Latin American Ex-Presidents Sign Anti-Prohibitionist "Vienna Declaration"

Last week, the Chronicle did a feature story on the Vienna Declaration, a sign-on document from the international scientific community calling for the decriminalization of drug use and science-based drug policy reform. The declaration is an official declaration of the XVIII International AIDS Conference, set for Vienna next week.

Aimed at national governments, international organizations, and the United Nations' global drug control bureaucracy seated at Vienna, the declaration went public June 28. Tuesday, the declaration picked up a trio of big-time endorsements, as three former Latin American presidents signed on.

Former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso, former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria were also joined in signing the declaration by Peruvian author and journalist Mario Vargas Llosa, Brazilian writer Paulo Coehlo, and author and former Nicaraguan Vice-President Sergio Ramirez Mercado. All six have already made waves in international drug reform circles as members of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, which in 2008 issued a final report criticizing drug prohibition along lines similar to this year's Vienna Declaration.

"The war on drugs has failed," said Cardoso. "In Latin America, the only outcome of prohibition is to shift areas of cultivation and drug cartels from one country to another, with no reduction in the violence and corruption generated by the drug trade."

"The war on drugs has had such an incredibly negative impact on Latin America, and the fact that the Vienna Declaration is receiving this level of endorsement from former heads of state should serve as an example to those currently in power," said AIDS 2010 Chair Dr. Julio Montaner, President of the International AIDS Society and director of the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, two of the organizations tasked with writing the declaration. "I hope that the Vienna Declaration will inspire many more political leaders to cast aside the drug war rhetoric and embrace evidence-based policies that can meaningfully improve community health and safety."

The Vienna Declaration calls on governments and international organizations, including the United Nations, to take a number of steps, including:

  • undertaking a transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies;
  • implementing and evaluating a science-based public health approach to address the harms stemming from illicit drug use;
  • scaling up evidence-based drug dependence treatment options;
  • abolishing ineffective compulsory drug treatment centers that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and
  • endorsing and scaling up funding for the drug treatment and harm reduction measures endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations.

"Instead of sticking to failed policies with disastrous consequences, we must direct our efforts to the reduction of consumption and the reduction of the harm caused by drugs to people and society," said Cardoso. "Repressive policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions. The way forward to safeguard human rights, security and health is a strategy of peace not war."

"We welcome the support of Presidents Cardoso, Zedillo and Gaviria, as well as the many doctors, scientists, researchers and public figures who have already put their support and endorsement behind the Vienna Declaration," said Dr. Evan Wood, founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy and the chair of the Vienna Declaration writing committee. "This level of support, especially before the conference has started, demonstrates the urgency that global leaders in many disciplines believe we must move towards reforming drug policies."

"The approach to drug policy proposed in the Vienna Declaration will prevent new HIV infections and ensure that people who struggle with addiction have access to the medical and support services they need," said Dr. Brigitte Schmied, AIDS 2010 Local Co-Chair and President of the Austrian AIDS Society. "Access to proven interventions and to the highest standard of health care are rights that each of us values, including those living with addiction."

With an estimated 20,000 people expected to attend next week's sessions, the international AIDS conference is one of the largest public health conferences on the planet. Declaration authors and signatories hope to use it as a springboard in garnering public, scientific, and political support for regime change when it comes to global drug prohibition.

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Corruption and the drugs themselves are the problem

Perhaps if Latin American governments could get a handle on their own internal affairs (e.g.: ex-presidents and/or their affiliates taking money from cartels or looking the other way), these thugs would find somewhere else to go.

Can you think of one positive affect that using illicit drugs has on a person? On a society? You claim the drug war is so terrible. What about the damage that drugs have on users and society at large? DUH!

McD's picture

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Politics… Who needs ‘em? Well, it might just be everyone in this case. There are some intelligent and perceptive people making policy decisions in the US and at the UN (which is really the same thing). They know they have been defeated in their War on Drugs and must find the fact acutely embarrassing. As a rule, people don’t like losing fights or wars and, having done so, saving face becomes highest priority. Defeat has been indirectly admitted by the Obama administration: ‘We no longer call it the War on Drugs.’

The Russians don’t seem to have got the message, though. I’m sure there are plenty of intelligent and perceptive people in the Kremlin, as well as the White House, but they don’t have the same experience of defeat as the Americans do. (They have their own, which is no less valuable.) They’ve gone into ‘moron mode’ in their approach to drugs, just like their counterparts in the West did some thirty-odd years ago. This is something the Russians are extraordinarily good at… And human rights.

The appointment of Yuri Fedotov to the UNODC Boss job is a cause for great celebration for those who are eager to change current international drug policies. Not only does it underline the Americans’ admission of defeat in one of their most ridiculous holy crusades (The War on Drugs) but it has finally set the stage for the repeal of the (US/)UN(/UK) (Axis) ‘Narcotics’ Conventions of 1961 and ’88, which in turn should lead to a number of other equally important and similarly obstructed measures.

Look around outside the box - you don't even really need to think, just open you eyes - and consider an internal dialogue:


‘We’ve lost. What can we do?’

‘Blame it on the Russians.’

‘No-one’s going to buy it.’


‘Make ‘em beg for it.’


‘How so?’


‘Flood the country with heroin so that they have no choice but to demand responsibility for stopping it. That way we kill a whole bunch of birds with one stone:
 1) we save face by distancing ourselves from defeat without even ever actually openly admitting defeat; 
2) they take over, assuming the same position that caused our defeat, making the same mistakes until they’re forced - just as we have been - to come to terms with defeat; that way they take the blame and get called fools for repeating the mistakes which we can claim to have innocently made and they’re seen as idiots for repeating our mistakes; and the really, really good part is that we can then say, ‘Ah, yes, but you see, we’d already understood what we'd done wrong and started to embrace harm reduction before those idiots took over and made a mess of the good work we’d started to do, and we only let them because we’re such good, kind and trusting souls - always willing to give them enough rope to hang themselves - and they pressured us so hard to do so.';
3) when they’ve made such a mess of it that they’re crawling away on their knees, just like they did from Afghanistan twenty years ago, then we can waltz back in as heros, repealing the Conventions, replacing them with new ones to our liking, minimizing damage to our good selves, maximizing damage to them, thereby strengthening our position at the centre of the Axis. How’s that for a strategy?’


‘Let’s do it!’

Personally, I don’t believe the Americans are as stupid as one might be led to believe by a simple analysis of their holy crusades, particularly the War on Drugs. Once they’ve managed to pull off something like the plan outlined above, I’m sure they’ll take a more intelligent approach to the new and improved Axis ‘Narcotics’ Conventions. Having lived and worked in Russia and the ex-Soviet Union for several years, however, I’m afraid I can’t find the same confidence in the Russians’ capabilities. I don’t think I’m revealing anything other than the obvious here. It won’t be long before the Russians have dug a hole for themselves so deep that their infractions of human rights become intolerable and they’re forced to retire from their fantasy role as ‘savior of traditional values’. As far as I can see, this is the only way the Axis is able to deal with the defeat it’s suffered. And it’s not a bad plan.

So take heart those of you who await intelligence from our masters. I see light at the end of the long, long, dark and decaying tunnel which has caused such horrific pain and suffering.

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