Monday, April 2, 2012

Drugs on the Americas Summit's Agenda

Radical thinker? Guatemalan Pres.
Otto Perez Molina and his wife. 
Guatemala's President Otto Pérez Molina has formally proposed legalizing drugs - a move which may someday be seen as a watershed moment in drug policy, and which puts the issue on the agenda for the Summit of the Americas to be held in Cartagena this month.

It's easy to see why Pérez, a conservative ex-general, is worried: Last year the International Crisis Group reported that Guatemala, a poor nation of 14 million people:

"The bloody eruption of Mexican-led cartels into Guatemala is the latest chapter in a vicious cycle of violence and institutional failure."

A 2010 report by the United States Army was titled "Crime, violence and the crisis in Guatemala: A Case Study in the Erosion of the State."

For its part, the U.S. State Department warns travelers that "Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. In the first seven months of 2011, approximately 42 murders a week were reported in Guatemala City alone."

Gang members under arrest in Guatemala.
(Photo: Radiografia Mundial)
The various reports also point to corruption at all levels of society, rampant smuggling across borders and a general decay of rule of law. 

In short, Pres. Perez wants to save his country. 

And Guatemala is not alone: most of the small, overwhelmingly poor nations in Latin America and the Caribbean are under siege from the drug cartels who corrupt their institutions and wrack their cities with violence. The capital of neighboring Honduras was recently ranked as the most violent in the world. And we've all heard about the horrific massacres in Mexico.

Small, poor nations like Guatemala simply cannot cope with the violent, corrupting impacts of the drugs which flow north from Colombia and across their territories.

"We've realized that the strategy against narcotrafficking over the last 40 years has failed,"Guatemalan Pres. Pérez said, "and we've got to look for alternatives."

Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos has also advocated considering drug legalization and charging taxes on the industry.

Ex-presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil have also backed decriminalization, while ex-Colombian Pres. Alvaro Uribe opposes the idea.

U.S. officials have said they're willing to discuss the issue - but that Washington's support of prohibitionism will not change. But the U.S. is in the midst of a presidential campaign. Afterwards, if he's reelected, Obama may have more flexibility.

Whether U.S. officials like it or not, drugs and drug violence will be on the America's Summit's agenda: whether the subject is corruption, weak rule of law, violence, smuggling, lack of foreign investment, health problems, drug and drug violence will be in the background.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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