Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)

How CICAD was founded


How CICAD came to life

The first CICAD Executive Secretary Irving Tragen (whose picture is on the right) recently spoke several times with CICAD staff in 2007 about the early days of the Commission and the coalition of political and social forces that brought it into existence. Here is a condensed version of his portrayal of that foundational era.

Twenty years ago, government representatives of the Western Hemisphere assembled in Rio de Janeiro to consider how the region could confront the threat from the illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs. The mid-1980s were politically charged times in the Americas. Colombia was torn by cartel-instigated violence that took the lives of thousands of citizens, police, and judges and challenged the very underpinnings of the state. Crack cocaine was sweeping through U.S. cities, devastating families and sparking a cycle of violence and crime, becoming a hot-button political issue. Drug trafficking, particularly in the Andean countries, produced an avalanche of dollars in the countries that distorted their economies and terms of legal trade. At that time, no one was sure that the OAS was capable of tackling such a high-profile, complex and politically sensitive issue as drug trafficking.

At the request of then OAS General Secretary João Clemente Baena Soares, Tragen had laid the groundwork for the Rio conference by traveling around the region tirelessly, discussing the primary issues with policy makers and leaders. He even served as a point of contact within governments because in those days not all national agencies involved in the fight against illicit drugs coordinated among themselves.

First Day Surprise

On the initial day of the conference in Rio de Janeiro in April 1986, the delegates from the administration of President Ronald Reagan of the United States and from the government of President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua were the first two to speak. On other issues, these two governments often found themselves diametrically and dramatically opposed. But when both speakers were done, the audience was astonished. Each delegate could have given the other’s speech, without changing a concept, without altering the focus.

The conference chair, Brazil, took action to capitalize on this implicit political consensus. The proposed agenda was torn up, diplomatic protocol set aside, and the delegates picked up pens to put the shared concepts on paper. In roughly 12 hours, the representatives wrote the Inter-American Program of Action of Rio de Janeiro against the Illicit Use and Production of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Traffic Therein. They approved it unanimously. The conference had originally been scheduled for six days but was cut to just four days.

Rarely, have the wheels of hemispheric diplomacy worked so smoothly, producing an outcome that has maintained its relevance for 20 years. A few months after the Rio conference, the OAS General Assembly approved the Program of Action and also created a regional agency responsible for assisting governments in implementing the Program and its guidelines, the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). The agency began operations in 1987.

Contributing Factors

Tragen said that there were several factors that aided this “perfect storm” of consensus building in those early days:

  • The existence of three international conventions to which not all hemispheric governments had subscribed: the Single Convention of 1961, the Convention of Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the 1988 United Nations Convention Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the latter which was already well advanced in its drafting at the time of the Rio conference.  With this worldwide legal framework, governments had clearly defined issues to act on immediately. It also meant that governments did not have to invest time and energy in drafting regional treaties, in effect, duplicating efforts already made on the international level.
  • CICAD and the governments focused on adapting these conventions to regional realities by harmonizing national legislation, regulations and procedures with them, and drafting model legislation on key issues like chemical precursors and substances, money laundering and firearms control.
  • In the beginning, the consensus was led by a small group of committed countries; and only 11 member states that voluntarily put forward their candidacy were elected by the OAS General Assembly to sit on the Commission. Because the initial political impetus had come from Latin American countries, they took the lead in defining mandates, priorities, programs and projects, frequently drawing on their own resources. CICAD also attracted early support from international agencies and other donors looking for a vehicle to assist in developing a multilateral response to the drug threat. By the time that CICAD was opened up to all OAS member states in 1997, it had a strong track record and credibility that had exceeded expectations.

Tragen said that in the beginning, CICAD did not have a large budget, but it did benefit from a small, dedicated staff that wanted to respond to the needs of the member states and relished being involved first-hand in the program activities.

Over the past two decades, CICAD, its member states, partners and other stakeholders have achieved much more than had been expected prior to the Rio conference. At the 40th regular session of CICAD at Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia in 2006, Deputy Secretary General Albert Ramdin listed 10 accomplishments and also mentioned the new challenges facing the Commission, its member states and the OAS.

Also see the CICAD timeline to trace events and trends over the past 50 years.

updated on 3/28/2012 10:24:12 AM