Heads of state and foreign ministers from across the Western Hemisphere arrive in Antigua, Guatemala, today for the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). The three-day meeting will begin with an inaugural session at 6:00 pm (local time) this evening. The primary focus of the Assembly, as noted in the draft declaration, is to discuss effective solutions to the world drug problem and ways to devise a comprehensive and integrated approach to tackle this issue in the Americas.
According to Guatemalan Foreign Affairs Minister Fernando Carrera, consensus already exists among member states that the final declaration should include changes to the current anti-drug policy in the hemisphere. “We already have some ideas on how to change drug-fighting policies,” he said. On Monday, dozens of human rights organizations signed a letter asking leaders “to discuss and rethink the existing initiatives with a view to place human rights at the center of the debate.”
The Assembly takes place two weeks after the OAS released a report that urges “assessing existing signals and trends that lean toward the decriminalization or legalization of the production, sale and use of marijuana.” Some member states have argued that the report fails to make specific proposals and reveals that there is no consensus among OAS member states to legalize cocaine, the illegal drug with the greatest impact on the region. According to OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, the Assembly will not approve the report, but will serve as “a platform for discussion and for reaching an agreement to see which agency will monitor the study.”
On Thursday afternoon, during the meeting’s fourth plenary session, the Assembly will elect three new members to serve on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The six candidates to the Commission are José de Jesús Orozco (Mexico), Rodrigo Escobar Gil (Colombia), Javier de Belaúnde López de Romaña (Peru), Paulo Vannuchi (Brazil), Erick Roberts Garcés (Ecuador) and James Cavallaro (United States). The Assembly is also expected to discuss some of the controversial reforms to the IACHR being put forward by a group of member states led by Ecuador.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is leading the U.S. delegation. During his visit, Kerry will meet with Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and hold bilateral talks with his regional counterparts. The U.S. delegation will also include R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta S. Jacobson; Assistant Secretary of State for Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William R. Brownfield; and U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS Carmen Lomellin.