Photograph courtesy of  The Observer/Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Guatemala’s president: ‘My country bears the scars from the war on drugs’

21/01/2013

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President Otto Pérez Molina was interviewed in the Observer newspaper this weekend, where he discussed the failure of the War on Drugs, and the need for leaders of drug-consuming countries to take responsibility for the terrible toll it exacts in his country and throughout Latin America.

The President discussed the valuable role played by the Beckley Foundation in advising the government on drug policy, particularly the proposals our director, Amanda Feilding, presented to him last week:

“[The Beckley Foundation] enables us to demonstrate that the struggle that has been conducted for these last 40 years has failed. With scientific data it can be demonstrated that, by placing the emphasis on health, on preventive programmes, on educational programmes, regulation is an alternative that could enable us to avoid more deaths, more destruction and more crime, such as we have had until now.”

The Observer published two additional articles to accompany the interview. The first explains how Central American countries have in recent years become major trafficking routes for drugs destined for the USA, as enforcement efforts have succeeded in disrupting traffic by sea and air – a  classic case of enforcement in one area displacing criminal activity to elsewhere. The second details the wider effects of the War on Drugs throughout Latin America.

To Latin American leaders, the need to search for an alternative to the current paradigm is obvious. Drugs prohibition has allowed rich and powerful cartels to rise to such prominence in their countries that they threaten the institutions of the state – the police, the judicial system, the army, the media, and the political system itself.

President Pérez Molina was the first incumbent head of state to sign the Beckley Foundation Public Letter calling for a new approach to drug policy; President Santos of Colombia has now also signed. The UN General Assembly last year was witness to previously-unthinkable rebellion from Latin American Heads of State, who issued declarations criticising the current prohibitionist regime and pushing for open discussion of alternative drug policies.

This is a far distance removed from the effects of the war on drugs in consumer nations, where the drugs debate is narrowly confined to discussions about improving treatment and reducing criminality. An example is David Cameron’s claim, in response to the four recent reports calling for a radical rethink, that current UK drug policy is working – which he typically supports with statistics showing a small decrease in numbers of people using drugs in the UK.

As the respected Colombian journalist Fidel Cano Correa discussed in the Observer at the time, this attitude is one of wilful neglect towards the international repercussions of drug policy. For every person using cocaine in Britain, there is a trail of violence, destruction, and terror leading all the way back to the fields it is grown in.

The unwillingness of consumer countries to take responsibility for the consequences of the current prohibitionist approach is something President Pérez Molina hopes to address when he takes the debate on drug policy reform to the Davos World Economic Forum this week.

LINKS

Guatemala’s president: ‘My country bears the scars from the war on drugs’

Central America’s tiny states caught in deadly crossfire of battle with cartels

Call off war on drugs, leader of Guatemala tells the west

Photograph courtesy of The Observer/Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

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