First Latin-American Conference on Drug Policy
Conclusions and perspectives
More information on: www.conferenciadrogas.com/2009
Gains consensus the proposal to not criminalize traffic’s most fragile links
With more than 650 assistants from different countries and the presence of recognized experts in drug policy of Latin America, on August 6th and 7th in the lounge auditorium of the attached building of the House of Representatives the First Latin-American Conference on Drug Policy in Buenos Aires and the 7th National Conference was held. Organized by the civil association Intercambios, key non governmental organization in Latin America in topics of harm reduction and drug policy with the support of the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and other organisms of United Nations, the meeting focused on the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, legislative reforms in the region, integral care for drug users and alternative policies facing the failure of the war against drugs promoted in the last 20 years.
During the opening of the Conference, the Minister of the Supreme Court, Eugenio Zaffaroni, indicated: “For thirty years I have been saying that the article 19 of the National Constitution (that speaks on the private acts of men) must be respected and that this topic fits in that article”. [C1] He also regretted that, according to his view, “what it is does is to forbid in order to raise prices. This price increase leads to the accumulation of more illegal income, which allows every time to break more institutional barriers. That is the vicious cycle that leads up to the so-called “organized crime”, which causes more deaths than the banned toxics”.
For his part, Chief of Staff Aníbal Fernández expressed the official position regarding this issue: “We have to leave euphemisms aside and apply the harm reduction, differentiate the illegal substances according to the damage they cause and take particularly care of the health”. Later, he asserted that the government is waiting “almost with impatience a decisive ruling of the Court, which will not decriminalize but rather make unconstitutional the penal sentence to a private consumer”.
INTERCAMBIOS Civil Association is a non governmental organization that has been working for 13 years in the study and care of drug-related problems and conceived this Conference like an effective mechanism of reunion of decision makers and policy planners, researchers and members of the civil society with the aim to improve the current drug control policy, increase their efficiency, feasibility and credibility.
Meanwhile, Graciela Touzé, president of Intercambios, warned of the consequences caused by the punitive policies in Latin America: “We refer to the isolation and disproportionate incarceration of drug users and “mules”; persecution and impoverishment of rural populations submitted to the forced eradication of crops without sustainable alternatives; to social violence and violations of basic human rights”, she pointed out.
The researcher also stressed “the advances that are emerging in different countries of the region, that are considering reforms to their legislations and action plans, which are developing more inclusive and integrated proposals to improve the care of problems associated with drugs”.
The conference is supported by the Ministry of Justice, Security and Human Rights of the Nation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) amongst other institutions. And it is also sponsored by the Latin American Initiative on Drugs and Democracy, the Open Society Institute Foundation, the Embassy of the Netherlands and the British Embassy in Buenos Aires and the National Agency of Scientific and Technological Promotion of Argentina.
Also participating in the inauguration of the Conference was Congresswoman Graciela Giannetasio, President of the Prevention of Addictions and Control of Narcotics Commission of the Chamber of Deputies. The legislator called for a “health policy that involves a non-legal treatment”. Moreover, she expressed her concern to avoid that “the prosecution of the weakest links of the drug chain cover up corruption and drug-trafficking”.
The meeting aimed to bring about “an informed social debate with the goal to impulse non-punitive policy, founded on scientific evidence, that responds in an efficient manner to the diverse problems associated with drugs” and to generate an exchange at a regional level to “keep the map updated on the consumption of drugs, associated problems, policy and interventions in the region”.
Sociocultural context: poverty, repression and biotechnology
The moderator of the panel, Juan Machín Ramírez, Member of the American Intervention Network in Social Suffering Situations (RAISSS) of Mexico opened the panel explaining that “when the speech of the war against drugs became a real war, in Mexico, it cost us 13 thousand deaths in two years and a half”. All the panelists of this first panel centered on the problems of biological reductionism, that reads the problem of drugs like a problem of the deviated persons that threatens the social system.
The famous Venezuelan criminologist, Lola Aniyar de Castro, Judge of the Stockholm International Prize in Criminology and Professor at the University of Zulia, synthesized in four products the war against drugs: 1) rivers of blood (the excessive growth of violence by the control of the markets and the political power; 2) a parallel state; 3) inability to replace the drug economy with the traditional economy and 4) the expansion of the consumption. Moreover, she pointed out as two unresolved tasks, thinking about the distance between the academic spaces of reflection and the political spaces in the drug issue and how difficult it is to find critical legislative positions in Latin-America.
From the perspective of the genetics, professor of Public Health of the University of Columbia and international consultant in genetics and bioethics, Víctor Penchaszadeh, warned how “the biologization and the medicalization makes us distract our attention on the social determinants of disease”.
In turn, the Argentinean Vicente Galli, member of the Commission of Doctorate of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires and former National Director of Mental Health, raised that we need to “understand that people’s health has to do with how they are received and travel their ways in the world.” And he mentioned the absurd of the current Argentinean legislation, which “forces the addict to give up the substance to initiate a treatment, which is the militarization of the treatment: I order you to heal”.
From the civil society
The political incidence was the common denominator of the panel “Political Initiatives of the civil society”, moderated by Elena Reynaga, Executive Secretary of the Network of Sex Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean (RedTraSex). The first presentation was given by Andrea Domínguez Duke, of the Brazilian organization Viva Rio, whose main concern is to decrease violence and is from there that they arrive to working in the drug issue. Their strategy is feeding a dialogue based on information and not on prejudice, developing the Brazilian Commission of Drugs and Democracy, which was led by the former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, César Gaviria, Ernesto Zedillo and articulating in network with other organizations that work in the topic for many years ago, as Psicotropicus, Intercambios, or the IDPC.
Titled “The initiatives of the social organizations, reaches, limits and challenges in the processes of incidence in drug policy”, the head of the Corporation Viviendo and member of the American Intervention Network in Social Suffering Situations (RAISSS), the Colombian Ángela Tello, presented as challenges for the civil society “the integration between Latin American networks, share results, failures, processes, broadening participation in international arenas and highlight experiences.”
From the organization Psicotropicus, João Pedro Pádua assessed that “the civil society has the role of articulating the informal public sphere with the formal public sphere for democratic public policymaking. In drug policy we have a great problem: The public debate is shielded by a social taboo of almost a century, which is the prohibition of the drugs upon being arbitrarily defined as illicit. The public sphere is not about the drug issue”.
Finally, Graciela Touzé, president of Intercambios Civil Association, explained that this organization centers its activities in 3 objectives: 1) promoting reform initiatives of drug policy; 2) encourage changes in legislation and public policy on drugs and 3) contribute to the consolidation of a Latin American platform to coordinate governmental and nongovernmental efforts towards the reform of drug policy. The specialist stated that, at regional level, a good example of this type of initiative is “the coordination that we carry ahead for the last June 26, World Day of drugs to make a joint statement among thirteen countries and this speaks of a time of greater consensus.”
In the closing of the panel, the moderador Elena Reynaga, welcomed the presence of different groups of “Mothers against Paco” at the meeting and suggested a better coordination and commitment between the experts and the people who live the harshness of this issue every day “because the mothers are committed women in search for a change for their children and the ones who are committed with these topics are our companions to change this reality”, she concluded.
A global view on drug reforms
Titled “International panorama of drug policy reforms: openings and challenges for the future”, the political scientist from Netherlands Martin Jelsma, coordinator of the Project Drugs and Democracy of the Transnational Institute (TNI), concentrated on the results of the meeting of high level of the United Nations that reviewed last march in Vienna, the goals set a decade ago on the matter of drugs: “The revision of UNGASS concluded with a disappointing declaration. The control system of the United Nations keeps suffering a deadlock”. However, he valued that “the process brought many openings in the debate and the lack of coherence in the system of the United Nations in now on the table”
Jelsma raised recognizing that there are inconsistencies between a repressive drug control and respect for human rights, the right to health and an effective strategy against HIV / AIDS.
With the moderation of Milton Romani, Secretary General of the National Drug Commission of Uruguay, the Dutch expert asserted that “the conventions are anachronistic instruments full of contradictions”. And believes that at some point, the conventions must conform to the paradigm shifts and practices that are occurring in an increasing number of countries in the areas of harm reduction, decriminalization and alternatives policies to repression at least in the case of marijuana. “This trend represents a development towards more humane and effective policies,” he said.
Legislative reforms in Latin-America
In the panel on “Legislative reforms in Latin America”, Coordinator of the Scientific Advisory Committee in matters of Control Illicit Traffic of Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Complex Crime of the Chief of Cabinet of Ministers, Mónica Cuñarro, dedicated much of her presentation to analyze the possibilities of normative harmonization among the countries of Latin-America and to make compatible the conventions in prosecuting crimes associated to drug-trafficking.On drug consumers, she noted: “With such penalizing laws of our countries we should dedicate ourselves to building jails. We have no resources for everything to be solved with large prisons”.
For his part, Brazilian congressman from the Workers’ Party (PT), Paulo Teixeira, author of the project of law that forbids the patent of medications of second use and of the first law of harm reduction in that country, presented a study published this week in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, that analyzes 391 sentences for infractions to the 11.349 drug law. The study reveals that 56% of the indicted were being detained for the first time; 84% did not carry weapons; 60.8% were acting alone and did not belong to any criminal organization. The 50% of the convicted for marijuana trafficking were in possession of less than 100 grams. “These results are very similar to those found by Intercambios in Argentina when analyzing the implementation of its drug law. And the study shows that the Brazilian drug law increases the harm to users because while in prison, they join the organized crime”, he said.
Teixeira revealed that the PT is introducing next month a bill that passes to “democratic model” in matters of drugs, with five points:
1) Decriminalization of the use and possession (Portuguese model); 2) Introduction of alternative sentencing for trafficking of small quantities of drugs without possessing weapons, without association with criminals and of first offense; 3) Differentiation between users and dealers; 4) Widen the possibilities of harm reduction to new services and 5) Therapeutic use, authorization of small crops of marijuana and commercialization of small quantities.
In turn, Michelle Artieda, Undersecretary of Planning of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights of Ecuador, said they are in process of debating a bill to amend the existing one, which dates from 1992 and “violates the principle of legality, establishes sentences that are neither proportional nor differentiated. This means that for the act of carrying small amounts, the same severe sentences as for murder can be given”. The Ecuadorian government official revealed that the second cause of detention in Ecuador is drug tenancy: “of the 14000 people deprived of liberty, 4578 were linked to drug crimes, 2200 of them detained for quantities inferior to 2 kilos”.
A first step that the Ecuadorian government took at the end of 2008, was the so-called “pardon of the mules”, a measure that freed 1500 people sentenced to prison convicted of carrying small amounts of prohibited substances. And it already introduced a reform in its National Constitution to respect the human rights of those who use.
The moderator of the panel, Mexican congresswoman Elsa Conde Rodríguez, member of the Social Democrat Alternative Parliamentary Group, summarized the presentations stressing the new winds in the region that question the abstention model valid in the last decades.[C2]
The integral care for drug users
The analysis of concrete experiences of treatment was the central topic of the panel “Integral care for drug users”, that, with the moderation of the Argentine Carola Lew, assessor in HIV/AIDS for Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODD), described the experiences and views on the issue of Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and México.
“The challenge is to improve the therapeutic offers”, asserted upon initiating his presentation Manuel Fresco, Director of the National Center of Control of Addictions of the Department of Public Health and Welfare of Paraguay, who presented a study of the year 2005 which reveals that those consulting are increasingly younger, consume various types of drugs with an increase of prevalence of the consumption in women.
The treatments’ search focuses on: stopping consumption, prolonging abstinence, reducing the damage and recovering full or partial functionality in the personal, social and economic aspects. “We work with interim goals,” said Fresco.
In turn, the young Aram Barra, representative of the International Youth Network for reducing drug-related harm (Youth RISE), indicated that in the region the 20 percent of the population is between 15 and 24 years. “The policies towards the young ones are scarce or inexistent and the preventive measures are often insufficient and the prevention campaigns are not tied to the reasons for which we consume drugs”.
From Santa Fe, Argentina, the Vice Minister of Health of that province, Débora Ferrandini, described the experience of closing a closed psychiatric institution to what she defined as to try “a different logic from what is usually applied in hospital management” and to refer the patients to the health system and to the families: “This generated an earthquake, resistances from the professionals but many people who understood that suffering must be housed and make room in the ward of hospitals. ”
Portal Amarillo, Center of information and National Reference of the Drug Network of Uruguay is the institution created in 2005, from the qualitative changes that occurred in that country following the outbreak of cocaine base paste in 2001, “that in Uruguay became a problem of public health and not a repressive problem”, presented Susana Grunbaum, Director of the institution. “The problematic use is a contemporary social symptom and there is a personal suffering. There are social causes, but we also want to hear every person and family”, she affirmed. Currently, after caring three thousand people in three years, the institution is evaluating the current status of these patients: “We had contact with a hundred of those three thousand. Of this hundred, half were without consuming, 25% with a smaller consumption and 25% with an equal or worse consumption”. Given these results, Grunbaum clarified: “The abstinence is not the only goal. The goal is to renew or start a social reintegration.”
Finally, Luiz Paulo Guanabara, representative of the International Network of Drug users (INPUD), indicated that “is not an easy task in today’s world to represent drug users, because it is a criminalized minority “. To illustrate this situation, he explained that the 85 percent of the population of Rio de Janeiro blames drug users of the drug traffic, “therefore it is a risk to present oneself as a user, employment can be lost, be frowned upon by peers and family, etc”.
Consequences of the war on drugs
“If we keep pursuing the one who consumes, we will continue to be useful to drug-trafficking”, said Argentine Judge Patricia Marcela Llerena, United Nations consultant on issues of Money Laundering at the opening of the panel on “Consequences of the war on drugs”. And she added: “The money laundering process is not done by people hiding in the jungle, but by people who understand at what degree the States are corrupted, to derive money from the illegal activity and that wanders our cities”.
Another consequence of the war on drugs is the increase in prison population. To this referred the Judge Oral Court in Criminal Nro. 1 of the City of Buenos Aires, Martin Edgardo Vázquez Acuña, who affirmed: “Judges do not have effective tools let alone the possibility of social inclusion of this intramural population”. He then stated that from the Scientific Advisory Committee in matters of Control of Illicit Traffic of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Complex Crime of the Chief of Cabinet of which he is also a member, indicated that “there can be no plots, a policy within the prison and another of health but the policy should be established by the Minister of Health.”
In the Latin-American context, the effects on the populations of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, the three producer countries of the one hundred percent of the world’s cocaine, were analyzed by Bolivian Dionicio Núñez Tangara, coordinator of Coca and Sovereignty, and the Peruvian expert Hugo Cabieses, director of DRIS (Sustainable Rural Development).
The coca growers’ leader explained that after the appointment of Evo Morales as president of Bolivia, a strategy of war against drug-trafficking with a view of respect for human rights was devised. Bolivia proposes the coca leaf to be legislated as an agricultural product, heritage of the Bolivian State, “very far from the controlled substances”. Núñez Tangara explained that for the current legislation, “the coca producer is the same as a drug-trafficker”.
The new control strategy of coca leaf production for the drug-trafficking includes reducing crops in a controlled manner by the same organizations of coca grower. “Our aim is to stabilize the crop on 20 000 acres: 12 000 for domestic consumption, northern Argentina and Chile, and 8000 for industrial products. According to United Nations’ monitoring, there is 30 000 that we can reduce with the new coca law which we, the coca federations, are outlining ourselves.” he explained.
The Andean Amazonian war, the Plan Colombia, the Plan Dignity in Bolivia before the presidency of Evo Morales and the persecution in Peru were analyzed by Peruvian expert Hugo Cabieses, who presented compelling figures: “In 1992 the acres cultivated between Peru, Bolivia and Colombia were 11 500, in 2004 they had dropped to just 11 000. This means that under the pretext of fighting drugs, they are militarizing our countries borders. These plans do not increase the democratic spaces; on the contrary they restricted them”.
The panel was moderated by Mauricio Zorondo, from Chile, Executive Secretary of the National School of Studies and Training on Approach for Addictions and associated Critical situations (EFAD).
Geopolitics: the criminalization of the states in Latin America
One of the epicenters of the war on drugs was the Andean region. Diverse studies indicate that this war was not oriented to fight the trafficking and consumption, but rather acquired connotations of economic and ideological character. With this explanation opened the panel “Geopolitics of drugs”, that had as exhibitors experts from Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina, with the moderation of Horacio Cattani, Judge of the Federal Criminal and Correctional Court of Appeals of the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The result was not the desired one: the erradication was not achieved, but the repression intensified, especially with the so-called Plan Dignity. That plan in 2002 alone claimed 14 injured and 10 dead people in the framework of the policies of ” zero coca”, revealed the Bolivian Froilán Castillo Siles, head of the Coordination Department of the National Council Against Illicit Drug Trafficking (CONALTID). For the specialist given this scenario “one wonders if the battle was against the traffic or against the producers and the coca leaf “.
Castillo Siles concluded: “The appointment of the president Evo Morales, product of the accumulation of an historic struggle, allows us to be on a path that goes in alignment, decolonization of the State and decolonization of policies on drugs”.
In turn, the Colombian Ricardo Vargas Meza, director of Andean Action and an associate member of the Transnational Institute (TNI), dedicated his exposition to show how the data presented by United concerning the effectiveness of the Plan Colombia (which shows a 28 percent reduction of cocaine production in two years) are questionable in terms of the methodology used. He explained that in the late 1990s, the surrender of pure cocaine per hectare was estimated at 4.2 tons and in 2008 was over 5.3 tones. “There is a big trap after including the surrender per hectare we discovered that the reduction was 16% and not 28% as shown in the estimates using UN standards, “he said.
“The data worked in this manner have a very political sense. The topic of the success of the Plan Colombia justifies the repressive strategy on the region”, said Vargas Meza. He concluded: “The drug trafficking problem in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America is not due to the absence of a state but is more related to a process of criminalization of the state”.
The closing of the panel was in charge of Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, professor and researcher of the Torcuato di Tella University of Argentina, who analyzed the current international context and defined the political system of the drug phenomenon deeply rooted in the global dynamics. He questioned the motivations that lead to the justification of a war in a 0.1 percent of the population with problematic drug use worldwide.
And he made three recommendations: 1) moderate regulations, establish differences according to the type of drug; 2) to demand coherence between human rights, environmental and drugs policies and 3) to incorporate citizen diplomacy carried out by the self-organized population to question the current policies and propose alternatives.
New winds in Latin-America?
The I Latin-American Conference Drug Policy took two intense days, in which in parallel to the debates, there were four satellite meetings. The American Network of Intervention in Situations of Social Suffering (RAISSS) coordinated an encounter with member organizations of the Latin American Network of Organizations working in Drug Dependence (RIOD) and with Intercambios to reach an articulation and assemble a common agenda for the region. Then on Wednesday 5 August afternoon, there was a meeting between government officials, experts and NGO representatives of Latin-American in order to strengthen the dialogue and collaboration on initiatives. Finally, on Friday, 7 August afternoon, took place the encounter between drug and harm reduction experts of the region, in order to expand the Latin-American participation in the Global Network of Drug Users and a meeting of the Youth Network for reducing drug-related harm.
At the closing session of the First Latin-American Conference on Drug Policy, Graciela Touzé, President of Intercambios, summarized the two days of meeting: “Maybe for the first time we can say that a real air of change is felt in the region. Hopefully this is the beginning of a work process to improve the conditions of our populations and drug policy for Latin America.”
More information on: www.conferenciadrogas.com/2009