (whose presidency was recently assumed by  Ollanta Humala) has a wider perspective  which is  less directed by the government of the United States” .

In turn, Epifanio Alonso,  mayor of the Missionaries of the Congregación Misioneros del Temporal of Mexico provided an overview of the community  meaning  of ritual use of mushrooms: “The use we make of the plants has been transmitted by the elders  and they are used it to cure diseases,  and to guide us in the spiritual path. Not to intoxicate us or for other purposes. ”

Meanwhile, Julio Glockner Rossaniz, a researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities of  Alfonso Vélez Pliego, denounced the attack of the indigenous world view  by  colonization  and modernity and proposed that the term “hallucinogen” to refer to plants such as ayahuasca , peyote and mushrooms, be replaced with “entheogen,” meaning “to create the sacred within us.”

Finally, the Brazilian Bia Labate, a researcher at the University of Heidelberg in psychoactive drug policy, religion and rituals, criticized U.S. policy that prohibits the indigenous medicinal use of ayahuasca, but allows the formation of sects. Regarding the debate on the current uses of mushrooms, peyote and coca, she said: “There is no conflict between traditional and recreational uses, which is completely different from  the abuse.”

Level of consumption:  equal prohibition and liberalization

Governments do not design their drug policies based on scientific evidence but on information coming from the media. In turn, the media´s, alarmist announcements replicate government activity, to win public support for the repressive policies . This is the vicious circle was explained by Dan Werb , the Canadian researcher on the second day of the Conference.

The expert, who is part of the International Center for Science in Drug Policy ICSDP, shared the results of the study as done by the Center (http://www.icsdp.org/research/publications.aspx). According to their research, the budget for the business of fighting drugs in the United States increased 600 percent over a period of 20 years. However, drug use among adolescents in this country has not changed significantly in that period.

Studies show that no matter the intensity of policy, whether liberal or conservative (Portugal and Russia in each extreme) consumer trends maintain. “Obviously the trends in consumption do not only depend on the availability of drugs, but a series of social and persona factors.” said Werb.

Also Ilona Szabó de Carvalho, member of the Secretariat of the Global Commission on Drugs, announced the upcoming launch of the West African Initiative on Drugs, with leadership of former UN Secretary Kofi Annan: “The vulnerability of states in this region warrants action as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Alternatives to the militarization

The combination of the policy not to persecute drug users, social promotion policies, partnerships with community organizations in the areas which are the most violence affected , were presented as alternatives to the policies of militarization, in addressing the security problems associated with drugs. In the panel “Drugs, Security and Human Rights” on Wednesday, September 14,  the experiences of El Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, the city of San Jose Guaviare in Colombia and Mexico City were discussed.

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Public Safety in El Salvador, Alvaro Henry Campos Solorzano,   who  is in favor of not persecuting the user noted: “The simple legalization of drugs does not automatically resolve the violence, since even with legal products there is theft, threats,  and violent disputes among producers.  As long as society does not overcome its problems of institutional weakness, it will be difficult to find alternatives in the health or justice field. ”

Instead, Luis González Placencia, president of the Human Rights Commission of Mexico City, offered different position: “The decision to allow military in the fight against drug trafficking which was made by the corrupt and unresponsive judges , created a situation  twenty times more difficult in Mexico.  There 50 000 plus deaths , as a result of these decisions,  tell us that we must reduce the supply of drugs. Probably the legalization of drugs is not the only answer, but it would improve the situation and aid in a lot of problems we have today. ”

The experience of a government in a conflict zone was discussed by Pedro José Arenas García, mayor of San Jose Guaviare, Colombia. The state  is one of three states with the highest production of coca and cocaine base in his country, with more than 50 percent of the population displaced by violence, and  a  small municipal prison  with more than 300 people, arrested mostly due  to drugs, almost all farmers or small carriers.

“We said -life first. As a result the number of homicides decreased by 70 homicides last year, and 37 up to this time of year,” he said. To achieve this, the indication to the police was, “We do not care who is the cause of the attack, be it guerrillas or paramilitary groups associated with drug trafficking. The point is to defend what affects lives and human rights. ”

For his part, Captain Felipe Magalhães, member of the Peacekeeping Police Unit of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said: “with the permanent establishment of community policing, positive transformation was observed by the community and the departure of people linked to drug trafficking.” But he acknowledged that “substance abuse should be approached not from a policing point of view, but that of health.”

Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez, a Mexican expert on issues of violence, security and organized crime, made a quantitative analysis of the manifestations of drug-related violence: “The arrest or death of barons often triggers an escalation of violence, as a result of the struggle between factions for control of territory.”

Finally, Alvaro Henry Campos Solorzano, Deputy Minister of Justice and Public Safety in El Salvador  summed up: “The drug-related crimes do not happen in the poorest places but those that  are unequal. The criminal justice system has been overtaken by reality. While the institutions recover and strengthen, the needs created by violence and crime must be met somehow. ”

Socio- sanitary  answers, experiences and challenges

Comprehensive care of drug users, involves developing of comprehensive strategies, complementary and multisectoral , which should address the prevention, assistance for problem drug use, harm reduction and social integration.

Andrea Gonzalez, Program coordinator of the HIV / AIDS program in Mexico City and director of the Specialized Clinic Condesa in Mexico City, said that “the State program reads ’reduce illegal drug use among 12 and 17 year olds´ that is they are contained in a health program for a limited term. Health policy in Mexico has no health perspective. ”

After explaining that the drug war in Mexico has a very high mortality rate, which exceeds deaths due to HIV and drug abuse, she asked: “Specifically, what in the terms of consumption resolves this war?”

In turn, the national director of Mental Health and Addictions of the Ministry of Health of Argentina, Yago Di Nella, commented: “For every nine people with alcohol problems in Argentina, one person has it with illicit drugs. However, the previous budget was reverse logic: the epidemiology noted that the main problem is alcohol, but much more was spent on illegal drugs.”

In line with the statements by his colleagues, The Coordinator of the Masters program in Drug Addiction of the University of Costa Rica, Giselle Amador Muñoz, criticized the decrease of the budget for the care of mental health problems in his country: “in Costa Rica possession for consumption is not penalized, but from 2006 to 2009 the arrest of drug users increased.”

Later, Laura Guzman, Director of Resource Center of Mission San Francisco, trainer of the American Coalition for Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), USA, addressed the crack users and indicated that the ingredients in crack are the most damaging.

Finally, Maria Elena Ramos, Director of Program Partners, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, shared that drug users often “live in marginalization, have serious health problems, deaths by overdose, families with a history of consumption, violated of human rights, extreme  poverty and gender violence. Women users of injectable drugs and their situations are the most pressing. ”

Lessons for Latin America

Is the increase in violence a barometer of success? What are the consequences of negotiating with the actors of organized crime? What links children mules and individual sellers? What is the impact of prohibitionist policies on drugs and users, especially the poor? These questions were discussed in the panel “Latin America in the international context”, where Fabio Mesquita (WHO Vietnam), Steven S. Dudley (InSight-Organized Crime in the Americas), David Holiday (OSI) and Mike Trace (IDPC) discussed each of these themes.

“At the instant that a repressive system of control is created, the market stays in the hands of criminals,” he said at the beginning of his presentation Mike Trace, president of the International Consortium on Drug Policy (IDPC). And he reflected: “The drug war means a social crisis in the countries where it is carried on.”

The expert of  IDPC also discussed to the balloon effect: reducing the supply of a substance does not mean reducing the number of drug users. For example, in Australia, the heroin shortage in 2009-2010 was considered a success, but in reality meant that consumers have turned to meth, which has more harmful effects.

Fabio Mesquita, head of the HIV Unit of the WHO in Vietnam, denounced the centers of        mandatory “treatment¨ in several countries in Asia and warned of the  effect of the model  of  Rio de Janeiro, where crack user children living on the street  are being led to compulsory treatment centers.

The World Health Organization in its latest  report, asked for the closure of all compulsory treatment centers, which it considers user  prisons.

The negotiation model of Colombia in dealing with  Pablo Escobar was presented by Steven S. Dudley, director of co-InSight Organized Crime in the Americas, as a model of how not to negotiate with the cartel.”In the actual negotiations as done by the United States did not prosecute the most serious crimes, since cooperation was rewarded by lighter sentences.”

He  gave the example of Nicolas Bergonzoli, who after 39 months in prison, managed to legalize his property and to take his family to America. “While everyone wanted to be Bergonzoli, it also looked good for the anti-drug prosecutors and the U.S., which then could show success in the drug war.” Who lost? The drug mules and drug dealers that ended up with penalties more severe than those of the members of the organized crime structure.

In conclusion, David Holiday, Program Officer for Latin America of the Open Society Institute, reported that “the increase in violence remains a barometer of success of drug policy.” In his opinion, “organized crime is present, and we can control and reduce it, but to do so in a truly effective manner the action must be based on a long term process with the aim to strengthen the institutions.”

Conclusions: broad consensus for the end of the war

The Third Latin American Conference on Drug Policy concluded on Wednesday September 14 in the afternoon with a call to arm an “other drug policy” for the region.

In closing, there were statements of drug users, young people from Latin America and the movement for the legalization of cannabis, which during the two-day conference had their own meetings.

“The first victims of the war on drugs are the drug users,” is what the  document of  conclusion  by   Members of the Drug User Movement in the region, who demanded respect for the conventions and treaties on human rights and “the implementation of harm reduction policies,  with the involvement of drug users. ”

The Global Collective for Normalization of  Cannabis maintained “the decriminalization of simple possession and consumption of any psychoactive substance in all countries.”

For their part, members of the global movement of young people and  the Mexican organization Espolea, proclaimed: “We start from the fact that in only 4 years, more than 40 thousand people lost their lives in Mexico and  7 in 10 women in countries such as Argentina and Ecuador are in jail for violating drug laws. We do not need another Washington Consensus. We need a new international logic that respects national sovereignty, human rights and is sensitive to local culture. ”

In closing, Pablo Cymmerman, member of the Organizing Committee and Intercambios, said: “Latin America has tremendous experience in human rights struggles against state terrorism, organizations of indigenous peoples and the right to land”. He called the community organizations and grassroots movements “to reverse the stigma” and use the regional instruments such as UNASUR, MERCOSUR and ALBA “to put on the political agenda of Latin America the necessary changes in drug policy.”

Among the recommendations were mentioned: comprehensive public policies for the areas affected by violence, decriminalization of possession and harm reduction strategies, prioritization of human rights over military operations, respect for the cultural uses of the substances, and alternative penalties to imprisonment for the weakest links of the trafficking.

The conference participants were from thirty-two countries in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa, among the latter, health and justice officials from Cape Verde, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Angola, who looked at alternatives to the new role of Africa in the global drug market.

The Third Latin American Conference and the First Mexican Conference on Drug Policy were sponsored by: Organización Panamericana de la Salud / Organización Mundial de la Salud (OPS/OMS); Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Distrito Federal (CDHDF); Instituto para la Atención y la Prevención de las Adicciones en la Ciudad de México (IAPA); Centro de Estudios Políticos de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México  (FCPyS - UNAM); Cátedra UNESCO “Transformaciones Económicas y Sociales relacionadas con el problema Internacional de las Drogas”; Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE); Embajada de Argentina en México; Programa Grupos de Trabajo - Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales. CLACSO; Federación Internacional de Universidades Católicas (FIUC); Consorcio Internacional sobre Políticas de Drogas (IDPC); Asociación Internacional para la Reducción de Daños (HRI); Grupo Latinoamericano sobre Políticas de Drogas  (GRULAD); Red Americana de Intervención en Situaciones de Sufrimiento Social (RAISSS); Red Iberoamericana de ONGs que Trabajan en Drogodependencias -RIOD; Cáritas Alemania; Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA); Transnational Institute (TNI); Alianza sobre Políticas de Drogas (DPA); Centro Cáritas de Formación (CAFAC); Espolea; Centro de Investigación “Drogas y Derechos Humanos” (CIDDH); Coalición de Reducción de Daños (HRC); Psicotropicus. Centro Brasilero de Políticas de Drogas; Youth R.I.S.E. Para su realización se cuenta con el apoyo de la Fundación Open Society Institute.

This regional  s pace is expected to contribute each year to regional strengthening , and a  critical and proactive approach  to overcoming  situations of violence and drug-related stigma in the region.