Our Readers' Opinions
June 14, 2013

Where is the Caribbean in the OAS Drug Report?

Fri June 14, 2013

by Adaiah J Providence-Culzac

Since the “revolt” by drugs wary countries of the region at the Sixth Summit of the Americas in 2012, the drug debate has moved from the shadows of other developmental issues to take centre stage in a quest to secure the gains that have been made in these other areas.{{more}}

As Secretary General of the OAS Jose Miguel Insulza declared in the OAS led “Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas,” “The drug problem is one of the most important challenges facing the hemisphere, with its impact on public health and the cost incurred by States, and with the tremendous amount of violence that it brings.” Emotions rang loud in Cartagena, Colombia, last year, when many Latin American leaders, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon protested “current prohibitionist policies were like riding a ‘stationary bike’: working hard, but making little forward progress.” Others made the case that only the phenomenon of reducing “demand” in the United States and other North American countries will produce meaningful results in producing (supply) countries in the South. And while, government leaders on the left and right explored the possibility of de-criminalization, legalization, regulation or a mix thereof among other policy prescriptions, U.S President Barack Obama was quick to note legalization is a legitimate topic of debate, but “the United States will not be going in this direction.”

For us in the region, the United States’ position ostensibly seems to be the perennial masquerade of “do as I say, not as I do” for opponents of the status quo, including marijuana advocates. Medical marijuana continues to sweep across the U.S map. States are considering reducing the penalties for marijuana possession to fines rather than jail time and recently, two states have led the way, legalizing the recreational use of the substance. The OAS reports cite Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as the two main suppliers to the Caribbean region. Moreover, the drug problem is not the same across the different territories, but we manage the problem with the same basket of tools. Primarily, the US led Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) has been the forerunner across Caricom that mainly polices the drug/crime/violence problem. According to the United States Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, the initiative among other things facilitates: Maritime and Aerial Security Cooperation, Law enforcement Capacity Building, Border/Port Security and Firearms Interdiction, Justice Sector Reform, Crime Prevention and At-risk Youth.

So, for many of the policy hawks in the lower half of the region, the OAS report has not significantly addressed the crisis facing small island states. Much of the analytical report and the companion scenarios report bear no real value to shape any new pathways or responses to reduce our drug problem. In fact, much of the literature in both documents is written from the perch of United States and other North American countries and selected Andean countries. The problems confronting the United States, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and other countries should not be slighted. The headlines of mass killings, gang wars, human trafficking and other associated crimes and violence cannot be dismissed in contempt. The situation is obviously urgent and the reports present a great opportunity to engender a new dialogue moving forward. However, as a Caribbean national, I am disappointed that the reports simply relegate our issues to broad assumptions, overshadowed by the ‘human face’ of the issues confronting our northern neighbours.


Even where Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines were signalled out in the sections covering cannabis cultivation and marijuana flows, there is nothing analytical of merit or scenario explicit that would help these two countries approach 2013-2025 with new insights. Moreover, it would be a mistake to conclude that the region only suffers from a trans-shipment issue regarding cocaine, the highly addictive stimulant extracted from the cocoa plant, heroin and other hard drugs. The newspapers in our countries, filled with accounts of the young men and women being hauled before the courts for cocaine possession and other related offences, tell a different story. The large numbers of young people at our psychiatric institutions also tell the tale. Maybe the Caribbean has not been able to put a “human face” to our drug problem. And, maybe, the blame does not lay at the OAS desk, but at Caricom and individual governments. It still remains unpopular to have an open debate on the opportunity loss of attending to the problem with police boots, coastguards and jail time. Our societies seemingly are not ready to deal with the “culture of drugs” that it has created. At the same time, our burdened institutions are physically and analytically dilapidated, families and social structures ruptured and the productive labour force of our economies continues to dwindle.

Our “Say No to Drugs” campaigns on the television and other media in the region are still largely the fight against the tobacco industry, even where there is considerable evidence that an increasing number of our citizens including school-aged children are using marijuana, cocaine, inhalants and a host of new-style “highs”. Alcohol use is still not properly regulated, as shop owners and ice box vendors are too worried about the economy rather than the effects of “rum and coke” on the kid in uniform with his $5 bill. Our governments have been slow to become tech savvy with targeted campaigns which maybe more effective and economic. As a reader, you can judge for yourself the last time you came across one of these campaigns on radio or television and the content of this message. Further, consider if you have seen any of these campaigns on the various technological platforms that you frequent. Our approach unsystematically limps on.

Apportioning blame

Someone has to take responsibility for this continued oversight of the region in matters that directly and indirectly affect us. Many things are always done in our name, we receive the politically correct acknowledgements that are well-crafted and shaped in the necessary diplomatic jargons but our voices are never at the table. The last place that Caricom nationals should have been pointing their fingers is at the OAS body that represents our shared ideals in the Americas. As United States Vice President engaged the regional leaders in Trinidad and Tobago recently, it was done as a backdrop to the hummed reality that ‘the Chinese are coming’. Caricom has been faithful and true as citizens of the Americas and the world. However, for a long period of time, since our economies are no longer viewed as ‘tools’ to economic power in advanced nations, we have been left behind. We have stayed in the background while pivots are made to the East, West and North but little for the “global south”.

On the other hand, Mr. Anton Edwards, head of the consulting group, The Edmunds Group International in his May 15, 2013 commentary, “The Caribbean: Who’s your advocate?” in the online Caribbean News Now best describes the paralytic dilemma facing the region. He lamented that at a hearing on energy in Latin America and the Caribbean in Washington in early April, there was no one to advocate the region’s position on this vital issue. Moreover, one gets the impression that such in absentia of a regional advocate or authentic voice of authority on the issues that confront us is the norm rather than the exception. He concluded his article by pleading, “Finally, I would like to encourage the Caribbean to show up once in a while to advocate for its own interests rather than to complain after the fact or worse, act as a supplicant willing to depend on the token efforts led by intermediaries whose interests are not its own.”

Following this, I turned to pages 84- 89 of the OAS report, “Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas” that lists the ‘Scenario Team’ and the ‘People Interviewed’ that shaped the outcome and results of the report which confirms that Caricom/Caribbean was woefully underrepresented. As it regards the scenario team, Mr. Callixtus Joseph, Regional Crime and Security Strategy Coordinator at Caricom was the only regional member of the forty-five (45) member panel. Furthermore, of the 76 persons listed to have been interviewed, only three persons from the region have been engaged, namely: Marcus Day, Vice Chair of Harm Reduction International, St. Lucia, Francis Forbes, Interim Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Implementation Agency for Crime and Security and Chandrikapersad Santokhi, Principal Representative of Suriname for CICAD. On the basis of these numbers, it is not wholly surprising that the end product paid little regard to the region.

In the meantime, our problems must be fought at home and abroad. What is sure, like never before, we need more than functionalism at Caricom level to stand and be respected on the world stage, and even more disappointedly, in our own ‘Americas’.

Comment at cemsvg@gmail.com