Guatemalan President Otto Perez addressing UN General Assembly

Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala delivered a landmark declaration to the United Nations Secretary General calling on the organization to lead a debate on alternative approaches to the current war on drugs, though it is likely to fall on deaf ears.

The statement, issued to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on October 1, contains 11 points outlining the three countries’ views on the current state of organized crime and counternarcotics policy in the Americas (see declaration in English here, and in Spanish here).

Among the key points raised, the states argue that an “urgent” review of the current approach by the “international community on drugs” is required, one that should be conducted “with rigor and responsibility, on a scientific basis, in order to establish effective public policies in this area.”

It is the job of the UN to lead this analysis so that a “new paradigm” can be established that “prevents the flow of resources to organized crime groups,” they state. Once the UN and its member states have conducted their reviews, it would be necessary to convene an international conference so that any decisions made can be transferred into the creation of “more effective strategies and tools” for states to use as they face “the challenge of drugs and their consequences.”

Speaking in front of the UN last week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina all called on member states to join a global debate on drug policy, with Perez stating, “the basic premise of our war on drugs has proved to have serious shortcomings,” reported Reuters.

InSight Crime Analysis

Though none of the three leaders came out last week explicitly in favor of legalizing drugs as an alternative approach, past declarations suggest this is what they would be hoping to move towards if any review was conducted. In October last year, Calderon said “serious analysis” of alternatives, including legalization was needed. Santos followed by stating Colombia would be open to legalization if the world followed suit.

Perez has been by far the most vocal on the failings of the current approach since taking office in January, openly advocating drug decriminalization and legalization. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, he stated that the inability of the US to control its domestic consumption of drugs meant Central America was essentially forced to promote some form of legalization.

The step of joining forces to formally urge the UN to take up the initiative is a landmark in the global drug policy debate. Whether it progresses to anything more, however, remains to be seen.

The US, while supporting debate on the issue, has declared on a number of occasions that they will not alter their prohibitionist stance. What’s more, there is no consensus view within Latin America itself on how to proceed with debating legalization, as a handful of states still outright reject the idea.

[See InSight Crime Map: Drug Policy Country by Country Breakdown]

Following the three leaders’ appearances in front of the UN General Assembly, Yury Fedetov, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that if any change was to come about it would need to start with a formal request to Ban Ki-moon, something which has now been done. However, in light of the UN’s relative silence on the issue, and the fact that the US is by far the biggest funder of the organization, providing it last year with 22 percent of its budget, it seems unlikely there will be any movement on the issue in the near future, despite the growing chorus of calls for change.