President of Guatemala Breaks New Ground by Proposing Legal Regulation of Drugs on Eve of Today’s Speech at United Nations General Assembly

Proposal Bolsters Opposition to Drug War Among Latin American Leaders as Drug Prohibition Debate Continues to Escalate

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–September 26, 2012.   Yesterday, the president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, announced his intention to propose legally regulating currently-illicit drugs as a means of reducing crime, violence and corruption. He is expected to elaborate on his proposal today when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly. 

According to the Associated Press, President Perez Molina said the war on drugs has failed and that Central American nations have no choice but to pursue legalization, since the U.S. has proven incapable of reducing its demand for drugs. Perez Molina’s speech today may be the first time a sitting head of state discusses the legalization and regulation of drugs before the UN General Assembly.

The president’s statement adds to the growing debate about alternatives to the drug war throughout Latin America. Both former and current heads of state in the region are demanding that the full range of policy options be expanded to include alternatives that help to reduce the prohibition-related crime, violence, and corruption in their own countries – and insisting that decriminalization and legal regulation of currently illicit drug markets be considered.

President Perez Molina first garnered worldwide attention in February by calling for a debate on alternatives to the war on drugs, including decriminalization and regulation. His proposal quickly received support from other leaders in Latin America, including the presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador. Over the next few months, the failure of the war on drugs and alternatives to current strategies were discussed at significant high-level events, including the Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Most recently, Uruguay announced a plan to legalize marijuana, with a regulatory system that would make it the first country in the world where the state sells the drug directly to its citizens.  

Even President Obama was obliged to acknowledge the legitimacy of the debate earlier this year during the Summit of the Americas – where opposition to drug prohibition was a major focus – when he said, “it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good.”  The Organization of American States is conducting a study of legalization and regulation and will be releasing a report of its findings next year.

In Latin America, where the war on drugs has caused high levels of violence, death and corruption, many see this debate is an important step toward improving the region’s economy, security and quality of life.

Statement from Daniel Robelo of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“We support President Otto Perez Molina’s call for a fundamental transformation of global drug policy that shifts away from the failed prohibition regime and toward legal regulation of currently-illicit drugs.

“President Perez Molina’s bold leadership before the General Assembly adds to a growing chorus of current heads of state in the region speaking out against the flawed drug war strategies imposed by the U.S. government for the past forty years that have devastated the region while utterly failing to reduce drug use or supply. 

“These leaders recognize that to change the status quo, they must combine decisive leadership at the national level with coordinated action at the international level. Led by President Perez Molina, they are opening up a serious global debate at the highest levels – and ensuring that all drug control options, including various types and degrees of decriminalization and legal regulation, be put on the table in that debate.

“Regulating drugs has the potential to shrink or eliminate illegal drug markets, thereby reducing the power of violent traffickers.  In the short term, Latin America and the U.S. can take three specific policy steps in that direction: the full decriminalization of drug possession for personal use; the legal regulation of marijuana, more or less like alcohol; and the provision of legal access to pharmaceutical versions of other illicit drugs for those consumers who are determined to obtain the drugs they need or want regardless of their legal status.

“In this way, we can ensure that U.S. drug policies do not enrich violent criminal organizations throughout Latin America – while improving public health and safety in streets and communities across the U.S.” 

Associated Press, Guatemala President says Legalize Drugs, CLAUDIA TORRENS and ROMINA RUIZ-GOIRIENA, September 25, 2012

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is advocating the international legalization of drugs even as he is moving to fight narcotics cartels with the biggest military buildup in the Central American country since its long and bloody civil war.

There’s no contradiction, the president said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, a day before he plans to address the U.N. General Assembly.

“We can’t take unilateral action, it will be gradual,” Perez said, referring to his push for legalization. “Meanwhile, while we’re taking these steps, we’re not going to let Guatemala become an open corridor for trafficking and consuming drugs.”

Perez Molina said he may be the first head of state to propose legalizing drugs before the General Assembly, but the Organization of American States already is studying the idea, with a report due in a year.

“With cocaine and heroin, for example, they’re substances that are damaging and addictive,” he said. “We would have to regulate the procedures for selling them: a prescription or series of things that would come out of the discussion.”

The legalization proposal came just a month after the retired general took office in January with promises of an “iron fist” against crime, and it provoked strong criticism from the United States, as well as intense discussion within Guatemala.

The president said the traditional war on drugs had failed over the past half century, and that the United States’ inability to deal with its drug consumption problem left Central America with no option but to promote legalizing drugs in some way.

Meanwhile, to battle Mexican drug cartels that have overrun parts of Guatemala, Perez said he needed military equipment, and put a top priority on ending a longstanding U.S. ban on military aid that was imposed over concerns about human rights abuses during the Central American country’s 36-year civil war.

Perez Molina has approved the creation of two new military bases and the upgrading of a third to add as many as 2,500 soldiers. He also signed a treaty allowing a team of 200 U.S. Marines to patrol Guatemala’s western coast to catch drug shipments.

He says the measures don’t exceed limits imposed on Guatemala’s military under the 1996 Peace Accords, which he helped negotiate.

Since the war’s end, the military force has fallen by 60 percent, Perez Molina said, and the growth of the civilian police force has not been sufficient to fight the security threat.

“What you saw was an imbalance and parts of the country that were out of control of the state,” he said. “Organized crime took advantage of those areas, as well as drug traffickers and criminals and now we’re trying to take back that territory.”

Mexican drug cartels or their local allies have taken over large swathes of Guatemala and other Central American countries, fueling some of the highest murder rates in the world.

A May 2011 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service said that 95 percent of all cocaine entering the United States flows through Mexico and its waters, with 60 percent of that cocaine first coming through Central America.

The new Marine operation is the largest in Guatemala since President Jimmy Carter sharply cut U.S. military aid to the country due to concerns over atrocities committed during the country’s civil war.

U.S. law says that Guatemala can regain military aid once Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certifies Guatemala’s military is “respecting internationally recognized human rights” and cooperating with judicial investigations of former military personnel.

Since Guatemala’s civil war ended in 1996, the U.S. has spent $85 million fighting drug traffickers in Guatemala. The level of spending was relatively low, less than $3 million a year, until 2007, when it shot up to $14 million. Last year spending peaked at $16 million, and is budgeted to decline to about $9 million in 2013.

The new operations fall under the Central American Regional Security Initiative, a multinational U.S. effort to fight crime in the region, so officials do not categorize them as direct aid to the Guatemalan military.

“We continue to uphold the military aid ban as well as the Leahy Act which prevents the US from training people suspected of having committed human rights violations,” said William Ostick, a spokesman for the State Department’s Western Hemispheric Affairs Office.

But he added that “narcotics trafficking is of great concern in the region … it is clear that interdiction has demonstrable and measurable effects.”

Perez said he plans to increase the national police by 10,000, allowing the military to focus on securing the borders and fighting drug trafficking. 


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