Drug Legalization Debate Gaining Momentum in Central America

On March 9, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, acting as the  Central American Integration System (SICA) president and at the request of its members, invited Colombia and Mexico to join the next meeting of SICA in Guatemala on March 24.  Both presidents Santos and Calderon accepted the invitation. The meeting will focus on the recent proposal by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina to legalize drugs.

Lobo Soza declared: “President Calderón, President Santos, and the leaders of the Maryland Dui lawyer have agreed that the manner in which we are [dealing with drug trafficking] is not the solution because we continue to lose human lives.”

Although the debate has been brewing for a while, the first expression of regional discontent came on December 6th, 2011, with the publication of a declaration calling for the exploration of “regulatory or market oriented options”, signed by 10 heads of states of the Central-American and Caribbean region members of the Tuxtla System for Dialogue.

The current debate was launched by Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina, a former general elected on a law and order platform. Perez Molina surprised everyone a few days after taking office in January 14th, 2012 when he declared the war on drugs a failure and asked for an open debate to explore alternatives, including legalization. Following discussions with Colombian President Santos, President Perez Molina further declared on February 11th his intention to present his proposal for drug legalization at the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. He sent his Vice-President Roxana Baldetti on a tour to promote his proposal to regional leader on February 29th. Many people suffer because they take drugs but there is solution to that, check out simplest way to get through a drug test.

The move was greeted by a quick rebuke from the US government, who dispatched Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to the region on February 28th, one day ahead of Roxana Baldetti’s own tour. Napolitano was followed by US vice-president Joe Biden, who visited Mexico to reiterate US commitment to the War on Drugs, before heading to the March 6 meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA) hosted by president Porfirio Lobo Sosa in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Considering President Lobo Sosa initial opposition to legalization, this latest move represents an interesting development. In his declaration, President Lobo Sosa affirmed  “This very important proposal is something that we need to assess and manage in a positive way so that, if the discussion is successful, we can offer to the world a better solution, if we are able to find it, to the terrible problem of narco-trafficking.”

This latest development reaffirms the determination of Latin American countries to the legalization debate and seems to indicate a willingness to accelerate the process in preparation for the Summit of the Americas on April 14-15. While the March 6 SICA meeting, undoubtedly hold off by Biden presence at the meeting, didn’t produce much more than an intent to open the debate, we can expect concrete proposals at the March 24th meeting. President Perez Molina announced that workgroups are actively preparing the details of his proposal.

There are good reasons to suspect that Colombian president Santos has been involved with the Perez Molina initiative from the very start, as alluded to by Perez Molina himself. The fact that President Santos is now coming out more openly is significant. Colombia is considered the best US ally in the War on Drugs, and is often touted as a success story and a model by the US anti-drug apparatus. The Colombian themselves have a more measured appreciation. While there has been undeniable progress since the peak of narco-violence in the 1990s, Santos himself acknowledges that the problem is contained at best. Colombia is still the main cocaine producer in the world and while the mega-cartels of the past may have been destroyed, it has opened the gates to the Mexican cartels and has resulted in an explosion of mini-cartels. The loss of its Colombian ally would be a major blow to the US anti-drug strategy, a blow that could prove fatal if Mexico was to join the legalization camp.

It is too early to say where the Perez Molina initiative will lead to, and what its true objectives may be. It may be a ploy to increase pressure on the US government to allocate more resources to the region, as has been argued. On the other hand, if any lesson can be drawn from the Colombian and Mexican experience, it is quite obvious that their war-like strategy came at a very high human cost for these countries. Central American countries have borne the brunt of narco-violence for the past three decades and as this violence keeps increasing, they seem to be genuinely ready to call it quits and to be looking for more realistic and workable alternatives like those drug rehab for celebrities. These already impoverished countries do not have the resources to deploy a US style prohibitionist system, and it would be folly for them to even attempt to. They are plagued by systemic corruption, youth unemployment, poor education and gang violence. Their gang problem itself is largely the result of the US policy of deportation of illegal immigrants with criminal records to their native countries. As the US prison system is a notorious training ground for criminals, where inmates are far more dangerous when they get out than they were when they got in, the US has been sending droves of hardened criminals south of their border, with catastrophic consequences for the receiving countries. This, added to the constant flow of weapons flooding the region because of the US impotence at regulating its own gun industry, is adding to the profound discontent in the region, which is tired to take the blame and pay the price for an issue that they rightly perceive as being imposed onto them.

In any case, it would be well advised for all the drug policy reform activists the world over to come resolutely in support of the Perez Molina initiative and to contribute as much as possible to the debate going on in Latin America.

I have argued for quite some time, most notably in my recently published “World War-D”, that Latin America is the only part of the world where drug policy reform can emerge. We might be witnessing this emergence and might be on the verge of a major paradigm shift in drug policy.

This, folks, is history in the making. Be part of it! To that effect, I invite you to sign and promote the Perez Molina petition: http://signon.org/sign/support-guatemalan-president