This past weekend, heads of state, business people, and social actors from across North and South America gathered in Cartagena, Colombia for the 6th Summit of the Americas. The summit is an opportunity for leaders to discuss issues of national and regional importance and this year made significant strides in including activists, indigenous groups, youth, and NGO’s in these discussions.
Shakira opened the summit singing the Colombian national anthem and president Obama gave the keynote address on this year’s theme “Connecting the Americas: Partners for Prosperity.” He also addressed the power of education and the need for more educational exchanges between students in the United States and Latin America, an issue that we here at RWI fully support. Even Hillary Clinton was seen enjoying the culture and nightlife of Colombia after the summit concluded.
However, in between the light hearted moments, leaders, most notably Guatemalan president Perez Molina and Barack Obama, butted heads over drug policy. Since taking office in January, Perez has been quite outspoken about what he sees as the failed War on Drugs and the need for alternatives strategies, including the possibility of drug legalization.
Leading up to the summit, Perez Molina wrote an editorial for the Guardian on his frustration at the increasing violence due to drug trafficking in Guatemala and the region, in spite of the drug policies championed by the U.S. He has previously held discussions on drug trafficking with other heads of state in Guatemala and several other Latin American leaders have also criticized the U.S. backed War on Drugs.
Perez attended the summit this weekend with firm intentions to foster an open discussion on drug policies and call for a more nuanced approach that also addresses social issues such as poverty and hunger in the drug war.
Perez told Al Jazeera in an interview in Cartagena, Colombia on Friday:
“What I am putting on the table here today at the Summit of the Americas is a call for a debate, a dialogue, where we have statistics, studies, serious analysis of the subject. Based on the results, we must find new alternatives, not more of the same things that we have done for 40 years with results that clearly show us that we are not winning the war against drugs.”
However, President Obama responded to these calls from Latin American leaders with the message that legalization was not the answer and that stronger law enforcement and rule of law was needed to combat the problem.
Despite this stalemate on drugs and violence, over a thousand youth, activists, and indigenous peoples were also able to formally participate in a social forum parallel to the summit to discuss poverty, security, natural disasters, education, and technology. Their discussions and proposals were then presented to the 34 heads of state at the end of the summit.
The Women’s Entrepreneurship in the America initiative was also announced, recognizing the important role of women in business and development. This regional initiative will aim to reduce the barriers that prevent women from starting and running their own businesses.