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.