Coming back refreshed from the Easter holidays, my eye was caught by two interesting items in my news feed this morning.
The first was an invite to a conference hosted in Lisbon in May by ISCE (Academic Institute associated with Dr Pinto Coelho, most vociferous critic of Portuguese decriminalisation) on 'Recovery is Possible'. Now, most people know that I am quite a supporter of programmes that help people recover from drug dependence (I run a charity that runs many of them myself), but not when they are used as an argument against harm reduction or indeed any approaches that tolerate and work with continuing drug use. And it is hard to see this conference as motivated by anything else than an attempt to undermine Portugal's current policy. Fair enough – all views are welcome – but the guest list gets very interesting. While I guess that the organisers have neglected to enter the 'to be confirmed' line where it is needed, announced plenary speakers include the aforementioned Pinto Coelho, Neil Mckeganey, Antonio Maria Costa and Kevin Sabet – so far, so predictable, but a formidable line up for what should be just a small national academic conference. But wait, there's more – also on the list is Yuri Fedotov, Raymond Yans, and Wolfgang Goetz, respective heads of the UNODC, INCB, and EMCDDA. So why would all of these figureheads of international institutions be agreeing to travel (or considering invitations – it is not clear) to Lisbon in their busy schedules to speak at a minor university event – although we should excuse Wolfgang as he is there already. It just doesn't make sense – surely they wouldn't want to unduly influence the democratically agreed, and convention compliant, policies of that country? And if they are actually attending, then to show balance, I hope they all accept invitations to attend the Harm Reduction conference in Vilnius two weeks later.
The other, more worrying news item covered the March 31st comments of William Brownfield, Head of INL in the US State Department, on the announcement of increased Russian aid to Nicaragua for intensified drug control efforts. Now I have no idea for what strategic or geopolitical reason the Russian government are pouring money (4 times the scale of US Aid to that country) and 'technical advice' into Nicaraguan law enforcement, but I will hazard a guess that it is not good news if you are an ordinary Nicaraguan citizen who cares about health, human rights and community development. It is also strange that Mr Brownfield is so seemingly supportive – but then perhaps his position is clarified by later comments in the article. If I understand his argument correctly (and nuance can be lost through the interpretation of a press interview), then he is saying that, while there are currently regrettable setbacks in the fight to stop trafficking through Central America, if the US and partners (including, it seems, Russia) can keep ramping up the military and law enforcement responses to a level that adds '10 to 15%' to traffickers' cost of doing business, than they will melt away. Setting aside the implausibility of that scenario, the successful outcome that Mr Brownfield envisages is even more chilling – that 'they will look for new routes to traffic their products'. So the best that the top guy in INL can offer is many more years of expensive, violent, and rights abusing drug enforcement in Central America that just might make life a little harder for drug traffickers, who might possibly move their operations somewhere else, with the result that those new countries suffer the grotesque social fall out, and the whole circus starts again.
A nice couple of reminders of why we do what we do.
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