Legalizing drugs gains ground in Latin America

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has suggested decriminalizing drugs in order to reduce violence in the Americas.

Jorge Dan Lopez/REUTERS
Guatemala's new President Otto Perez Molina (c.), a former general of the Guatemalan Army, attends a celebration to mark the founding anniversary of the Guatemalan Navy in the naval base of Puerto Quetzal, about 68 miles from Guatemala City, January 20.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, The views expressed are the author's own.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has repeated his suggestion that Guatemala and the other nations of Central America should consider decriminalizing drugs in order to help reduce violence.

The Guatemalan president said he will propose legalizing drugs in Central America in an upcoming meeting with the region's leaders. President Perez Molina said in a radio interview that legalization would include decriminalizing the transportation of drugs through the area. The Guatemalan president said the war on drugs, and all the money and technology received from the US, has not diminished drug trafficking in the area. While the details would have to be worked out, he would also consider setting up legal mechanisms to sell drugs (link in Spanish).

Some effort at decriminalization would be beneficial both to the people of Central America and the United States. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that the US government and regional governments could design some sort of effective policy. They would include too many loopholes and restrictions that would still make it highly profitable to operate on the black market.
It's also interesting that it is the Colombian and Guatemalan presidents who are suggesting this policy change. They are the leaders of two countries that have recently succeeded in reducing violence, at least when measured in terms of their murder rates.
Finally, maybe Otto Perez Molina does not believe that decriminalization is a viable option. but instead is raising the stakes of the game in order to get the US's attention and action (i.e. lifting the current military restrictions which limit US cooperation with their Guatemalan counterparts, and getting the US to contribute more resources to battling narcotrafficking in Central America). This is just his way of negotiating, and now the US will have to deal, or call his bluff.

Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.  You can follow his Central American Politics blog here

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