And as you may know by now, The 43rd OAS General Assembly is a major international meeting being held in Antigua Guatemala. As we told you, there are dozens of meetings built around the assembly where representatives from 35 countries throughout the Americas gather. But the real business of the event started last night at an inaugural session followed by a plenary session today. Jules Vasquez is in Antigua Guatemala and he has this report.
Jules Vasquez reporting
The inaugural session of the 43rd General Assembly of the OAS was held last night at the Finca Philadelphia in Antigua Guatemala. We couldn’t help but notice that when Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina spoke, the Belizean flag and coat of arms seemed strategically placed. But what he spoke about was the centerpiece of the Assembly, the OAS report on drug trafficking:
Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala
"Which becomes a fundamental tool for the process of the debate in our nation."
Today those themes were revisited and expanded upon during the plenary session.
Carlos Raúl Morales, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs.
"We believe that we have arrived at an important hemispheric instrument that has put balance and brought reaching and will contribute to a deep dialogue that we have to engage in on this surge of drugs and how they affect our societies. By approving this declaration the government of the Americas will recognize that the world problem of drugs and it's political, economic, social and human and environmental cost of drugs is a health and human rights problem."
While they were many outspoken, constructive views, the Belize delegation did not make a presentation.
That meeting lasted four hours and after the 28 foreign ministers gathered in the colonial ruins of the Museo Santo Domingo for the traditional group picture. It is the best attended summit in the past five years and Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fernando Carrerra held a brief press conference to discuss some of the key points. We tried to catch him on the Belzie issue before he left, but he declined and headed off to another meeting:
The leaders spent the afternoon in private meetings.
There will be another plenary session tomorrow. And while the Foreign Ministers hold those discussions, there are many other agenda pushers and attention seekers working the margins of the meeting - especially the press center, where hundreds of media from all over the world - including Belize are gathered. They patrol the periphery of the media center and present themselves for interviews on various subjects - that includes two lobbyists from a conservative think tank called “Secure, Safe Society”. One of them had written a piece on Belize - as a ripe host for Muslim terrorists. Sounds extreme, right? That's why we let him explain:..
Joseph Humire - Executive Director, 'Secure, Safe Society'
"Terrorist groups that were fundamentally operating in the middle east have looked to Latin America for sources of revenue. Belize has kind of become a hub of transaction crime throughout the entire sub region of South America, particularly not just the Latin American oriented transnational criminal groups but also middle eastern transnational criminal groups. This case of the individual Rafic Labbon who trafficked from Belize to California was a big case because we were talking about the same avenues that moved drugs, arms and other means of illicit goods can also traffic persons. That essentially can open doors for terrorists to come in through the US border."
"But in fact Rafic Labbon was blown up by the right wing as a Hezbollah leader but that has never been said by any functionary of the US State department, in fact he was arrested on an immigration violation and since then Belize's entire passport system has changed much to the annoyance of regular citizens. I'm saying your argument seems to be skewed by your excitable fear of Hezbollah which may not even be based in fact."
"A couple points, you made some good points. One, when the state department may not have acknowledged Rafic Labbon, the FBI certainly did. The FBI did have him on their watch list and he's definitely an individual person."
Another senior member of the same conservative think thank also spoke on the decriminalization of marijuana. It's a good issue for some conservatives because it asserts what the US calls states rights - where individual states have legalized marijuana in defiance of the Federal government. But then we asked, if those states are doing that - why is the US still burning weed fields in Belize as they did when the US Army SOUTHCOM provided air support for the BDF in an operation in April when they destroyed over 61 thousand plants, along with 220 pounds of compressed marijuana and 10 pounds of marijuana seeds. Here's what he said:
"Is this a futile effort in light of the fact that it's "state's rights" - legalize it!
J.D. Gordon - Former Pentagon Spokesman for Western Hemisphere (Rumsfeld)
"Well you know that's really an excellent question because as more states legalize Marijuana the need to eradicate fields like that will decrease but right now we're just not at the stage so we see a policy that's a little bit disjointed in some way where you have some states that are legalizing small amounts of marijuana but yet we're still helping to eradicate Marijuana fields in places like Belize through use of our helicopters and our other assistance. I think though as we progress and as most states legalize marijuana and I think they will, you will see the policy start to come in line with the reality."
We'll have more from the Assembly tomorrow....