|Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters|
|Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina: “It’s important this is on the discussion table as an alternative to what we’ve been doing for 40 years without getting the desired results”|
Guatemala’s President Considers Requiring U.S. To Pay For Drug Raids
A group of Central American presidents meeting in Guatemala to discuss a major overhaul of drug laws, including legalization and decriminalization, failed to arrive at a consensus on Saturday and agreed to meet again soon in Honduras.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina invited five other presidents to examine what he called a growing frustration with U.S. drug policy, report Chris Kraul and Rex Renderos at the Los Angeles Times. A growing rumble of protest is coming from the region, saying the Drug War is costing too much in crime and corruption.
Many expected some sort of policy declaration to come from the meeting, but as the meeting closed, no reason was given for its absence.
One factor may have been an unexpectedly low turnout. The presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua chose to stay home. Panama’s Ricardo Martinelli and Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla attended.
|Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla attended Saturday’s drug policy summit in Guatemala|
”The proposal is decriminalization,” Perez said at Saturday’s summit, reports Mike McDonald of Reuters. We are talking about creating a legal framework to regulate the production, transit and consumption of drugs.”
A retired general and a political conservative, the 61-year-old Perez won election in November 2011, promising to crack down on organized crime. But he shifted from his hardline message shortly after taking office in January, and now advocates an open debate on drug policy.
“It’s important this is on the discussion table as an alternative to what we’ve been doing for 40 years without getting the desired results,” Perez said, noting that decriminalization would cut into cartel profits.
Perez added that the leaders are considering requiring the United States — the biggest consumer of South American cocaine — to pay the region for drug raids.
“W’re talking about economic compensation for every seizure undertaken and also the destruction of marijuana and cocaine plantations,” Perez said.
Violent crime has wracked Central America since it has become a heavily used transit route for cocaine and heroin processed in South America and transported to users in the United States. Troubled economies, shaky democracies and judicial corruption have made the area a fertile ground for drug gangs.
|Council on Hemispheric Affairs|
|Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, known for his no-holds-barred brand of politics, also attended Saturday’s summit|
In an unprecedented action from a sitting president, Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos recently put drug legalization on the agenda for discussion at next month’s Summit of the America.s Scheduled to attend are 34 heads of state, including President Obama.
Santos’ bold action apparently spurred Perez to attempt to forge a unified front with regional leaders in advance of April’s summit.
Vice President Joe Biden said this month on a visit to Mexico that there is “no possibility” that the U.S. will support drug legalization.
“We looked at decriminalizing and legalizing, and it just doesn’t work for us,” said a U.S. counter-narcotics official last week.
But Central American leaders are increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo, protesting that they are unable to contain powerful drug trafficking organizations. Crime is on the upswing in the region.
Honduras has been especially hard-hit, with San Pedro Sula taking the place of Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez as the bloodiest city in the hemisphere as measured by per-capita murders. Dozens of illegal airstrips used by traffickers are found throughout the jungles of eastern Honduras.
A relatively new cartel, the Texis organization, reportedly has on its payroll numerous police officials and politicians in El Salvador, according to the L.A. Times. Meanwhile, the infamous Zetas gang of Mexico has turned part of the Peten jungle in northeastern Guatemala into its stronghold. Tens of thousands of people in Mexico, just to the north, have died since the military was brought into that country’s Drug War in 2006.
Drug use should be treated as a “health problem, not a criminal problem,” according to Coletta Youngers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank favoring the decriminalization of drugs.
Youngers pointed to a 2009 study signed by three former Latin American presidents — Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernest Zedillo of Mexico — which calls the War On Drugs a failure and says alternative polices, including marijuana decriminalization, are needed.
“The important thing is that they are having this kind of discussion, and the best we can hope for is they continue meeting and develop a framework for doing so,” Youngers said.