September 10th 2014 - The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, today asserted that there is consensus in the region on the need to jointly move forward on four points of the drug issue, which must be concretized at the Special General Assembly that the Organization will hold in Guatemala on September 19: to include in the drug issue approach the public health factor; to seek alternatives to incarceration; to remain vigilant against organized crime; and to work towards institutional strengthening within the region.
Secretary General Insulza was the keynote speaker at a talk organized by a Washingtonian think-tank, the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC, during which he spoke on the challenges of drugs in the Americas, ten days prior to the Special General Assembly, which main theme is “For a Hemispheric Drug Policy in the Twenty-First Century” and which conclusions will be presented to the 20016 General Assembly of the United Nations that will focus its debates on the world drug problem.
The head of the hemispheric Organization indicated that the debate on drug policy in the region stemmed from the Report prepared by the OAS on the Drug Problem in the Americas, led by Secretary General Insulza and presented in May 2013 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. The report was in response to a mandate from the VI Summit of the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia in April 2012.
The head of the OAS said that 16 months after the debate began, there is widespread agreement in the Hemisphere as to the drug problem being a public health issue, not a public safety matter. He further recalled that no one in the region speaks of the "war on drugs,” referring to the policy followed by the region during the past four decades.
The OAS Secretary General also noted that the region agrees on the need to address the issue of prison overcrowding, which is closely related to drug use. In this regard, he said that there are 3.6 million prisoners in the Americas, of which "more than 1.5 million people are detained for drug-related problems, most of them for possession or consumption." Insulza added that there is growing support for the adoption of measures such as alternatives to incarceration or the implementation of Drug Courts for offenders involved in minor drug-related offenses.
At another point in his speech, Secretary General Insulza stated that the new vision on drugs in the region in no way means that we give up the fight against organized crime gangs. On the contrary, he said that "in this area there is also consensus on the need to combat these groups operating outside the law”.
As to the strengthening of institutions, the OAS Secretary General recalled that one of the conclusions of the OAS Report on drugs is that "when there are fewer institutions, there is more crime." In this regard, he stated that "there are countries in which institutional overflow is what produces an increase in crime," noting that when there is a vacuum of authority, criminal groups often take the place of the state, "something we must avoid," he concluded.
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.
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