Summary of the 17th Annual National Drug Politics Conference

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Strong questioning of the Narcotics Law 23.737, as well as anti-prohibition proposals and claims concerning individual sovereignty, were a few of the central themes that fired the debates of the 17th Annual National Drug Politics Conference.

“The Law 23.737 has been in effect for thirty years; its reform poses an untenable debt to democracy”.

Strong questioning of the Narcotics Law 23.737, as well as anti-prohibition proposals and claims concerning individual sovereignty, were a few of the central themes that kickstarted the debates of the 17th Annual National Drug Politics Conference.

The first panelist was congresswoman SilvinaFrana, president of the Addiction Prevention and Drug Trafficking Control Commission. For the legislator, “from a political standpoint we must open our eyes and support the work being done on such a growing and sensitive topic, with a reality that challenges and anguishes us…From the commission, we try to bring light onto the debate and develop concrete solutions specific for each territory and reality. The state must assume these views that place human beings in the center.”

On behalf of Secretary Roberto Moro, the Director of International Relations of SEDRONAR, Carola Lew said, “SEDRONAR accompanies this space and highlights the continuity of these conferences that now on the seventeenth year, allow the discussion of the implementation of public policies and the possibility to reflect and think.” In addition, the official stressed that the current management of SEDRONAR seeks, “the production of strategic information to generate public policies with scientific evidence and respect human rights.”

Graciela Touzé, president at Intercambios AC, stated that “the law 23.737 has been in effect for thirty years, and its reform poses an untenable debt to democracy” and affirmed that “this conference is again the stage in which we reiterate the need to decriminalize the possession of narcotics, self-cultivation for personal use, and the implementation of policies oriented towards crime reduction. Furthermore, this conference reaffirms the need to review the proportions of sentences for drug-related crimes, incorporate a gender perspective that takes women into account–especially the most vulnerable ones (those in poverty and heads of households)–and finally the need to question the use of this topic to stigmatize and exclude adolescents and young adults from public sectors.

Two Generations of Health Promoters

At the end of the opening panel, an emotional and comforting moment occurred. In commemoration of twenty years of the “Locos de Avellaneda” reduction program, the community leaders Juan José González and Diego Santillán were given special recognition. In addition, Emir and Matías, accompanied by Lucas on guitar, all teenagers a part of the group NTSZ (Do not Feel Zipped) from González Catán, improvised with rap the legacy they take from those leaders and expressed their opinions on issues that affect youth in their neighborhoods, such as stigmatization and police persecution.

We Demand the Legalization of Marijuana, Abortion and Comprehensive Sexual Education in Schools

Diverse Youth Panel: Navigating Current Scenarios

The youth are transforming the world in which we live. They are a movement, at times inadvertently invisible or intentionally invisibilized. They express a diverse way of living in this world. What do these voices tell us? What do they speak of? In what scenarios? How do they do it? What conflicts do they encounter in attempting to be heard? What challenges do they face? With these questions, we initiated the second panel of the #17ConfeNacDrogas (17th National Drug Conference).

The discussion was opened by Juan Carlos Escobar, coordinator of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Nation’s National Program of Comprehensive Health in Adolescence, who presented some statistical numbers that account for the harsh realities of adolescents in our country. “There are concrete barriers to accessing the healthcare system. Regarding adolescent health, we focused on those under 15 years of age. For adolescent mortality, 60% die by suicide, homicide, and accidents. On the other hand, 2500 girls each year between 10 and 14 years old give birth, and 80% are unplanned. There is inequity in access to legal interruption of pregnancy,” he said. He then explained that in order to involve the voice of the teens on the subject of masculinity, they developed the research project “Socialization in high school forms a way of being” with adolescents from 13 to 16 years old educated about the areas of gender, violence, and the relationship with the health system. “There is a naturalization of privileges,” he explained. “There is hegemonic, archetypal masculinity of the protector male provider. The boys say things like: “the man is the one who works,” “we are like monkeys,” “if you tell a guy I love you, it is gay.” We feel dislocated before the possibility of seeing women as a couple. Violence is also naturalized: “a blow is a caress at full speed, they say.” “Women have a leading role in this subject, and this is a learning experience for us (men).”

Diega, a member of @lesjovenes, stated that “when neoliberalism came about, political spaces were curtailed and it became less fashionable to take part in politics. School protests were no longer popular. From 2015-2019 there were changes among the youth, not only technological but also in distancing themselves from politics and a stronger interest in individualism. We have to create a different network to think about how feminism came to change everything. LesJovenes is cross-sectional; we think about youth from a different perspective. We are not the generation that lived in the absence of a future; there are guardians of this right. We are a youth born in hope”. He continued to say, “we have our own agenda; we are fighting for the legalization of marijuana, abortion, and comprehensive sexual education in schools.”

For his part, Luciano Cadoni, the officer of the Child Rights Protection Program of the Church World Service (CWS) for Latin America and the Caribbean, presented reflections from the investigation “Childhood that Counts,” of children with parents imprisoned for minor offenses related to drugs. “We see a stigma in neighborhoods, schools, the impact of incarceration on daily life, and children who must assume the role of provider.” This report confirms what the children told us in these five years about role changes within the family: they move, they have no future, they repeat grades in school. When this happens, it’s a disaster, show the conclusions of this report. Children cannot be harmed by what their father or mother did.”

The discussion continued with the wisdom and voice of expert Pablo Vommaro, Assistant Researcher at CONICET with a Ph.D. in Social Sciences. He reflected on the youth as a whole, different forms of participation, and how the methods of being with others are constructed. “Space acquired another social, territory is not the same as space, the idea that a space is created in the social leads to assume diversities as generational, not thinking from homogenization. We look to erase differences, think of the inequalities they experience, and raise the question of how to think about this multidimensionally. Just as we talk about a patriarchal world, we have to talk about an adult-centric world that is committing genocide of youth. We are killing the youth little by little. 8 out of 10 young people say they have achieved their first job through personal contacts, but the adult-centric world continues to say ‘go to school to get a job.’ A young person with precarious contacts will get precarious work; then they will not accomplish much. The job is only for consumption. Youth politicize the previous generation.”

Panelist Paula Goltzman of Intercambios AC highlighted, “cross-cutting points to be thought about, ways of being with others, supporting peers, building the organization, being supportive and sustained. Take charge of your own imprint. Think from social intervention. There is a tendency of individual approach and not to see that network of support, of pairs and of care.” On the other hand, she highlighted the “necessary passage from the prevention to the management of pleasure and care. Let’s let go of the preventive perspective,” she proposed, and asked to “put on the agenda not from the risk standpoint, but from a perspective of vulnerability it is the responsibility of adults and institutions.”

Moderator Victoria Sverdlick form Intecambios AC

Law 23.737: Thirty Years of Failure

“The typical drug consumer does so in fear of being detained.”

This year, Drug Law 23.737 turns thirty, and the results of its implementation are disheartening. In the past few years, especially after the FalloArriola case, there has been an increase in supporters of its repeal. What do experts have to say? These views are converged in this panel opened by Albino Jose Stefanolo; a lawyer specialized in criminal law. “When the previous law of Lopez Rega was disregarded, there was hope in a new law. The norms per se are not necessarily good. These laws have forgotten society and who they must protect, the citizens,” declared Stefanolo.

“With the reform appear the figures of simple possession and possession with purposes for consumption. Consumption is recognized. He established mandatory treatment so as not to penalize, who was found in circumstances of consumption. But he enshrined principles that had no logic.” He also referred to the establishment of minimum doses. “You cannot talk about quantity when it is consumed; the answer is individual. A city prosecutor established the limit of 3 grams so that they return to disputes that were settled, that’s why prosecutors determine their decisions. This is the order of how it’s going to work. The organization of people fighting for an objective can make a law change,” he encouraged.

Santiago Cunial – Political Science B.S. (UBA), Political Science M.S. (Universidad Tocuato Di Tella) and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania – asked himself what factors obstruct a reform to the law 23.737. “In 2009 and 2013, the decriminalization gains more importance. Many projects were proposed, but were blocked and not debated. Why? The continuity of the law centralizes security actions and delegates the responsibility of treatment to religious institutions. The law focuses on drug trafficking and enables a context in which developing comprehensive policies becomes more complex. In 2009 there was an opportunity to debate with the Arriola ruling. Different parties proposed bills, but the debate stalled due to the absence of a consensus in society to advance a change of this style. What does a social consensus mean? Public policies are not the result of a government alone but are given by interlocution with other actors, for example, the Church. The interest of the Catholic Church is not new in the construction of the drug problem, being aligned to issues such as prostitution and abortion. The church used official communications, and in the objective of priests from impoverished communities to justify actions of the episcopate in general. These priests used their false expertise on the drug problem to dismiss government proposals. They assumed that political representatives did not know what was happening in the neighborhoods. In 2013, Bergoglio ascended as pope, which implied higher costs in terms of political advances. In parallel to the blockade of legislative initiatives, the Catholic Church took an active role in assisting drug issues. There are incentives that exceed ideologic issues. With Law 23.737, there was a demand for these types of organizations, and economic incentives were developed. Due to the lack of action from the state in regard to specific areas, these institutions are the ones with the initiative to remedy the problem.”

Federal Prosecutor Franco Picardi, in front of federal judges in Criminal and Correctional of the Federal Capital, began his discussion bringing up the case of the acquittal of five trans women processed for drug commercialization. “Their state of extreme vulnerability was proved by analyzing the structural vulnerability and then their individual vulnerabilities. We encountered these women through an organization that used their vulnerability. You cannot penalize consumption. But it is necessary to go a step further and think about the non-punishment of those who are in the weakest links of the drug trafficking chains, who are people in contexts of vulnerability. One of the important points was to show that their self-determination was affected, to demonstrate a state of exculpating, apologetic need. For this, self-determination is fundamental from the viewpoint of the theory of crime, because of marginality and vulnerability in which they find themselves. We see how the law punishes sexual minorities, the poor, those without education, and those without health in a paradigm of primary criminalization,” he observed. “In 2016, the mandate of the independent expert that visited Argentina developed a report that verified numerous human rights violations. The negative implementation of many laws such as Law 23.737 is used for persecution campaigns against the transgender community. 90% of trans men and women are detained for reasons linked to this law”.

AntonellaTiravassi, security and justice researcher at CELIV/UNTREF, stated the data from a variety of research to account for the failure of the last thirty years of this law. “Drug politics is a war against women that historically were gravely invisibilized in the penal system. The prisons were thought of by and for men. In recent years, the incarceration rate of women increased by 240% (CELS). A WOLA report shows that preventive detention increased among women in comparison to men in Latin America. The crime of drugs is the first cause for women, who have vulnerable childhood and life trajectories. The economic issue seems to be different for men.”

The panel presentations were closed by Carlos Passarelli, Director of UNAIDS for Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, who proposed “to look for the integrality of the approaches. The people who suffer most from drug policies are the most vulnerable from the social point of view. The principle of proportionality of sentences, and prohibiting arbitrary detention and torture are urgent changes. The issue of drugs is not just a matter of health, but of poverty, hunger, and economic development. It is linked to the whole spectrum of human life,” he said.

The panelist Ignacio Canabal, director of DIAT (Dispositivo Integral de Abordaje Territorial), began asking himself: “In what moment are we now? We acknowledge the failures of this law; we recognize the use of medical marijuana; nevertheless, we need analysis with hard facts; in the past ten years, arrests for possession have doubled. The large business of the war on drugs continues to advance. Also, the pathologization of drug users–it is an achievement that there is a medical cannabis law for those who have an illness, but not for anyone else. Drug users do so in fear of being arrested. After thirty years, we need to think of other regulations of illegal substances. There needs to be a critical mass to develop various solutions and create other regulatory marks”.

Panel moderator Alejandro Corda, lawyer and researcher of Intercambios AC.

All media is political, but if you sold drugsin the streets, then it is not.  There is feminism that does not have consciousness of class, and it makes us all childlike.

Panel: Anti-Prohibition Perspectives.

Bodies as Territories of Debate: From Control to Autonomy

How to regain sovereignty of bodies? What organizational expressions or forms regain the right to autonomy and pleasure? In what sense are anti-prohibition perspectives configured? What claims are coded in public policies? What bridges tender between the anti-prohibition movements in the drug field, of sex work and other controls of our dissent bodies? These were some of the questions posed in the last panel of the #17ConfeNacDrogas with the original footnote of Florencia Corbelle, Anthropology Ph.D. (UBA). “The battlefield for the rights of substance users is composed of multiple social organizations. The criminalization of drug possession has created a specific character for activism. Activists have been a permanent target of police persecution. Until very recently, most socialization spaces were virtual spaces of concealment. For example, they experience this prohibitionist paradigm and practices of judicial power. That gave them the right to be recognized as valid interlocutors. The concept of the responsible user is central: it allows positioning in a different way even with non-consumer members. The growth of a collective managed to multiply their actions, install these issues in the parliamentary agenda, and imply a gradual shift of the language of individual rights to one of human rights,” she explained.

“To give an account of the struggle of these activists means understanding the particular ways of experiencing, resisting, and denouncing the power of police and the function of the criminal justice system. This is done through a long path that begins in hiding and seeks to conquer the right to move freely, access the health system, choose a lifestyle, and make free use of one’s own body, but also to be recognized as valid interlocutors–full political subjects with the right to organize, demonstrate, protest, and demand for what they understand is their rights.” Regarding the debates on decriminalization that took place in Congress, Corbelle pointed out that “the concept of pleasure did not appear in any of the debates. Pleasure as an important part of choosing a consumption is not included in the debates, nor is it mentioned in relation to medical cannabis. If it does not appear, the concept leads to the moral and medical-sanitary foundations on which the prohibitionist medical paradigm was developed: bad substances that intoxicate and good that cure. They are false dichotomies that also determine the arguments of the debates. The foundations on which the prohibition is based remain intact,” she concluded.

Next, Daniela Montenegro, Bachelors in Psychology, member of Reset – Drug Policy and Human Rights, highlighted “the regulation of the illegal drug market as the only real alternative to prohibition.” Then she asked what the “consequences” of current drug policies in the country, which was answered with a series of statistical data are. “85% of ambulatory and residential health care is aimed at men, young people, mostly from lower class sectors. 88% of women housed in the federal penitentiary service are detained for drug offenses. If we consider foreign women, it amounts to 91%. They continue creating more services instead of perfecting, adapting, and rethinking those that already exist. In what way in terms of gender can we present this demand to the State.”

Then it was journalist FlorenciaAlcaraz turn, member of the organization Ni UnaMenos in Argentina. For her, “from feminist journalism, you cannot think of ways to make the problem visible, or more continuous strategies to sustain the conversation.” Then she referred to the story of a young deceased woman whose identity is unknown and became a deity, to which many people will worship her, and she is called an unknown little soul. “Women in these situations are like unknown almites. We are limited when telling their stories; we cannot identify the face, life history, desires, and autonomy. We must take this issue out of the closet so that they cease to be unknown alleys.” On the other hand, she stated that “trans individuals in the city of Buenos Aires are more represented inside prisons than outside of them” and proposed “thinking of a feminist pact with a human rights perspective” as well as the idea to “develop transnational strategies due to the stories learned from migration.”

The last panelist was Georgina Orellano, Secretary General of the Asociación de Mujeres Meretrices de la Argentina en Accion por Nuestros Derechos (AMMAR), who referred to female drug users in the sex work field and sex work as, “work I decided to do.” She said, “I do not agree with the victimizing discourse, which believes that we have to be reinserted into the system. Talking about autonomy, sex work, and drugs are issues that generate a closet in society. Capitalism made us believe that when we talk about security, we think about police and criminalization policies. We end up condemned and exercise our sovereignty in hidden places where sovereignty and autonomy are repressed. If you’re going to drug yourself for medicine, it’s fine, but if you’re going to do it for the pleasure, it’s frowned upon, just as the one who decides to do sex work has a bad life.” For the representative of AMMAR, some sectors of the feminist movement fall into prejudice and ignorance. “There is tepidity in the talk about drugs or sex work. The thermometer of feminism reaches a certain point, but it does not take class consciousness. It reinterprets the lives of these women as victims; saviors will think for us. On the other hand, institutionalized policies infantilize us. It is not a time of tepidity, if it bothers us to talk about whores and drugs it is because it challenges us, and then, what better than to come together and talk about them.”

Maria Pía Pawlowics, a research coordinator at Intercambios AC, pointed out some issues that were reiterated in the discussions. “The problems mentioned by the panelists focus around issues of criminalization of social life, in closet consumption, negation, fear, hiding, and prejudice towards users, women, and sex workers. Discourses of blame, discourses that speak for others, and discourses of ignorance. We have to make problematic the situations that place human rights in a vulnerable state and denounce the mechanisms against social control”.

“With whom to build power?” Pawlowicz asked. “Different actors and social actresses as activists, users, journalists, feminists, researchers, and so many others. To name, face, body, and singularize the situations. It is important what Georgina emphasized about the question of social class. If feminism is not crossed by social class, it loses power. “And to where?” It was stated that it is essential for feminism to include in its agenda the demands of substance users. All panelists coincided on the urgency of the defiance and work to build relations, a feminist pact. These are not times for tepidity. For this development, we must leave our comfort spaces to build with others and do it now.

The moderator was Jorgelina Di Iorio, coordinator of the Intercambios AC Intervention and Training area.

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