WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
3 Nov 2016 | News

Summary: VI Latin American and I Caribbean Conference on Drug Policy

UNODC: “We advocate for the abolition of punitive approaches, and we seek actions rooted in the right to health and human rights”

The Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),Aldo Lale-Demoz, stated the above at the opening ceremony of the VI Latin American Drug Policy Conference and I Caribbean Drug Policy Conference that takes place today and tomorrow in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

(Dominican Republic, October 5, 2016) More than 700 people attended the opening of the most important gathering of the Latin American drug policy reform movement. Officials, experts and broad sectors of civil society closely followed the presentation of the senior UNODC official, who spoke about the lessons learned and best practices arising from technical assistance programs carried out by agency and which forms the basis of its analysis regarding its 75 regional and national offices in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Aldo Lale-Demoz acknowledged that “the international community has made an important step in recent years to recognize that drug use and related complications – such as HIV, hepatitis C and drugs overdoses – are health issues. He noted that, “they must be addressed first by the public health system, since it is a problem that requires prevention, treatment and evidence-based care, where punishment, beyond violating human rights, has not yielded positive results; rather it tends to worsen the situation regarding addictions community peace and social cohesion“. “We advocate for the abolition of punitive approaches, driving and we seek actions rooted in the right to health and human rights”, he said.

Regarding criminal justice, he said that “entities engaged in law enforcement and criminal justice should focus primarily on combating more serious drug crimes and dismantle transnational criminal organizations. The criminalization of farmers engaged in illicit crops is neither effective nor fair. Farmers plant illicit crops due to poverty, exclusion, or coercion by illegal armed groups,”said the senior official. He also noted the commitment to “improve the availability and reasonable use of controlled drugs, as they are essential for the relief of pain related health conditions”.

Presidential Commitment to Women Incarcerated for Drug Offenses

An important promise was made by the Dominican Republic’s Minister of Women, Janet Camilo, who said that “in our country addressing the drug issue has been made only from a punishment basis. It’s like the Dominican Republic is not aware that we have to work from prevention.” The public applauded when she declared: “we aim that women accused of nonviolent drug offenses should not go to prison, since most do not pose a threat to society,” adding that, “reducing the female prison population is a priority for President of the Republic”.

“Do not leave anyone behind”

UNAIDS Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, César Núñez, called for a moment of reflection because “the world is failing to protect the health of people who use drugs, many of whom have been traumatized by violence, stigmatized and incarcerated.” For the official, the “Leave No One Behind” 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda “includes drug users”. He also highlighted the “work with civil society, including associations of people who use drugs”. Finally he said: “We have been working with various United Nations agencies so that the pillars of public health are incorporated into drug control policies”.

For his part, the Resident Coordinator of this UN body, Lorenzo Jimenez de Luis, said that “this conference is extremely relevant” and also noted that “while there is no consensus on drug policy, the Sustainable Development Goals are underwritten for the vast majority of the international community, and their axis have close ties to the drug issue, such as reducing poverty and achieving peace, which inherently requires a change in drug policy”.

Health first

The representative of the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS)Arazeli Azuara stressed that “the drug problem requires multidimensional, comprehensive and cross-cutting responses”. She also said that “one of the great unfinished business’ is a focused health and human rights approach”. “We will not be able to solve it without regional cooperation”, said the official.

Alma Morales, Representative of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO / WHO) put the emphasis on “ensuring access to controlled drugs and reducing the stigma that hinders access to treatment”. She also noted that her agency promotes a “public health approach, investing in scientific evidence and joint drug policy targets for human development”.

Continuing, Pablo Cymerman, Executive Coordinator of CONFEDROGAS and Director of Institutional Relations for the Intercambios Civil Association of Argentina, stressed that “the current drug control policy have only deepened exclusion and continue to reinforce the stigma, discrimination and abuses affecting people who use drugs”. He further stated that “the punitive approach has had devastating effects and failed to reduce substance use, while increasing levels of violence and organized crime have been strengthened”. “Governments are destined to give a disproportionate amount of resources to the repressive policies, to the detriment of direct efforts to improve the human condition”. “It is necessary to prioritize responses from a public health perspective rather than through the criminal justice system”, he said.

Meanwhile, Santo Rosario Ramirez, Director of the Center for Integral Orientation and Investigation (COIN), local organizer of the conference, noted that “policies based on repression are not delivering the expected results” and proposed the we “rethink drug policies to seek the welfare of human beings, and not fill the prisons with consumers”.

Modify the drug law

Finally, Victor Terrero, Executive Director of the National Council for HIV and AIDS in Dominican Republic asked those present “not to discriminate against drug users” and stressed the need to “change the law 50-58 on Drugs and Controlled Substances” because “it criminalizes consumption, limiting harm reduction interventions for the prevention of HIV in drug users,” the official said.  “We remember today and every day that equality and non-discrimination, are key to achieving a just and equitable society, and to think and act with the conviction that we can be part of this transformation,” he said.

Drug Policy and the Right to Justice

“Incarcerating high numbers of women removes them from their families and violates their rights”

Punitive responses to drug offenses remain a decisive factor in the increase in the prison population, along with inhumane detention conditions. The panelists focused on this reality to engage in an active discussion.

Priscilla Chavez Mendez, spokesperson for women incarcerated for minor drug offenses in Costa Rica, gave an emotional speech related to the issues she experienced when she was arrested for a drug offense, an activity that had to do with economic desperation to keep her four children. “Many women are deprived of their families and their rights to be imprisoned,” Priscila said and complained of “vulnerable situations that lead you to commit these acts”. She reflected that “we do not open eyes in time”.

Maria Cristina Meneses Sotomayor, Public Defender from Ecuador, said that “drug policy is wrongly framed as criminal policies.” On the other hand, she said that “drug reforms within the criminal law in Ecuador has helped people with small amounts of drugs to not be imprisoned.” She also stressed that “the percentage of women in prison in Ecuador decreased by 43 percent” due to the policy.

Meanwhile, Zhuyen Molina Murillo, Public Defender of Costa Rica charged with the unit of Gender, Crime and Legislative Advocacy, said the reform “must be based in human rights” and that “the law 9161 means that rights are paramount.” “This was the main tool for the release of hundreds of women like Priscilla Chavez and allowed them to reunite with their families, since many of these women did not have many opportunities before committing the crime. ” For this public official, “the great challenge is the proportionality of punishment, human rights, we need to continue studying and researching and hear these stories like Priscila’s that touch hearts”.

The researcher from the Center for Citizen Security Studies at the University of Chile, Diego Piñol developed a report on lessons learned from drug courts in Chile. For the academic, courts “have no legal recognition and is only possible thanks to an agreement between the operators of the judicial system and the health sector”. On the other hand, he said that “judges and prosecutors have trouble interpreting serious diagnoses, to know and be able to assess treatment processes, knowledge about addictions and motivational processes, adherence, and rehabilitation”.

The official discussant was researcher Alejandro Corda from Intercambios Civil Association and member of the Drug Studies and Law Collective(CEDD), who said that “the population arrested for drug possession grows every day in prisons in the region, and it is clear that it is a social problem.” “Health and treatment for these individuals is a right and they should not be imprisoned because this generates greater vulnerability and increasing poverty in the communities”.

Coletta Youngers, a research affiliate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) moderated the panel.

Milton Romani was honored in Santo Domingo

Milton Romani was General Secretary of Uruguay’s National Drug Advisory and Permanent Representative for Uruguay to the Organization of American States. He is someone who, acting from the realm of governance, has contributed the most in addressing drug policies from a human rights perspective. He was a promoter of reforms to legally regulate cannabis in Uruguay. Graciela Touzé, president of Intercambios Civil Association, presented a placard of appreciation.

With emotion, Milton Romani declared that “the participation of civil society is essential for designing public policy.” He also reflected on the so-called war on drugs, calling it a “war against the people.” “When we attack violence we increase violence. We live in a very unfair region; we have the highest rates of violence because poverty and inequality have increased much more than growth and development,” the former official concluded. “We must rescue the agenda of rights towards humanity, we must ask for the right to health, denied to thousands of users because of drug use”.

Advances towards Cannabis Regulation

“We must question whether we leave drugs under the control of organized crime or controlled by the state and society”

With this sentence, Milton Romani Gerner, former Secretary General of the National Drug Board of Uruguay and Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, concluded his participation while providing details of the process that led to the law regulating and controlling cannabis in Uruguay, ”it was debated in 2013 within the National Congress and approved in January 2014 as part of a citizen security plan”, he said. “There are around six thousand Uruguayans who are either cultivating for personal use or members cannabis clubs.” “If you want to buy in a pharmacy, prior registration is required and one can only consume up to 40 grams per month,” he said. “This is an experience that is based on the Uruguayan conditions that decided not to penalize personal consumption for decades, but had to enter the illegal market in order to buy. With the new law, users are consuming with a societal legitimacy.” For Romani, there are two certain possibilities: “leave drugs under the control of drug traffickers or controlled by the state and society”.

Starting with the epic song of Peter Tosh Legalize it,Vicki Hanson, a member of the Steering Committee of the Association of Ganja Growers and Producers presented on the ganja movement in Jamaica. Vicki said that in “2015 began with an amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act and decriminalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis, up to 2 ounces or 56 grams, since most young people are being penalized for possession of small amounts of cannabis and we need to expunge the criminal records of those who were found in possession of small amounts.  With this, more than 2000 records were expunged.  For Hanson “the amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act was a recognition of the rights of a society that has been marginalized by the traditional use of ganja”.  “A lack a change of attitude within the medical community means that they deny the medical uses of cannabis.” On the other hand, “big companies from Europe and the United States come looking to enter the market, and producers/cultivators are not part of these talks”.

The next speaker was Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, President of the Commission for the decriminalization of marijuana in the CARICOM Region and former president of the Inter-American Commission cannabis Human Rights. To Rose-Marie, “saying that cannabis is a dangerous drug prevents us from doing scientific research to prove the beneficial effects it has.” On the other hand, she said that “decriminalization of small amounts of cannabis does not go far enough towards full decriminalization, which is the ultimate goal.” Finally, she stressed that “society excludes people who use cannabis with moral condemnation, prejudice and ignorance”.

Donald MacPherson, Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition said that “the government of Canada is working aggressively on a public consultation process to bring cannabis regulation to reality” and that polls say that “68 percent of Canadians support a regulated approach.” He also noted that “the governments’ aim to restrict cannabis use to protect young people.” However, he reflected on “how will Canada respect the international drug treaties” and concluded that “Uruguay might consider this a treaty problem, but we must also find an effective  regulating mechanism at a regional level”.

The discussant was Jorge Hernandez Tinajero, a Mexican member of the Latin American Coalition of Cannabis Activists who noted that “the cultivation for personal use by users is what has worked nimbly or at least has achieved more than the current bureaucracy”.

The moderator was Pien Metaal, Project Coordinator for Latin America program Drugs and Democracy Transnational Institute (TNI) – CONFEDROGAS.

Round Table: UNGASS… And now what?

The process leading up to UNGASS 2016 reflected small but valuable advances: the use of human rights language, proportionality in penalties, greater gender perspective, access to controlled medicines and incorporating other UN agencies into the discussion. Also evident was a lack of consensus, reflecting the failures of the prevailing system and the important role played by civil society in this journey. However, in the international drug control system, no meaningful reforms have been produced. What challenges does this scenario present us with? Is the absence of consensus a starting for point for a new consensus? Which partnerships could be strengthened in anticipation of the high-level meeting of 2019?

Martin Jelsma, an international drug policy specialist from the Transnational Institute (TNI) in the Netherlands, reflected that “there are some countries that have challenged the drug treaties system, such as Uruguay and its regulated cannabis market, or Bolivia with the coca plant.” He affirmed that “What happened in UNGASS was a reaffirmation of treaties, since the agenda was completely limited from the start,” adding, however, that “there were a few advances after heavy negotiation on issues such as public health, access to controlled medicines and the cultural importance of traditional uses of drugs”.

Claudia Salcedo Vásquez, an official of the Department of International Affairs of the Office of Drug Policy of the Colombian Ministry of Justice, said that “the positions should move towards one another in order to approach a new global consensus on drug policy.” “The public health focus and the gender perspective have been introduced to the document, but issues such as non-medicinal cannabis use have been left out.” For this official, “the challenge after UNGASS, not just for Colombia, is to move from words to practice with the adoption of new actions that reflect what is said at UNGASS, to demonstrate that these actions exist and they work”.

“In the international realm there are opportunities. The Organization of American States signed the 2016-2020 Action Plan, which incorporated public health, human rights and gender approaches. The development of international experiences is also a space that can be used to implement evidence-based programs”, said Salcedo Vázquez.

“Projects, programs and policies that are proven to be efficient need to be promoted and made visible, such as comprehensive interventions around drug-dealing, regulation of drug markets, and implementation of harm reduction programs in various countries”, she said.

For Yaw Akrasi-Sarpong, Executive Secretary of the Board of Narcotics Control of the Ministry of the Interior of Ghana, UNGASS is simply a process, and it will not end in 2019 because it is a historic battle of elitism, prohibitionist narrative and powerful forces.” The African representative affirmed that “Africa has the most consistent experience in failed drug policies.” “I want to acknowledge the advances that have been made with regards to drug policy in Latin America”. He also noted that “civil society organizations are key to the reform process. UNGASS could not have been possible if it were not for the strength of civil society cracking and breaking barriers”. Finally the Ghanaian official understands that “we are following a negative narrative. We are talking about cocaine and cannabis, but the science has shown that alcohol and tobacco cause more deaths a year than cocaine. We need to change the narrative, and put more emphasis on the benefits that regulation could bring”.

Speaking last was Diederik Lohman, Associate Director of the Division of Health and Human Rights of Human Rights Watch, who highlighted the role of civil society in drug policy. The objectives of the civil society in each country have to be concrete, specific and measurable, and they must be of importance to the ultimate goal of protecting public health against the risks of drug use because, although we tried, we failed to get it included into the UNGASS outcomes document. “The 2019 Declaration is an opportunity to include all of this, and we will achieve it”, he said.

Ernesto Cortés, Executive Director of the Costa Rican Association for the Study and Intervention in Drugs, moderated the table.

Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights within Drug Policy

In the UNGASS 2016 outcome document, member states established that the ‘efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and effectively address the world drug problem are complementary and mutually reinforcing.” However, the forced eradication of crops, among other measures, contributes to poverty, conflict and displacement of communities. In this sense, States have proposed goals to achieve sustainable development and assumed international obligations in human rights, and drug policies developed at a national level need to be consistent with such purposes. With these questions, the debate initiated.

Amapola Duran Salas, representative of the National Confederation of Agricultural Producers of the coca-growing regions of Peru (CONPACCP) began by stating that “coca, poppy and cannabis are unfairly demonized.” “Our ancient sacred leaf is medicine in its natural state and gives us life, and is our livelihood,” she said. “Governments pay more attention to international treaties and continue criminalizing cultivators.” “There are no public policies for agriculture and there are no development opportunities for rural families”, Amapola said.

“There is a lot of wealth for few people and a lot of misery for the vast majority in Peru. In practice, development programs do not exist, and millions are spent on combating drug trafficking. “However, we have some hope in UN programs”, she concluded.

Robert Husbands, on behalf of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, analyzed the positive and negative aspects of the UNGASS 2016 outcome document of according to the goals set by the ODS. For them, “the document calls for health services to be available to people who use drugs, and which must be voluntary and evidence-based, however, there is no mention of harm reduction strategies, which raises a great contradiction.” “While the document reiterates the goal of ending HIV, it does not address the obstacles to accessing the right to health for people who use drugs,” Husbands said. He also analyzed that “the document is positive when calling for proportional sentencing for drug offenses but does not critically analysis on human rights violations and should provide reparations to victims”. “It also fails to address discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, while calling for a gender perspective” creating yet another contradiction, according to Husbands. Finally, he stressed that the document “does not recognize ancestral, religious and spiritual uses of drugs”.

Natasha Horsfield, Advocacy and Project Director for Drug Policy at Health Poverty Action in the UK, said that “we are failing to formulate policies that can cope with the emerging challenges”. For the specialist, drug policies will not lead to the SDGs because “there is a prioritization of supply reduction on poverty reduction”. For her, policies should “strengthen prevention and treatment, which requires an improvement in access to harm reduction”. She also stressed that “women disproportionately suffer the burden of current policies”. For Horsfield, policies must “promote peaceful societies, and the militarization in many countries in the fight against drugs exacerbates violence, and prohibition increases profits of organized crime”. “There is a huge funding gap for the SDGs and spend billions of dollars in policies that hurt”, she reflected and concluded that if policies are not changed, the SDGS will be unattainable.

Finally, Herney Ruiz, Colombian cultivator from the Cauca region, and member of the Integration Committee of the Colombian Massif (CIMA) provided an overview of their experience in their territory, where “coca leaf chewing, for ancestral, medicinal and spiritual use has been historic, but in the 1980s easy money, weapons, and the destruction of our ancient culture that leaves drug trafficking and violence” arrived.  “In response to this situation we created a school to educate ourselves and within 10 years we lowered violent deaths. Educational levels rose and we began to form leaders. But we continue to be discriminated against because we are cultivators. Coca cultivation provides us with an illicit impoverishment rather than illicit enrichment” he said, while the audience applauded. “If we do not respect life, drug policies will fail, because they have to be focused on strengthening the social fabric, propose sustainable development and peace”, he said.

The discussant was Javier Sagredo, Democratic Governance and Public Safety Advisor at the United Nations Development Program, who called on everyone “put ourselves in the shoes of those living closely to the process, whether through cultivating, in trafficking, and that it barely provides them with the minimum needed to survive.” For UNDP, “policies that have emerged from the state have proved to be ineffective, we must erode and reform policies that do less harm”. “We do not have the resilience necessary to respond quickly with public policies,” he reflected, “we must remember that we can not ignore drug policy discussions, because these policies criminalize and encourage violence”.

Rafael Torruella Perez moderated the panel, who is the Executive Director of Intercambios Puerto Rico.

Public Health and Harm Reduction Strategies in Latin America

In order to keep up with the constant social, cultural and political transformations within the drug policy and harm reduction debates, the panel began with a few questions such as: How are harm reduction techniques adapted to the Latin America and Caribbean reality? What experiences can be found in the region?

To answer these questions, Luciana Temer, Secretary of Development and Welfare for Sao Paulo, Brazil, presented details of the implementation of the Open Arms Program (Bracos Abiertos) which aims to reduce crack use in Brazil. “We built a space for users with the goal of improving and evaluating their health and welfare,” said Temer. “Our offer of reintegration, including bathrooms, food, clothing, and paid work, provided certain acceptance on the part of user,” she said. “Drug abuse is a social problem, which does not mean that might not be completely met by the health services provided, and rather illustrates the need for this type of support to correct the problem”, she said.

Then Nuria Calzada, Project Coordinator for Energy Control, a risk and harm reduction program within the NGO Welfare and Development Association (ABD) of Spain provided the background on their experience in risk reduction work in public spaces, including nightlife spaces. “You need to go where users are, where drugs are being consumed,” said Calzada. “Our perspective is based in science, but also in human rights, including the right to health, privacy, the right to leisure and the right to education”.  “Harm reduction implies that abstinence is not the only way, but that we take a pragmatic approach, doing what we can to minimize the impact of drugs.”  She also asserted that “responsible drug use is possible, because there are many ways to relate to them, from the safest to the most problematic. Responsible use means that the person has the necessary means to achieve the effects you want, and avoid the potential risks that might arise from that use.”  She also stressed that the success of Energy Control is based on its communication “beginning with language of respect, which accepts consumption as a reality, and adapts the message according to the sector of the population to which it is addressed”.

Bibiana Restrepo Lizcano, manager of social life and mental health with the Ministry of Health and Social Security of the Mayor of Pereira, Colombia, presented details of the needle exchange in the city and noted that “harm reduction is not just to deliver what users need in order to be safe, you also need to generate an entire educational campaign, awareness and expertise, in order to influence the way in which drugs are used, so it is the right way and able to minimize the impact”.

In addition, she plotted the challenges that exist for the development and implementation of harm reduction programs. “In principle, it is difficult to get space and sensitize the responsible officials in order to get permission to carry it out. After the implementation, it is important to continue evaluating so you can improve service to consumers, and access to these projects and programs”, she said.

Meanwhile, Lidiane Malanquini, Project Coordinator with Axis Public Security and Territorial Development NGO Networks da Maré in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, spoke about the alternative spaces of socialization. “We provide safe spaces in the favelas in northern Rio de Janeiro, seeking to empower mainly crack users. Through alternative spaces of socialization, it can empower the perception of those actors who live in Maré, who have been involved in the realization, implementation and evaluation of public policies. Thus it is that we operate as a dialogue with the country’s institutions to guarantee the rights of people who use drugs”.

Juan Radhames de la Rosa Hidalgo, Executive Director of Open House, Dominican Republic noted that “the war on drugs is a source of political domination. In the Dominican Republic, we have had a policy that is consistent with this view, we have a policy that is absolutely contrary to human rights.” “In the Dominican Republic need to quickly establish policies to reduce risks such as drug substitution, it is urgent to supply appropriate treatment given the social conditions associated with the use of heroin, and generate changes in the law, analyzing the contributions of science to the drug policy debate, which are centered on the human being, taking into account the inalienable rights of individuals,” he said. “It is necessary to create ample opportunities for advocacy, awareness and sensitization of the general population, in order to for the public and organized social movements to take on the issue of drug policy” Radhames said, regarding the impact of the conference on the country.

Vanessa Brito Uziely Rosario, Manager Operations Center Integral Orientation and Investigation (COIN) moderated the panel.

Drugs and violence, other responses are possible?

The classic paradigm of the “war on drugs” has led to several countries in the region facing extraordinary levels of violence. Increased structural inequality and social exclusion are some of the factors that influence this phenomenon. What strategies could reduce the current rates of violence? How to strengthen South-South cooperation and address common threats to Latin America and Africa?

Rafael Silva West, former General Manager of Drug Policy and Chairman of the State Drug Policy Council of Pernambuco (CEPAD / PE), Brazil, recounted the experience of his country’s programs for crack users in extreme vulnerability. “We develop services on the street, 24-hour centers, hosting services”. She then gave some statistics that account for the magnitude of the program. “5,714 people were treated between 2011 and 2015″. “For every two people, one had suffered an attempted murder, creating an environment of violence. 65% had received a death threat because of drug issues in the past 6 months, but 70% felt safe when they are in the program”, he concluded.

Adeolu Ogunrombi, from the YouthRise network on drug policy in West Africa, said that “the experience of violence is very different in different countries” and noted that in his region, “it is estimated that 30% of drugs that transit the region are consumed locally.” “It’s not just traffic.” Compared with the Latin American experience, “the groups that traffic drugs in West Africa are more informal and most gangs are not part of a system that is possible to research.” “Those who participate in the market do not interact in an confrontational manner”, he said.

Oscar Giovanni Zepeda, founder of the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace and the organization United Evangelical Churches for Peace in El Salvador, said that “there are 15 to 20 daily deaths from violence in El Salvador following the pacification initiatives, when the rate was 8 to 10.” “Many priests are working but we must learn to organize as churches and as communities, we have held roundtables on pacification, society, and police. The children in our country are being slaughtered there, the youth have been stigmatized,“ he said.  “We have held marches to call for peace in our country but the government does nothing more than create taxes for public safety.”  He also reported that “there are many people leaving the country, entire communities sometimes. Because young people in the area, will die and no ones cares whether they are gang members or not“, he said.

Andrés Antillano, researcher at the Institute of Criminal Sciences, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences of the Central University of Venezuela began criticizing the narrative “drug-violence” that “reinforces the criminalization of poverty, with speeches in which people who use drugs are poor and excluded and would never seem like artists that can create.” For the Venezuelan researcher, the issue should be studied “as a problem of structure and class” and that “violent crime do not have as much to do with drugs as with the structural conditions of exclusion and inequality. This relationship / drug-violence narrative serves to criminalize poverty”, he argued.

“There is a problem associated with drugs but it has to do with social exclusion”, he concluded.

Finally Lilian Bobea, an expert on security and defense, security and civil-military relations explained that “there is little relationship between drug use and crime.” For the specialist, young people are the most affected by violence. “We’re talking about a continent that is young, and where they are being increasingly criminalized,” she said, adding in the most violent countries in the region, “these countries have a history of violent governments.” “Between 16 and 18% of violence is in the hands of the police,” she argued. “We can not talk about the peace process if we do not understand how violence is generated”, she finally noted.

Julian Quintero, Director of Social Technical Action Corporation (ATS) in Colombia, moderated the panel.

5th Latin American Journalism Prize is awarded: “Drug Policy in Latin America”

Within the framework of the Conference on Drug Policy (Confedrogas) an awards ceremony was held for the winners of the fifth edition of the Latin American Journalism Award ‘Drug Policy in Latin America,’ organized by Exchanges Civil Association of Argentina (IntercambiosAsociación Civil) with the support of the Open Society Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the United Nations Development Program, in order to encourage journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean to develop and offer a high-quality, ethical, human-rights based approach to this problem.

The award seeks to recognize journalists who have committed themselves to this issue, providing compelling and fact-based information. It also serves to enhance the value of journalism as a public service, especially with regard to themes in which accurate information, presented ethically, is imperative for curtailing the criminalization, prejudice and repressive policies that undermine democracy.

Second place went to Deborah Lopes of Brazil by Vice her article “Five days with her: treating drug addiction with ibogaine.” She was awarded the diploma from Diego García Devis of Colombia, Global Drug Policy Program Director for Open Society Foundation.

1st place went to Matías Maxx, also of Vice Brazil, for his piece “The Alemão Complex: Pacification Worked?” Maxx took home the US$1,000 check, provided by the United Nations Development Program, which also funded the cost of his trip to Dominican Republic. Luciana Mermet, Deputy Resident Representative for UNDP, presented Maxx with the award.

Adrian Pietryszyn, coordinator of the competition and ceremony, declared that “Matías Maxx’s work summarizes the spirit of this conference, as it shows that when you want to pacify through violence, as drug policies of the past 50 years have attempted, it only reproduces more violence”.

Closing ceremony: “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”.