5th Global Anti-Drug Conference Launches Counter-revolution

By Alberto Carosa
A leading Italian journalist and media expert, who presented a seminal paper
at the HNN conference in Visby in May 2001.Rome. The recent Fifth Global Conference on Drug Prevention, which took place in Rome in late September (Monday 22nd – Friday 26th , 2003) confirmed what was already signalled by the author of this article few years ago, viz. that the Catholic Church is in the forefront in the fight against illicit drugs (see Catholic religious move to the forefront in battle against drugs, in the Wanderer of August 20th, 1998).
Sponsored by the Italian government’s extraordinary commissioner for the co-ordination of anti-narcotics policies, Prefect Pietro Soggiu, in conjunction with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the US Department of State, the conference was spearheaded by a Worldwide Network for the Prevention of Drugs under the co-ordination of an International Organising Committee which included a number of other groups, associations and NGOs. Among these a pivotal role was played by Associazione Casa Rosetta (ACR), a Sicily-based religious-run rehabilitation centre, with its president father Vincenzo Sorce, and the US Florida-based Drug Free America Foundation in the persons of its founder and president, long time anti drug war veteran Betty Sembler, wife to the present US Ambassador to Italy, Melvin Sembler. As a keynote speakers of the opening session, the senior diplomat paid his tribute to the organisers “not only as the United States ambassador to Italy, but also as someone who has been personally involved in trying to help solve the illegal drug issue”.
Father Vincenzo Sorce is a Catholic priest who teaches Pastoral Theology in Sicily at the Palermo-based “S. Giovanni Evangelista” Faculty of Theology and Social Education at the Free “Maria SS Assunta” University in Rome. Journalist and founder of ACR, which is active in 40 centres in Italy and Brazil, he was also the conference moderator in his capacity as chairman of the above International Organising Committee. Father Sorce is also specialising in the training of anti-drug personnel in co-operation with several foreign institutions, including the universities of San Diego and San Francisco in California.
As further proof of the leading role played by Catholic religion, the proceedings were opened and concluded by other two Catholic religious leaders respectively, archbishop Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, and Msgr. Paolo Romeo, apostolic nuncio to Italy.
To confirm the relentless and uncompromising stance of the Church in the anti-narcotics fight, Archbishop Barragan, soon to be appointed cardinal in the upcoming concistorium, reminded that in his Magisterium John Paul II dwelt upon the drug issue no less than 360 times, stressing that drug use and /or abuse is never licit because it’s unworthy of a God-created human being, who under no circumstances may renounce his/her dignity as a free and responsible person.

Over 500 delegates from 84 nations in all the continents participated in the event and it would not be possible to mention all of them. Suffice to say that some 60 speakers, from government officials to ambassadors, from scientists (Carmelo Furnari, Eric Voth, Ernst Aeschbach, Gregory K. Pike, Mark S. Gold, David A. Gross, Guillermo Fernandez D’Adam) to jurists (Giuseppe Dalla Torre), media experts (Wade West, Carlos Alberto Di Franco) and NGOs leaders (Stephanie Haynes, Peter Stoker, Calvina Fay, Chavalit Yodmany) offered a wide variety of presentations reflecting cultural, ethical, scientific, medical, social, political and spiritual dimensions of the subjects. Although representing many diverse faiths and beliefs, the participants were united in their support of the following common core principles, as entrenched in their final resolution: the pursuit of a ‘Common Good’ which should define and guide the actions of Society; a ‘Culture of Disapproval’ of drug abuse, namely any use of illegal substances and any inappropriate use of legal substances, to be nurtured in all Society; ‘Moral Imperatives’ for responsible and constructive citizenship, which should be honoured by Society at large; all strategy, policy and action should be informed and underpinned by proper, validated science. Furthermore the participants, who endorsed the resolution by acclamation, pledged “to create value in acknowledgement of the gift of life with which we have been blessed” and confirmed “the superiority of love, in relation to the education and building of our society: a superiority which has become a social, political, cultural and spiritual commitment”.
The Conference resolved also to progress initiatives in support of the above core principles, including opposition to legalisation and other forms of drug law relaxation, and therefore any drives seeking to serve, overtly or covertly, such negative expedience. The fullest support, the final resolution also stated, should be given to the Vienna Declaration, which seeks to unequivocally support the UN convention on drugs, notably by the collection of 25 million supporting signatures by the year 2008, when an overall assessment of the UNGASS results is scheduled to take place. This collection is a natural follow up to a campaign launched in late 2002 by the Sweden-based Hassela Nordic Network, which was able to present over 1.3 million signatures during the midterm review in Vienna last April 2003 for the UN Convention on Drugs to retain its successful “restrictive policies against any legalisation of illicit drugs, including cannabis”. Such legalisation is being pursued by a notorious and powerful trans-national anti-prohibitionist lobby, whose ultimate aim is “getting rid of global treaties against drug” (see also The War on Drugs Takes a New Turn, in the Wanderer of November 28th, 2002).
Besides the above resolutions and pledges, whose impact is generally measured on the medium-long term, the most immediate result produced by the Fifth Global Conference on Drug Prevention was an enormous amount of media coverage which after many days is still far from abating.
A turmoil was apparently unleashed by Italy’s deputy premier Gianfranco Fini, another keynote speaker at the opening sessions of the Conference, when he announced that by Christmas his country would reverse its drug policies with new legislation that would target users of soft drugs and end the legal distinction between possession and trafficking. He said the abolition of the so-called ‘minimum daily dose’ had defanged Italy’s drug laws and prevented police from distinguishing between drug-pushing and personal use.
Apparently a raw nerve was touched, since most of the secular media reacted with hysteria, crying foul and distorting Fini’s stance, whom they accused of wanting to jail all addicts. But the Italian Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, a prominent haematologist and transplant expert, immediately backed Fini’s message, adding that the Superior Health Council’s decision to classify cannabis as hard was a “strong scientific response which I agree with”. “This puts an end to the pointless and sterile polemics which distort the truth about drug issues,” the minister continued. “There aren’t any drugs that don’t harm the user. These substances are worse than smoking, they harm the brain and cause mental illnesses,” said the 70-year-old minister.
Fini further clarified his vow to clamp down on drugs, speaking of a “zero tolerance” approach as “the most appropriate phrase” which “doesn’t mean handcuffs and police busts but fighting the tendency to underestimate the problem…It is a scientific fact, and one with social costs, that people who use and abuse substances like Ecstasy and amphetamines suffer damage to the brain,” Fini concluded. In other words, “there is no freedom of drug addiction”. Fini is convinced also that, besides traffickers, also what he termed “friendly fire” should be effectively combated, viz. those who foster drug use by disseminating criminal lies and fallacious distinctions between “good” and bad drugs. A real “pro-drug lobby”, as the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, Antonio Maria Costa, put it more bluntly in his keynote speech at the Conference the inaugural day. Besides the trans-national lobby referred to above, another typical case in point is the “singing lobby”, so much so that Fini also rebuked rock stars and the drug culture he said was associated with the world of rock. “Rock singers should reflect before saying that drugs are in some way a right, that people should be free to take drugs and that the culture of ‘getting high’ should not be criminalised”. Also Interior Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano, another keynote speaker on the first Conference day, slammed “pop singers and the media” for encouraging youngsters to smoke pot. In a piqued reaction, 29 major artists published a manifesto to deny these accusations, saying that such words “smack of censorship”, “sound a bit intimidating”, subtly seek “to limit freedom of opinion and speech” and that “new restrictive measures are not needed” (cf. Corriere della Sera, October 1st, 2003).
The Italian media also pulled the emotional chord under another respect, by advocating more rehabilitation efforts rather than jail terms and crackdown policies on both consumers and traffickers. But these very media did ignore what was said at a concomitant joint press conference to present the First UN Report on Amphetamine-type Drugs to the Italian government by the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes, Antonio Maria Costa, and the Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, John Walters, namely that in the last five years marijuana addiction increased only by 10%, as against that caused by synthetic drugs, which rose by 70%. “Hence my fear”, Costa said, “that these chemical drugs may turn out to be the public enemy No 1”.
As a matter of fact, these chemical substances, like ecstasy and amphetamines, have devastating and irreversible effects on the psyche and body, causing real holes in the brain similar to those suffered by Alzhaimer-hit elderly and thus accelerating the aging process. “Who will assist and pay to support part of a generation mentally and physically crippled by the damages caused by ecstasy?”, Costa wondered. This question might be answered by another question: why shouldn’t the victims or their families sue for damages members and accomplices of the “pro-drug lobby” referred to by Costa, as was the case with tobacco-induced damages?
Should the trend towards irreversible damages continue, therefore, any talk of rehabilitation instead of repression and prevention may soon become sheer platitude, like a hunter who keeps on aiming at a bird even well after it has already flown away from its perch.

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