Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jun 2013
Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock, AR)
Copyright: 2013 The Associated Press
Note: Accepts letters to the editor from Arkansas residents only
Author: Sonia Perez Diaz


ANTIGUA, Guatemala - Latin American countries frustrated by the 
United States' refusal to change its drug-war strategy are pushing 
the U.S. government to look at alternatives to a fight that has 
killed tens of thousands in a region beset by drug cartels.

Guatemalan Foreign Relations Secretary Fernando Carrera said the 
subject of drugs would top the agenda at the Organization of American 
States' General Assembly, which began its three-day session in 
Antigua on Tuesday evening.

"We have already reached a consensus and agreed that our final 
declaration will include changes to the current anti-drug model," 
Carrera said. "We already have some ideas on how to change 
drug-fighting policies."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary for the 
Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William 
R. Brownfield were attending the meeting, which convened two weeks 
after the organization released a report calling for a serious 
discussion on legalizing marijuana.

The study doesn't make specific proposals and found there is "no 
significant support" among the organization's 35 member states for 
legalizing cocaine, the illegal drug with the greatest impact on 
Latin America, or other harsher drugs.

The study was commissioned after some Latin American leaders called 
on President Barack Obama to rethink the war on drugs at last year's 
Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia.

It urges "assessing existing signals and trends that lean toward the 
decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale and use of 
marijuana. Sooner or later decisions in this area will need to be taken."

The Obama administration, however, believes it has already adopted a 
comprehensive counter-narcotics approach that melds cutting demand 
for drugs and treatment with law enforcement and interdiction of supply.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry said the OAS would 
endorse that multipronged strategy and pointed out that there is no 
consensus either within the hemisphere or in individual countries on 

This is true even in the United States, where several states have 
legalized marijuana, said the official, who was not authorized to 
preview Kerry's discussions publicly. The U.S is open to discussing 
ideas, but will not as a federal government support decriminalization.

Human Rights Watch urged the OAS countries to explore legal 
regulation as a way to help stem the violence of organized crime and 
drug traffickers inflicted on many Latin American countries. The 
international human rights group said that criminalizing personal 
drug use "undermines" basic human rights.

"The 'drug war' has taken a huge toll in the Americas, from the 
carnage of brutal drug trafficking organizations to the egregious 
abuses by security forces fighting them," the group's Americas 
director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said in a statement. "Governments 
should find new policies to address the harm drug use causes, while 
curbing the violence and abuse that have plagued the current approach."

Dozens of human-rights organizations from Canada to Argentina signed 
a letter Monday asking for leaders "to discuss and rethink the 
existing initiatives with a view to place human rights in the center 
of the debate."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was among those urging a 
discussion of legalization. He said that while his country extradites 
hundreds of purported drug traffickers for trial in the U.S., 
criminals turn to other countries where law enforcement is weaker. 
Central America and Mexico in particular have been hit hard as 
traffickers shifted operations there.

President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, a hard-hit cocaine transit 
country along with neighboring Honduras, made headlines shortly after 
taking office last year when he proposed legalizing drugs.

Meanwhile, Kerry, who arrived Tuesday at the Guatemalan mountain 
resort of Antigua, plans to demand changes in the 35-nation 
Organization of American States as he visits Latin America for the 
first time since taking office.

Officials traveling with Kerry said he would try to convince fellow 
members of the need for major changes in the organization's 
bureaucracy and a return to its core mission of promoting human 
rights, democracy and development.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Lee of The 
Associated Press
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