Guatemala's President Leading the Way in International Drug Policy Reform
Photo Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
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Guatemala has been particularly affected by the war on drugs because of its location on the most transited drug-trafficking route in the world. It has become a battleground between the two dominant Mexican drug cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and the brutal and much feared Los Zetas. The two cartels are caught in a ferocious fight for control of the Caribbean and the Pacific routes, with local populations caught in the middle. The cartels largely outgun the police and army, and corrupt all institutions, starting with the justice system. Los Zetas notoriously recruit within the Kaibiles, the elite commando of the Guatemalan Military.
Since taking office in January 2012, Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina has been quite blunt in his assessment of the failure of the war on drugs, calling relentlessly for drug policy reform, advocating a regulatory approach to drugs rather than the extremes of a full-blown war on drugs or free-market legalization. Such positions have propelled him and his impoverished country on the world scene, where he is so far the first and lone head of state pushing openly and forcefully for global drug policy reform. As such, he is seen as a figurehead of the drug policy reform movement.
During a press conference on the opening day of World Economic Forum, Perez Molina, the first Guatemalan president to be invited to Davos as a speaker, called for a new approach toward regulating drugs, implemented “on a scientific basis” and geared at reducing the harms associated with the illegal drug trade. "Prohibition, this war on drugs, has seen cartels grow and the results are not what we looked for … There is a new trend towards drugs now – not war, but a new perspective and a different way of dealing with the problem," declared Perez Molina.
In Davos, the right-wing retired general found an unlikely ally in billionaire liberal philanthropist Georges Soros, who joined him to announce a Drug Policy Reform summit, scheduled for June 2013 in Tika, Guatemala. The summit will gather world leaders and policy organizations to discuss alternative drug control proposals. It will be organized in coordination with the Soros Foundation, as well as the Beckley Foundation and the Carter Foundation. Based in the UK, the Beckley Foundation established a Guatemala office in June 2012 and works closely with President Perez Molina and his government on issues of drug policy. The foundation director, Amanda Feilding, met with President Molina in Guatemala on January 17 to deliver proposals for alternative drug policy options.
George Soros, a major advocate for drug policy reform, stressed the illegal drug trade’s harmful effects on developing democracies, saying, "Drug policy has endangered political stability and security in many countries, and not just in Latin America." He evoked the situation in Mali which has turned since the Libyan revolution into a North African hub for the drug cartels, on the route from Latin America to Europe via West Africa. The cartels have taken advantage of the instability and established alliances with guerilla groups and Islamist extremists, while the instability affecting the entire region from Nigeria to West Africa, Tunisia and Libya, has turned this impoverished country, once one of Africa’s most stable, into a regional and international nexus of Islamic extremism.
Perez Molina is increasingly taking a leadership position in the fight for drug policy reform on the world scene. In a recent interview in the UK Observer, Perez Molina said: "I believe western countries fail to understand the reality that countries such as Guatemala and those of Central America have to live in. There has been plenty of talk, but no effective response. I believe, ultimately, that this is due to a lack of understanding on the part of western countries."