<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Italian Anti-Prohibitionists Discover América

The Transnational Radical Party in Mérida


By Ugo Vallauri
Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar

February 15, 2003

Mérida, Mexico, February, 14th 2003: Being the Italian student of the School of Authentic Journalism, it came as no surprise to be assigned to covering the european role in the making of the “Out from the Shadows” convention.

The movement for drug legalization appears to be in the Americas at an earlier stage than it is in Europe. A number of European countries have over the past years successfully put in place experiments aimed at harm reduction and at the progressive decriminalization of certain substances, mainly cannabis. This is for example what happened in Italy after a 1994 referendum, which depenalized personal use of cannabis. The Netherlands is famous for its coffee-shops. Switzerland has even come up with policies aimed at controlling the distribution of heroin to heavy users. Most recently, British authorities started a program depenalizing the consumption and the selling of cannabis in the Brixton neighborhood in London.

Latin American countries, on the other hand, have been confronted with much more serious problems, since they are directly hit by the issues of production and trafficking of drugs, as well as their “simple” consumption. However, a lot of progress has been recently made in putting together efforts coming from different movements and organizations based in various countries.

“It is encouraging to see so much going on in here” says Marco Perduca, Italian, Secretary of the International Antiprohibitionist League (IAT), “twenty years after our actions in Europe, we’re finally witnessing the spread of very similar ideas in an area of the world so different and central to the destiny of the antiprohibition movement”

The “Out from the Shadows” conference originally started last October as a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels, featuring the members of the Transnational Radical Party (TRP), DRCnet and other groups involved in antiprohibition policies. At that time, two days of debates gave rise to the “Appeal to reform the UN Conventions on Drugs”, an official recommendation paper supported by 110 members of the European Parliament.

The leit motif of the Appeal is the formal request to the General Secretary of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and to all State Members to amend two UN resolutions on the issues of drugs approved in 1961 and 1971, and to completely repeal a third convention signed in 1988. Reasons for this request mainly lie in the widely recognized failure of such resolutions in both limiting the health problems related to drug consumption and tackling the ever-growing black market, completely in the hands of narco-traffickers.

The Transnational Radical Party has a long history of political battles and civic actions in the field of anti-prohibition and complete legalization of the drug world. Members of this movement have often been involved in civil disobedience and in outrageous actions clearly aimed at shocking and informing the public. Famous are – for instance – the countless initiatives led by Marco Pannella, the historical leader of the Partito Radicale in Italy, including showing up in the middle of the Christmas shopping madness and distributing bags of hashish and marijuana all dressed up in Santa’s clothes.

The TRP has had a pretty hardcore leader in its Italian chapter, which has been over the years conducting long-term successful activist actions in support for human rights campaigns for divorce, abortion and to the condemnation of death penalty worldwide, while at the same time positioning itself on the libertarian side of the political spectrum.

The approach chosen by the participants in the “Out from the Shadows” series is not simply anti-prohibitionist, but it aims at giving some answers as for how to bring the legalization movement to the next level. Mainly, this has meant organizing a political battle directly targeted to international institutions.

As a result of this commitment, the TRP gained in 1995 the “Consultative Status”, a formal affiliation allowing a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to interact with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

As Perduca puts it, “We consider an intervention at the United Nations level as key to help reforms happen. The Conventions on drugs highly limit the possibility for national, independent reform on the drug sector. Therefore, what we need is to raise awareness among the international community in order to facilitate the beginning of a UN debate on these issues.”

What Perduca refers to is the small, to say the least, spectrum of opportunities for single countries for autonomous reformation of their drug policies, especially when it comes to legalizing substances officially classified as extremely dangerous by the UN resolutions. For examples, a referendum on the legalization of cannabis and its byproducts failed to pass scrutiny of the Italian Constitutional Court, due the incompatibility with the UN resolutions. More than one parliament, over the years, refused to even discuss issues related to drug reform, due to the rigid rules set by such resolutions.

As stated in the Appeal for reform, among the priorities of the antiprohibition groups are “the decriminalization of the consumption of certain substances, the partial decriminalization of the sale of cannabis and its derivatives, and the medically controlled distribution of heroin”, together with a clear recognition by the UN of “the positive results obtained through the implementation of policies in several countries,” even those not following the current conventions.

It’s with this clear and focused goal in mind that today Marco Cappato, a member of the European Parliament with the TRP, gave a highly admired and applauded speech at the “Out from the Shadows” conference here in Mérida. “We need international action through transnational parties,” he said.

“Obviously there’s a problem of criminalization of consumption but mainly what’s at stake is the denunciation that the Drug-free program started in 1998 has completely failed. Anti-prohibition is not an ideology, not a unique model of legalization for the whole world. We seek to follow different traditions in different parts of the world.”

Part of the appreciation of the crowd of attendees at the conference is due to the precise political claims and to the international strategy envisioned by Cappato, not only endorsed by other 109 members of the EU Parliament, but already signed by more than 3000 citizens around the world.

As all negotiations at an international level, the reform of drug Conventions could take years, although Perduca seemed quite optimist in foreseeing the first concrete results in two or three years from now.

While the political strategies of the TRP are looking forward to meet the challenges of the twenty first century, polls show that European support for full legalization policies is still far from consistent in local and national communities.

As Christian Pontin, an Italian student of natural sciences independently attending the “Out from the Shadows” conference told me this afternoon, “this probably has to do with internal political problems.”

As a matter of fact, the libertarian positions of the TRP don’t help it with communicating with differently minded citizens interested in legalization policies. If this is true in general, it becomes overwhelmingly evident in a country like Italy, where, after the 2001 political elections, the Radical Party is not currently represented in any of the chambers of the parliament. Its support for part of the political agenda of the Berlusconi administration, clearly a prohibitionist one, deeply conflicts with the highly progressive drug policies the Radicali have come up with since the sixties.

This conflict of interests is as well evident in the lack of interest for the drug legalization movement in the World Social Forum and in general as part of the agenda of the social movements around Europe and the whole world.

When I spoke to Cappato about this, he agreed with me and was very frank in admitting the problems in the dialogue between the two movements. At the same time, he openly seemed to look forward for an improvement of the relationship between the two fights.

“Basically”, he said, “our support for the free market is one of the problematic issues, even though the ‘no-global’ movement has come to know – for example – by now the contradictions of some of the protectionist practices of the EU and the US as well. If we could share efforts with that movement at least to fight a common battle for drug legalization, the fight could reach a vast area of the population”

No matter how deep the differences might be between the TRP and the activists for a different globalization gathering in Porto Alegre and all over the world, an understanding of the potential of their power united could be one really important step in reaching a more solid public support and awareness for the end of the drug war, and towards the legalization of all substances.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America