Drug Trafficking in Latin America

Key Actors’ Positions on Drug Policy

Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala
Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia
Barack Obama, President of the United States
Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador
Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica
Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico
Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama
Porfirio Lobo, President of Honduras
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia
Ollanta Humala, President of Peru
Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile, President of Chile
Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
Vicente Fox, Former President of Mexico
Cesar Gaviria, Former President of Colombia
Ernesto Samper Pizano, Former President of Colombia
Ricardo Lagos, Former President of Chile
Manolo Pichardo, President of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen)
Hasan Tuluy, Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean of the World Bank
Heraldo Muñoz, UNDP Latin America and the Caribbean Bureau Chief
Maria Angela Holguin, Foreign Minister of Colombia
Javier Zapata, President of the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia
Eduardo Montealegre, Prosecutor General of Colombia
Óscar Adolfo Naranjo Trujillo, Commander of the National Police of Colombia
María Emma Mejía, Former Colombian FM and Secretary General of Unasur
Gabriel Silva, Colombian Ambassador to the U.S.
Francisco Javier Dall'Anese, Attorney-General and Chief of the CICIG
Oscar Julio Vian, Archbishop of Guatemala
Patricia Espinosa, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico
Marisela Morales, Attorney General of Mexico
Alfredo Moreno, Foreign Minister of Chile
Arturo Corrales, Foreign Minister of Honduras
Felipe Cáceres, Bolivian Deputy Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances
Sergio Ramirez, Nicaraguan writer and former Vice President
Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian Author and Nobel Laureate for Literature

 

Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala

In February, 2012, President Otto Perez Molina garnered worldwide attention by calling for a debate on alternatives to the war on drugs. Since February, he has spearheaded efforts in Latin America to rally support for his proposal, to push for the inclusion of alternative drug policies at high-level summits, and to ensure that the discussion continues in various platforms and forums. Perez Molina believes that “today drugs are expensive precisely because they are prohibited but that would be different if we ended their prohibition and if we had all the regulations that we needed to have; in other words, decriminalizing would not mean that we would not regulate, a series of regulations and processes would have to be passed in each country. What we would gain is avoiding the continuation of crime at such high levels. In the end, drug trafficking will stop because it will stop being profitable. Furthermore, all countries would gain because the institutions would stop being weakened and corrupted by trafficking networks and the countries could use those resources that we are currently spending on fighting drugs on citizen security.”

During Perez Molina’s speech at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, he said: “We came to this forum to propose a high-level intergovernmental dialogue; with scientific support and human knowledge, we can find more effective answers for the control and regulation of the drug market (…) Why does the trade of substances that are dangerous for health have to generate so much blood and violence? I ask myself. And I ask everyone and all of you: Why do the alcohol and tobacco trades, substances that are very dangerous for health, not generate so much violence? (…) In summary, I propose to the governments present here to join a global initiative for a high-level political dialogue, in which we listen to civil society organizations, to academics, and to businessmen concerned by these issues.”  

Perez Molina is driven by the idea that “30 years after this drug war, it is necessary to start discussing other alternatives and finding processes that achieve better results”  and thinks that “this is an initiative that is not only for the country or for Central America; it is a regional and global debate.”

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Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

In November, 2011, President Juan Manuel Santos suggested opening up a debate on the legalization of certain types of drugs and said in January, 2012 that he would decriminalize drugs in his country, the main producer of cocaine, “if the rest of the world accepts this decision.”  Since February, he has openly supported Perez Molina’s proposal to debate alternatives to the war on drugs.  Santos explains that “Colombia, and me personally, have put this issue on the table because if there is a country that has suffered from drug trafficking, it is Colombia.”

In his inaugural speech at the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, Santos invited all to “stop along the way” to reflect on the war on drugs and to contemplate “the different scenarios and possible alternatives to confront this challenge with more efficiency.”  Santos used many opportunities throughout the Summit to address the issue of drugs. "In spite of all the efforts, the illicit drug business is still buoyant, drug addiction in all countries is a serious public health issue, and drug trafficking is still the main provider of funding for violence and terrorism," he said. "An in-depth discussion around this topic is needed, without any biases or dogmas, taking into consideration the different scenarios and possible alternatives to more effectively face this challenge."

"Sometimes we pedal and pedal and pedal, and we feel like we are on a stationary bike," he said of the war on drugs. "I think the time has come to simply analyze if what we are doing is the best we could be doing or if we can find an alternative that would be more effective and less costly to society. This is a topic of extreme political sensitivity." He added, "One extreme can be to put all users in prison. On the other extreme, legalization. In the middle there may be more practical policies, such as decriminalizing consumption."

Watch President Santos’s interview with CNN en Español where he talks about alternatives to the war on drugs (02:00 to 08:50, in Spanish)

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Barack Obama, President of the United States

In an interview prior to the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, President Barack Obama said: “I don’t mind a debate on issues such as decriminalization. I personally don't agree that that's a solution to the problem, but I think that, given the pressures that a lot of governments are under here -- under resourced, overwhelmed by violence -- it’s completely understandable that they would look for new approaches and we want to cooperate with them."

During the Summit, Obama told Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos: "I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are doing more harm than good in certain places. I personally, and my administration's position is, that legalization is not the answer."  "The capacity of a large-scale drug trade to dominate certain countries if they were allowed to operate legally without any constraint could be just as corrupting, if not more corrupting, than the status quo," he said.

Obama said on Saturday that “we must weigh the evidence, have a debate” on the issue of drugs. “We cannot look at the issue of the supply without considering the issue of the demand of the United States” and we have to work with countries such as Mexico “not only on the drugs that reach the north, but on the weapons and money that go south.”

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Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador

Though Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa did not attend the 2012 Summit of the Americas, in an interview with CNN en Español after the summit, Correa highlighted his position on President Perez Molina’s proposal and drug policy:

I recognize the courageous position of Otto Perez Molina because this is one of the taboo topics in our America. But it is similar to the US during the 20s. The only amendment of the US constitution that has been repealed is prohibition of alcohol, why? Because what they achieved – and alcohol is a drug, by the way, and it also produces many accidents, addiction, crime, etc. – because the only thing they achieved is the generation of mafias that manage large quantities of money, they could not protect the consumer of alcohol – which is a health problem, like the consumption of drugs – and they did not pay taxes, violence, etc. What is the only difference with the current problem of drugs? That the producers there where North Americans and now they are Latin Americans so they have to bombard them.

Of course we have to search for a new strategy. The failure of the current strategy is resounding; we have to search for a new strategy to fight against what we all want to fight against: this pandemic, this harm of the drug situation and its global expansion. But it is clear that the strategy that we have used of repression, especially of production – not of consumption – has failed.

Interviewer asks Correa if he remembers what happened with his father when he is talking about drugs.

For this reason I do not like talking about this issue because that painful episode of my youth will always arise. My father was a prisoner for three years in the United States for having transported – he was a ‘mule’, which is what they call it now – he was not a criminal, he was unemployed and in his desperation, he accepted, and he committed an error and paid for his mistake. And in prison he stopped smoking, learned English; he was a person who is a great example of overcoming. For this reason, I have been very prudent in this field because this episode will always arise.

I do not have any problem taking stronger measures against the big drug trafficker. But against the poor unemployed who, out of desperation, wants to carry half a kilo of drugs to the United States, to put them in jail? For the love of God, these are not criminals; these people have the face of poverty; they are single mothers, abandoned youth. They need different treatment. Against big traffickers – these are people that rob our youth – impose the most strong measures possible.

For this reason I have not talked much about this issue because they will always raise this episode from my youth and of my family. But now that the issue has been presented – with such courage by President Otto Perez of Guatemala – then yes, I will say it frankly: we have to search for other strategies in the fight against drugs.

Watch President Correa’s interview with CNN en Español (in Spanish)

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Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica

President Laura Chinchilla has been supportive of Perez Molina’s proposal to open the debate on drug policy alternatives from the onset. In February 2012, when Perez Molina voiced his proposal, Chinchilla said "I do not see why it should not be put to a debate, but it involves a very serious and rigorous approach, in order that it is not seen as a simplistic measure, because it is not.”  At the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, Chinchilla remarked that “we have not obtained results; the situation in Central America today is worse than what we had 10 or 15 years ago, we have the right to review the current strategies to improve the situation.”

In an interview with El Tiempo during the Summit of the Americas, Chinchilla said the following:

It is one of the most complex issues in Latin America and the world. In it converges social and health variables, administration of justice, and even military variables. So it is difficult to reach a consensus; even within each of the countries it is difficult. However, there have been important advances. We have overturned certain censorships that existed. There is a willingness to acknowledge that what is being done is not necessarily the only way and that, in some ways, we have been losing the fight.

For Costa Rica, the path – ours, at least – is not the war against drugs because we do not have an army and we are not willing to engage in this convoy of destruction, militarism, exorbitant spending that distracts states from their social investment efforts. So we decided that we have to search for alternatives. Regarding decriminalization, Costa Rica has already advanced in decriminalizing the consumption of drugs, which we think is a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Regarding production and trafficking, there is space to review institutional interdiction strategies to improve.

The thing is, while we continue, quite simply, having the debate only with the US, an advancement seems much more difficult. Firstly, because the markets are growing in other areas as well: the European market, for example. And secondly, because the criminal groups that have a strong presence in Central America are operating in the rest of the world too.  So I think that we must bring this debate to the United Nations, bring it to the Security Council, demand a UN presence in order to better coordinate the actions of the development institutions that help to prevent the drug problems.

Read President Chinchilla’s interview with El Tiempo (in Spanish)

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Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico

President Felipe Calderon considered the 2012 Summit of the Americas “a success” even without a final declaration because it allowed them to “contrast” ideas and raise issues that were not on the table, including alternatives to current drug policies. He welcomes the principle of shared responsibility for the hemispheric drug problems, “from the Andes to the United States, and through Central America.”   Calderon believes that the consumption countries such as the US must make “a bigger effort” to reduce the use of drugs and the flow of money. Calderon congratulated the mandate that the Organization of American States must review current drug policies and potential alternatives; however, he maintains that it does not imply the failure “of our strategy”, merely an opportunity to strengthen and improve it.

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Ricardo Martinelli, President of Panama

At the summit of the Central American Integration System in Antigua Guatemala on March 24, 2012, President Ricardo Martinelli congratulated Perez Molina for his proposal to debate alternatives to the war on drugs.  He explained that he does not know if Panama is ready for decriminalization but he welcomes the debate, although highlighted that it deserves special treatment and an in-depth analysis. Martinelli also requested “socializing” the proposals; in other words, suggesting them to all sectors of society of the region to listen to different positions on the issue of drugs in relation to consumption, production, and transit.

At the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, Martinelli explained that he does not think that it is “the right time” to discuss decriminalization of drugs because it is a problem that should be discussed internally within each country; “this is a problem that must be discussed with society, the churches, the unions, and civil society in each country,” he said.

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Porfirio Lobo, President of Honduras

President Porfirio Lobo highlighted that during the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, they spoke of “technical and scientific studies, analyses and ways of being more effective in the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime, but there will not be decriminalization.”  He said that “there is no consensus yet amongst us. We must make diagnoses to see which alternative measures can be taken to what is already being done.” According to Lobo, “this must be a shared responsibility amongst those who consume drugs and those who produce them. Our misfortune (as Central Americans) is being in the trafficking passage.”

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Evo Morales, President of Bolivia

On Thursday, March 24 in Bogota, President Evo Morales supported the intention of Colombia and other countries to discuss new alternatives in the fight against drugs. In a joint press statement with Morales after their presidential meeting, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said that “we are discussing the issue that is on the table of finding alternatives to the current global policy of fighting against drug trafficking. Discussing if there are better alternatives; what they are and how to put them in practice.” Santos added that “President Evo Morales is completely in agreement that this is a necessary discussion that concerns the two countries and the entire hemisphere.”

At the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, Morales defended the traditional use of coca chewing and questioned the US’s lack of commitment against consumption. "We are not defenders of cocaine and we do not share in the legalization of drugs even though the so-called war on drugs has failed. The countries that have coca plantations such as Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia, make efforts to reduce coca crops without many results because since there is a market for it, it is very difficult to eradicate," Morales said.

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Ollanta Humala, President of Peru

During the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, President Ollanta Humala said that "all the issues that were not politically foreseen were touched on. The important thing is that we had transparent discussions. It is important that the US has recognized its co-responsibility in the fight against drugs and the need to work in alliance with the production countries."

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Sebastian Piñera, President of Chile

In an interview during the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, President Sebastian Piñera said:

A debate is opening on what is the best way of combating drugs in our continent. No one doubts that drugs must be combated because drugs are death, destruction; drugs do not only destroy the addicts but also their families and also affects all of society.

Until now, the way of combating drugs have not given the results that we had hoped for. I feel that there has been too much emphasis on combating the production and trafficking of drugs and not enough emphasis has been put on combating the consumption of drugs. And I hope that we achieve an agreement to achieve a more balanced fight, just as much against consumption of drugs, with much stronger prevention and rehabilitation policies – and in this, the US has a big responsibility for being the main country that consumes drugs – but it is not my opinion that we must stop combating the production and trafficking of drugs because at the end we have to fight it from all angles.

When we are fighting drugs, we are fighting a very powerful enemy, cruel, destructive, willing to do anything to achieve its perverse objectives. And therefore, the unity of the American countries and the conviction of combating with all of the force of the law both the consumption, production, and trafficking of drugs, I think is the correct path.

Without a doubt, the results that we have obtained in the fight against drugs are not the ones we wanted. We are perfectly aware that this fight has produced many deaths, much violence, much corruption but the question we have to ask if we want to change this model is if there exists a better model. There are some that propose that a better model is to legalize the production, trafficking, commercialization, and consumption of drugs. I think that before we take any measure of this nature, we have to ask ourselves one question: if we legalize drugs, will the consumption of drugs increase or decrease? I think that if the answer to this question is that drug consumption will increase, then this path is the wrong path.

I think that it is good to discuss this issue with openness, with arguments, with evidence but I think that just because our current model is not giving us the results we wanted, does not mean that the alternative path of legalization of drugs will produce better results.

Watch President Piñera’s interview with Caracol Radio (in Spanish)

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Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

In an interview after the Summit of the Americas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that “I think there is almost a universal agreement that we should continue to fight transnational criminal networks. There is increasing doubt about whether we are taking the best approach to doing that…What I think everybody believes and agrees with — and I’ll be frank myself — is that the current approach is not working. But it is not clear what we should do.”

Harper voiced his concern about the “penetration” of the drug trade throughout Canadian society, “so there is a willingness to look at what various measures can be taken to combat that phenomenon.” However, he disagrees with immediate acceptance of “simplistic” measures, such as decriminalization. “Let me remind you of why these drugs are illegal. They are illegal because they quickly and totally — with many of the drugs — destroy people’s lives and people are willing to make lots of money out of selling those products to people and destroying their lives. And no amount of law — whether it’s having the approach in the Muslim world to execution, all the way to full legalization, nothing is going to prevent the reality that this is a trade, people attempting to make rich by destroying people’s lives. It’s that simple (…) It’s going to be an enormous social problem wherever it occurs and under whatever legal regime it happens."

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Vicente Fox, Former President of Mexico

Since leaving office in 2006, former Mexican president, Vicente Fox, has been an outspoken critic of prohibitionist drug policies and has even advocated for legalization. He says, “I am for legalization. Decriminalization is to not punish or not imprison only those who consume drugs. I am for legalization, which is a total change of paradigm”.   “Truly, the levels of crime and death are reaching unprecedented levels and drug trafficking is causing such havoc that is annihilating us. We have to finish this war and reach peace,” said Fox.

In an interview after the Summit of the Americas in April 2012, Fox highlighted his position on the regulation of drugs:

I think that ideas, especially if they are new, are difficult to cross and arise. I’m telling you, talking about eliminating the prohibition of consumption of drugs is not an easy idea. Even in Canada this is in force. In Canada consuming drugs is prohibited; however, the government has an advertising campaign for its citizens that says, if you are going to consume drugs, do it in the following way: do not consume drugs when you are going to drive; after consuming marijuana do not drive for four hours; if you are going to consume marijuana, check with your doctor, otherwise you will harm yourself; and you should not consume drugs before age 21.

Therefore, you can put in regulatory frameworks like you have with alcohol. Alcohol is not free. It is assumed that underage youth cannot drink alcohol. It is assumed that if you drink alcohol, you should not become an addict and destroy your life.

Interviewer asks if he has had experience with drugs.

No, of course not, and allow me to tell you the following: 8.5 percent of those that drink alcohol pay for it with their lives; 4.5 percent of those that smoke cigarettes pay for it with their lives, from lung cancer; only 0.04 percent of those that consume drugs end up paying for it with their lives. Alcohol and cigarettes are much more fatal than drugs themselves.

And another thing, as you mentioned, President Obama smoked his joints, President Clinton did too. Steve Jobs, this global personality who managed to achieve a total revolution in the 21st Century through Apple through his genius and capacity, he spent ten years experimenting with LSD and marijuana. I do not want to say that it is good for the health, on the contrary, it is bad for health, but he who controls it and regulates it will not necessarily end up in a bad situation.

But more importantly, what right does the state have to impose forms of behavior? I need to impose these on myself, through my education, in the home, at school, I have to understand myself that it is bad to consume drugs, that it will harm me, that it is bad for my health and therefore, I should not consume them. This is very different to the state trying to eliminate drugs and protecting our children.

What we have to ask from the government and the state is the security of our children, that our children return home safely, without violence. Not whether or not they consume drugs, that is my responsibility, that my children do not consume drugs.

My idea is to break the paradigm, to move to a new paradigm, where we eliminate the violence, reach peace, end the war, and reduce the consumption of drugs, such as Portugal has done. Therefore, the paths to reach peace are based on actions that will end the war and help us reach peace.

Watch Vicente Fox’s interview with Uniradio (03:20 to 07:40, in Spanish)

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Cesar Gaviria, Former President of Colombia

Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia from 1990 to 1994, is now part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and actively promotes alternatives to the war on drugs. In March, Gaviria called the U.S.-led "war on drugs" a failure and proposed decriminalization to reduce the damages caused to society. Gaviria says that "Society does not want to accept that people consume. You cannot turn away from reality (…) No one now speaks in favor of the war on drugs."   Regarding the 2012 Summit of the Americas, Gaviria said that “the mere fact that the presidents of Colombia and Guatemala have raised the issue of legalization legitimizes the debate."

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Ernesto Samper Pizano, Former President of Colombia

In the framework of the 2012 Summit of the Americas, former Colombian president, Ernesto Samper Pizano said that the presidents should initiate a discussion on decriminalization of drugs on the continent. He said that the extremes are bad, which is why he does not agree with either complete liberty regarding drugs or with continuing with the current situation.  “We cannot move from the fundamentalism of repression in which we find ourselves to the fundamentalism of legalization which is also not a panacea. We must search for intermediate formulas which allow for decriminalization of drug consumption without taking away its status as a socially harmful behavior,” said Samper. He added that they should find policies that allow for intervention and regulation of the drug market.

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Ricardo Lagos, Former President of Chile

In May, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos voiced his support for the decriminalization of marijuana. “I am a supporter of the decriminalization of the consumption (of marijuana) on the country level,” Lagos, president from 2000-2006, said in an interview. “(Current drug policy) is inefficient because in 40 years we have fought everything — consumption, production, traffic, everything — and this war is being lost,” Lagos said. "It is important to understand that the drug problem is not a domestic policy and each country cannot resolve it individually. If a country resolves it individually and not in a global context, this policy is going to fail."

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Manolo Pichardo, President of the Central American Parliament (Parlacen)

In March 2012, Manolo Pichardo said that he is in favor of a debate on the decriminalization of drugs in the region. He justified his position indicating that “you mustn’t flee nor fear it and you must open the debate.” Pichardo asked to hear the proposals in favor and in contra decriminalization of drug trafficking.  According to Pichardo, Parlacen, based in Guatemala, is interested in discussing the Guatemalan proposal to legalize drugs but they have not defined their position on the issue.

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Hasan Tuluy, Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean of the World Bank

The debate on decriminalization and regulation of drug consumption in Latin America is necessary, according to Tuluy, who said that the violence costs Central America an average of 8% of its annual GDP. “We have reached the point where this is now a development issue. In Central America, on average, the violence costs about 8% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and for Honduras, the country most severely affected, it’s 10%,” said Tuluy to journalists after the Business Summit of the Americas.

“It is very good that this debate is happening. The issue requires a coordinated focus, it is difficult to imagine how one country could achieve this alone if their neighbors do not accompany it,” said Tuluy, who lamented “the fall in investments; the transfer (to security) of funds that could be dedicated to health or education or other things; the tension in social cohesion.” Tuluy said that the debate may require regulation of drug consumption but they must study the issue according to the particular circumstances of each country.

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Heraldo Muñoz, Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

An international debate on decriminalization of certain drugs is inevitable in light of the setbacks of traditional policies of combating drug trafficking, Heraldo Muñoz said in March 2012. “I think that it is clear that the debate on decriminalization and whether certain uses of some drugs will be tolerated is on the table (…) some presidents are already talking,” he said. According to Muñoz, there are an increasing number of voices calling for debating decriminalization of at least certain drugs. “Even a commission of the United Nations have expressed that the war against drugs has failed and that we must search for other measures,” said Muñoz, insisting that for this reason “the discussion must be had.” The diplomat revealed that the necessity of searching for new ways, including “market mechanisms,” to confront the problem of drugs has also been expressed recently by the Mexican president, Felipe Calderon.

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Maria Angela Holguin, Foreign Minister of Colombia

Opening up a debate on drugs at the Summit of the Americas is “very positive” because it is “the most relevant issue” for the region, according to Maria Angela Holguin. Before the Summit, Holguin said that the issue of drugs “is very important to us. It’s linked to the security issue, to Central America, and to the problem of drug trafficking and we see it as very positive” that it will be dealt with at the Summit. “We cannot hide that it is the most relevant issue for the region,” she said. Holguin congratulated the Central American countries for insisting on bringing the debate to the Summit and said that “if we had proposed it eight months ago, I don’t think it would have been accepted. (But) it is the most important issue in the region and it will be discussed (…) we want that, starting with the Summit, a debate in the region begins and does not die.”

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Javier Zapata, President of the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia

Javier Zapata said that “it is already a step forward” that the U.S. is ready to “discuss” the issue, otherwise they would “continue with the same prohibitionist mentality (…) All of the dialogue on this problem is important (…) and both statesmen and legislators should approach the issue in an interdisciplinary way (…) so that humanity sees which is the best way of eradicating the problem.”

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Eduardo Montealegre, Prosecutor General of Colombia

In an interview in March 2012, Eduardo Montealagre said:  “I do not agree with legalization of drugs, I do not think that it is the right policy for combating crime. But that does not exclude a big global debate on its merits. It should be debated (…) I agree with the position of the Constitutional Court: the minimum dose should not be penalized. Treatment should be exclusively medical, the answer should be social. I do not believe in the policy of penalizing all sorts of behavior, only the very serious, which compromise the essential values of society. The consumption of drugs refers to a strictly personal sphere and must respect the free development of personality (…) We should start from the point of not penalizing consumption. There should be more public health policies but never the interference of criminal law in these types of rights. That is the line that the Court drew.

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Óscar Adolfo Naranjo Trujillo, Commander of the National Police of Colombia

In an interview given in April 2012, General Naranjo highlighted his position on drug policy:

You have said many times that drug trafficking is one of the causes of the violence. Are you in favor of decriminalizing or regulating drugs?

Naranjo: I celebrate that Colombia today is promoting a debate on drugs without pressure from drug traffickers. Colombia can give opinions, can debate the issue because it has moral authority and many reasons to do so. President Santos has continental and global leadership to promote the debate. We must make a stop along the way: what else can we do against the consumption and trafficking of drugs? What are we doing badly? What can we do better? I think, furthermore, that one should not go to a debate on drugs with preconceived conclusions.

In other words, not debate to impose…
Naranjo: Yes. Talking about legalization or decriminalization or depenalization of drugs should be the result of debate, not the entrance door to the discussion, because this debate needs solid and consistent evidence. As said by the President, what do we do with the victims of drug trafficking? What justifies the debate is the victims, from the consumer to the deaths caused by drug trafficking violence.

But you support the debate?
Naranjo: I am a friend of promoting a debate that explores alternative ways, new procedures, new policies on prevention and repression of drugs. I am a friend of talking frankly about each of the drugs, because here there is also a mistake when drugs are compared to the prohibition of alcohol in the last century. There, the phenomenon was about one sole product called alcohol. Here we are talking about at least 480 substances that, according to the last report, are being consumed in the streets of the world. And there is another issue: substances that are soft, such as marijuana; very hard, such as acids that kill and produce irreparable addictions; and drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which are in the intermediate world, producing dangers to the health and to addicted persons.

Are you saying that we need different drug policies?
Naranjo: It is important firstly to tell ourselves the truth, because the information surrounding drugs is diffuse, inconsistent.

Telling ourselves the truth, as you say, is admitting that repression failed?
Naranjo: A society cannot remain impassive when citizens want a product that kills them. That would be tremendously irresponsible. On the other extreme, there are products such as marijuana, where scientifically it has been shown to be much less harmful, lethal, and addictive than other products. We have to propose a process of regularization of marijuana.

What is regularization of marijuana?
Naranjo: That the state sets the conditions for its consumption.

To permit it?
Naranjo: Yes, but controlled. This is already happening in the world.

This would not trigger the consumption of marijuana?
Naranjo: This is a danger. Furthermore, it may trigger the consumption of other hard products. The big danger here is that alcohol and marijuana are the entrance point for consumption of hard drugs. That is where society has to do something. What to do? Allowing us the liberty and license? Closing the eyes or opening the eyes? Of course, if this consumption is permitted, there will be restrictive, controlled, and regularized terms and conditions.

Prohibitions or regularization such as?
Naranjo: The consumers of marijuana should receive special treatment from the state and there should be registers of marijuana consumers, prohibitions on underage youth consuming marijuana. I usually use an example that is more pertinent today giving the scandal with President Obama’s secret service. The world has resolved, in a very intelligent way, problems that have dragged the history of humanity, such as prostitution. What did the world do with prostitution? At some points, prostitutes were shot. At others, people who used prostitution services were shot; in others, it was declared illegal and penalized. And what has happened with this reality? The world took three very intelligent decisions: first, prostitution is not illegal, what is illegal is prostitution in areas open to the public. Secondly, it is prohibited to exploit prostitutes and pimps are illegal. Third, nobody can promote public prostitution. Image this with the world of marijuana: those who want to consume do it in their home and not in public areas.

What other regularizations should be thought about?
Naranjo: That no one can promote the use of marijuana, that no one spreads it, and that minors cannot use it. This is an individual decision of the citizens, based on information that the state must give on whether this product is harmful or not.

If your idea is accepted, what happens?
Naranjo: We stop criminalizing the consumer, because this doubly victimizes them. On one hand, by the consumption itself, and on the other, from the criminal treatment. Furthermore, it liberates state forces so that we can focus on the persecution of organizations, not of the consumer.

What benefit would permitting the use of marijuana have?
Naranjo: There are benefits because the consumer today suffers the risk of getting involved in a criminal, clandestine world in order to consume and this world is the one that generates violence and is a high risk environment.

And with drugs aside from marijana?
Naranjo: No. We must pursue these. There, yes to absolute prohibition because it is proven that these drugs produce lethal and harmful dangers.

Read General Naranjo’s full interview with El Tiempo (in Spanish)

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María Emma Mejía, Former Foreign Minister of Colombia and Secretary General of Unasur

Maria Emma Mejia said that it is healthy that the possibility of drug decriminalization is being discussed in Latin America and new ways of combating the effects of drug trafficking in the world are being searched for. “I think that it is healthy to have new positions, new advances, and I think that this issue should be discussed,” said Mejia. She said that the world has found itself “at a point of no return” regarding the debate on drug trafficking because now there is no more possibility of excluding approaches that might be more effective in combating the consequences of this phenomenon. Mejia indicated that even the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, has shown his willingness to approach the issue of decriminalization. She also stated that she had emitted a personal opinion in her capacity as secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur). According to Mejia, the position of Unasur on the problem of drugs has been to focus more on prevention than on the frontal fight against drug trafficking.

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Gabriel Silva, Colombian Ambassador to the U.S.

Asked about the Summit of the Americas and the debate on alternatives to prohibition, Gabriel Silva said, “We have to go back to the roots that this is a public policy issue and we have to sit down and review the options. We need to go to the facts and see what is working and what is not, through experts, investing a lot of intellectual capital and research (…) [Legalization] can only be done as a global decision, because if you legalize in one country and not as an international policy, then you create a haven for drug traffickers and organized crime. So you need to create a global debate on the issue. (Also) legalization usually comes up when you're desperate, and you cannot really put forward policies that come out of desperation. You need to put policies that come out of conviction plus good data and research. Legalization is a legitimate discussion if that discussion is not conducted as a way to shy away from fighting organized crime.”

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Francisco Javier Dall'Anese, Attorney-General and Chief of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala

In an opinion article written in February 2012, Dall’Anese wrote: “Putting the issue on the table is not only timely but necessary because after decades of judicial and military confrontations against cartels in the whole region, the truth is that the criminal networks have strengthened, governments have lost territory and authority, and countries are turning into narco-states. But legalization is still dangerous and the cure could be more dangerous than the disease. Objectives should be established, along with the methods of achieving them (…) Legalization cannot make our region into a “party place” where drug lords make millions and massively affect public health.  The proposal by the government of Guatemala gives room for an important discussion but it should be addressed responsibly: the aim is to defeat cartels, not to cede territory to them.” Dall’Anese also said that he agrees with the idea of state distribution of free drugs to addicts in order to cause the demise of the drug cartels and to offer medical assistance to addicts with the goal of reducing the crime associated with the search and obtaining of drugs.

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Oscar Julio Vian, Archbishop of Guatemala

After considering the debate on the decriminalization of drugs as “positive" and deeming that this "is a topic that does not belong to the Church, but rather to the government," Archbishop Vian said that the wisest measure will be that which provides greatest guarantees for human integrity. The religious leader said "it’s good" that President Otto Perez Molina "is trying to discuss and come to an agreement" with his Central American counterparts because "Guatemala cannot be the only one to change its position on such an issue when all countries of the Isthmus are against it," he said. He stressed that they must "study the positive and negative effects a provision like this would have in a situation like that in which Guatemalans live,” he said. The illegality of drugs has "caused too many deaths from drug trafficking and the movement of dirty money in the country, while the negative side of decriminalization could be [an increase] in the number of victims of drug consumption, but among all of these factors, there should be a balance in order to know what is best," concluded the Archbishop. "We should know under what circumstances fewer people will die and what will give us better results."

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Patricia Espinosa, Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico

In front of MPs of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly (EuroLat), Patricia Espinosa stated in February that Mexico is ready to participate and open a debate on drug legalization even though it would not end the problems of drug trafficking and organized crime because it is an “enormously diversified” trade. However, she maintains that it must be discussed at an international level and insisted that Calderon’s government is willing to enter a debate about drug legalization.

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Marisela Morales, Attorney General of Mexico

In March 2012, Marisela Morales raised the need to open a discussion on "other ways out" of the problem of drugs. "There are many opinions and voices on the subject. Certainly no country can close debate, dialogue and deep analysis of the topic. It is important, but with objective information," Morales said and added that a clear and precise diagnosis of the problem of drugs is required. She said that "many times numbers and figures are presented that often lack a scientific basis to support a change in strategy" that ensures effectiveness. "I am convinced that we do need to have a hemispheric meeting to make this diagnosis and to generate sound and effective strategies," said Morales.

Morales explained that drug trafficking in Mexico "is a problem in some states, where violence has been generated by these criminal organizations fighting for territory and the drug market (…) The situation is not, as is sometimes seen, at the same level across the country, but it is in some specific areas." The prosecutor denied that the violence of the drug trafficker has been able to affect democracy in her country and said that "no criminal organization is stronger than the state itself. The State has shown itself capable of dealing with this crime and is doing it decisively with local governments and establishing agreements and strategies through international cooperation."

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Alfredo Moreno, Foreign Minister of Chile

In March 2012, Alfredo Moreno said that it will be important to think about possible decriminalization of drugs at the Summit of the Americas in April. “I think that first we must reflect and then give opinions. There is no doubt that the (anti-drug) strategy that has continued till now has many difficulties.” The Chilean foreign minister highlighted the lack of results in the fight against drugs “that we are seeing in Central America and in countries that are facing much trouble with the cartels related to drugs.” He added that “decriminalization also has its difficulties,” which is why he thinks that “the process of meditation” that might arise at the summit in Colombia “will be very important.”

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Arturo Corrales, Foreign Minister of Honduras

Central America is studying “all the alternatives” to combat drug trafficking because the current strategy “does not work”, said Arturo Corrales, after a meeting in San Salvador in March 2012, as preparation for the regional summit in Guatemala.

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Felipe Cáceres, Bolivian Deputy Minister of Social Defense and Controlled Substances

Felipe Cáceres said in March 2012 that Bolivia is not opposed to debating drug decriminalization. “Of course, we respect the sovereign decision of each country to have a legitimate position on the case of legalization of certain drugs. The UNDP official has suggested that this should be on the discussion table because we must acknowledge that in the last decade, the fight against drug trafficking on a global level has been a failure,” said Cáceres. He said that Bolivia, especially its vice ministry, is working on increasing prevention of consumption, through a series of seminars and awareness-raising workshops in schools and universities. “In Bolivia there has not been an opportunity to analyze a supportive or negative position on the issue of decriminalization of drugs,” he said. “There are many countries such as Panama and Argentina where they talk of possible liberalization, they do not talk of decriminalization or legalization, but of liberalization of five grams of marijuana for personal consumption,” said Cáceres.

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Sergio Ramirez, Nicaraguan Writer and Former Vice President

I agree with legalization. There is no other path to seeing drugs as a public health issue and to stopping organized crime than legalization of consumption. It would be a complicated issue. It would not happen overnight, it will take years of debate, but the important thing is that it is on the table. Drugs – and through no fault of Central America – cost us thousands of deaths. We must take this issue seriously. We have already seen that the armed fight, the repression of the cartels – as seen in Guatemala and Mexico – has not worked.”

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Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian Author and Nobel Laureate for Literature

In April 2012, Mario Vargas Llosa said he was in favor of Latin American countries advancing policies that foster the gradual legalization of drugs with the aim of ending the “monster” of drug trafficking in the region.  The fundamental thing for Vargas Llosa is ending the crime associated with drug trafficking which, in his opinions, grows in “a cancerous manner” and can destroy the “fragile democracies” of the Latin American countries. In his opinion, drug trafficking is a “very economically powerful industry” and it “lacks scruples.” “Drug trafficking can pay better salaries than the state,” and can buy policemen, journalists, and ministers, he said.

Drug trafficking “is a monster that is there and that must be confronted with rationality,” said the author, who explained that the “purely repressive” policies have not had success despite spending “astronomical sums” on combating drugs and the result is an increase in consumption, production, and trade of drugs and the power of the gangs.

The author used the example of Mexico. “For me, it is a mirror for what could happen in all of Latin America if we do not change policies,” said the author, who indicated that a debate on replacing repressive policies with preventive ones has developed in the region.