|In 2012 alone, Guatemala has confiscated more than 1,000 kilos of cocaine valued at roughly $10,000 per kilo [Reuters]|
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has said the war on drugs in Latin America has failed, and has set out a raft of proposals to look at the possibility of decriminalising narcotics or establishing a regional court to try traffickers.
“The proposal is decriminalisation,” Perez said at a Central American summit on Saturday to address security throughout the region.
“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.“
– Otto Perez Molina, Guatemala President
“We are talking about creating a legal framework to regulate the production, transit and consumption of drugs.”
Perez Molina called the meeting to consider decriminalisation as a way of reducing drug-related violence.
But the presidents of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras all cancelled their attendance at short notice.
Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Mauricio Funes of El Salvador and Porfirio Lobo of El Salvador decided not to attend.
Change of strategy
The discussion reflects growing concern in Central America about the cost of the war on drugs, which is prompting leaders to take an increasingly independent line from the United States, where officials have repeatedly rejected legalising drugs.
“We have seen that the strategy that has been pursued in the fight against drug trafficking over the last 40 years has failed,” Perez Molina said. “We have to look for new alternatives. We must end the myths, the taboos, and tell people you have to discuss it.”
Perez Molina caused widespread surprise when he announced in January that he thought it was time to consider decriminalising the consumption, production and trafficking of drugs.
Guatemala out-gunned by drug gangs
A retired general, Perez Molina won an election in November 2011 promising to crack down on organised crime.
But he shifted from his hard-line message shortly after taking office in January, calling for a more 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,” said Perez Molina, noting that decriminalisation would erode drug cartels’ profits.
The president added that Central American leaders were considering asking the US, the biggest consumer of South American cocaine, to pay the region for drug raids.
“We’re talking about economic compensation for every seizure undertaken and also the destruction of marijuana and cocaine plantations,” said Perez Molina.
Regional leaders in countries affected by drug violence have called for more open debate on other solutions to the problem.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, to whom Perez has turned for advice on confronting the cartels, has called on Washington to take more responsibility for reducing demand for drugs, and has said he is open to debates about legalisation.
The subject is also likely to be discussed at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia on 14-15 April.