Press Release  | 03/22/2012

Saturday: Central American Presidents to Hold Historic Meeting to Discuss Strategies to Reduce Prohibition-Related Crime, Violence and Corruption

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First Time Ever that Sitting Presidents are Calling for All Options, Including Legalization and Decriminalization, To Be Put on The Table

Momentum Builds for Unprecedented Debate at Summit of The Americas in Colombia in April

This Saturday, a historic meeting will take place when presidents from Central America come together in Guatemala to discuss legalization, decriminalization and other strategies for reducing the region’s prohibition-related violence, crime and corruption. The meeting, initiated and hosted by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, represents the first time ever that sitting presidents are seriously debating alternatives to drug prohibition – and comes just weeks before the topic will be considered for the first time at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Colombia in mid-April.

The presidents of Costa Rica, Panamá, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras all say they will participate in the Saturday meeting, and the presidents of Belize and the Dominican Republic may join them as well.  Although Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Mexican President Felipe Calderón are not expected to attend, both have expressed their support for the meeting and for the Guatemalan president’s initiative.  Among those invited to speak at the gathering is the former president of Colombia, César Gaviria, who is a member of both the Latin American and Global Commission on Drug Policy. Those commissions, which also included former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, are widely credited with "breaking the taboo” on serious consideration of decriminalization, legalization and other alternatives to failed prohibitionist policies.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, issued the following statement:

"The rapid evolution of this debate is nothing short of remarkable.  It has progressed in just a few years from the advocacy of activists and intellectuals, to distinguished former presidents, and now to current presidents demanding that all options, including decriminalization and legalization, be seriously evaluated and debated.

"President Otto Pérez Molina is providing important leadership not just within Guatemala but throughout Central America and indeed throughout the Americas.  As a former general whose politics are more to the right than the left, he brings a "Nixon goes to China” approach that is helping open up the debate across the political spectrum and throughout the region.  His public comments since he first spoke out in February reveal an increasingly sophisticated understanding of the issues as well as a recognition that the burgeoning debate needs to be skillfully managed and directed.

"The significance of this meeting cannot be overestimated, notwithstanding the fact that no one expects a consensus to emerge from this meeting on alternative drug policies.  Virtually no one would have predicted just one year ago that half a dozen Central American presidents would be meeting, with the support of presidents in Mexico and Colombia, to discuss drug policy options including decriminalization and legalization.  What was once taboo is no longer.  The discussion will continue next month at the Summit of the Americas – in Cartagena, Colombia – with President Barack Obama and virtually all other heads of state from the region in attendance.  At this point it is no longer possible to put this genie back in the bottle.

"Vice President Joe Biden provided an important opening last month when he acknowledged that the debate was a legitimate one, even as he quickly reiterated the Obama administration’s opposition to legalization.  But unfortunately the biggest obstacle right now to informed debate is the head-in-the-sand resistance within the Obama administration and Congress to any real discussion of alternative drug policy options. Censorship and self-censorship in this area within the federal government are endemic, driven by fears that any internal policy memos, or even oral discussions, that conclude with politically inconvenient recommendations, are not just unwelcome but dangerous to one's standing and career. One result is that U.S. government officials will be increasingly handicapped in the international drug policy discussions at Cartagena and elsewhere, armed only with defenses of failed U.S. policies but bereft of any in-depth analysis of the options that other governments are putting on the table."

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann 646-335-2240

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