Central America Agrees to Discuss Drug Decriminalization

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March 7, 2012
El Heraldo, Honduras

English Translation

Presidents of the region will meet on March 24 in Guatemala to discuss the controversial proposal on whether or not to legalize drugs, which was brought up during yesterday’s meeting with the vice-president of the United States.

As expected, the controversial Guatemalan proposal was put on the agenda during the historic 4-hour visit of the North American vice-president, which alerted the interest of all of Central America.

Almost two hours late, Biden met at midday yesterday with President Porfirio Lobo and afterwards with presidents of all of the country members of the Central American Integration System (SICA), who flew to Tegucigalpa to analyze the problems of insecurity faced by the region and caused by organized crime and drug trafficking. According the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Central America, criminal activities cause commercial losses in the entire region totaling 900 million dollars.

The U.S. official maintained that drug trafficking represents a shared problem between the U.S. and Central America, which required greater commitments from the region. He reiterated that the U.S. is against the initiative to decriminalize drugs and he said that before suggesting such an initiative, one must consider whether it would have positive results. “You cannot waste resources if you will not achieve concrete results, you have to focus the resources on strong and comprehensive strategies and programs,” he said.

However, the Central American presidents signed a joint statement after their meeting with Biden, initiating a process to discuss the proposal of President Otto Perez on March 24 in Guatemala: “We listened attentively and with interest to the proposal of the president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, on the search for alternative mechanisms for the fight against drug trafficking and agree that after this initial dialogue, we will continue debating this initiative in a meeting on March 24 in the Republic of Guatemala. In preparation for this, we have formed working groups to define the agenda.”

Guatemala’s idea is based on the fact that hundreds of tons of drugs pass through these economically impoverished countries every year and the proposal is that they would not face legal impediments of transit at least to the borders of North America, which, at the end of the day, is the final objective of the traffickers.

According to Guatemala, this means that if drugs were legal (not necessarily their consumption), there would not be bribes to politicians and soldiers and there would not be “narco-politicians” working from their position of power to facilitate trafficking.  Furthermore, violence, murders, threats, and money laundering would reduce drastically.

But in the U.S.’s view, this Guatemalan proposal would be an open door which would allow tons of drugs to reach the hands of a large sector of their sick and addicted population.

At 12:30, the vice-president met bilaterally with the president of Honduras where they discussed citizen security, trade, democracy, and drug trafficking. During the meeting, Biden referred to the violence faced by Honduras and the actions they intend to implement to reduce crime rates. According to the 2011 United Nations Global Study on Homicide, Honduras has a homicide rate of 82 per 100,000 inhabitants, the majority of which are caused by drug trafficking. This rate makes Honduras the most violent country in Central America, in the continent, and in the world.

Debate

After the bilateral meeting, Biden had a two hour meeting with Central American presidents. Present were Mauricio Funez of El Salvador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Otto Pérez of Guatemala, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, the Secretary of Foreign Relations of the Dominican Republic, Carlos Morales, and president Lobo Sosa of Honduras.

The Guatemalan leader opened the debate by reiterating his proposal for the presidents of SICA to analyze drug decriminalization. “It is necessary that we not only take this measure, but also others that accompany the efforts by all of the Central American presidents, because we will be remembered by the decisions and positions that we take as heads of state,” he said.

Chinchilla of Costa Rica said that the position of her Guatemalan colleague should be analyzed and a consensus should be reached during the next SICA session, in order to make a joined decision.

Funes of El Salvador, for his part, said that he is personally against the proposal of decriminalizing drugs but he is in favor of discussing the initiative or any others decided by Central American countries. He also said that they must fight the root of the evil, which is the involvement of the maras (Central American gangs) in illegal organizations and to prevent crime, in order to recover territory and boost social programs.

Martinelli of Panama said that it is necessary to approve measures to put a stop to drug trafficking and organized crime, such as logistic and financial support from the U.S.

Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua said that in his country they do not have the conditions to decriminalize drug trafficking and consumption and he maintained that a fundamental pillar in eradicating these problems is to increase the economic level of the region with national and foreign investment, which would create employment and would reduce poverty.

Lobo of Honduras said that he is open to discussion of issues and procedures which would improve security and substantially decrease criminality and drug trafficking.

Joint Statement from the Presidents of SICA

The Central American presidents agreed yesterday in a joint statement to discuss drug decriminalization as proposed by the Guatemalan government.

Below is the signed document:

At the invitation of the President of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, President Pro Tempore of the Central American Integration System (SICA), we met in Tegucigalpa on March 6, 2012. Aware of the importance to our region of the safety and welfare of our citizens, we continue our dialogue on the Central American Security Strategy and its relationship to the economic and social development of our nations.

We were given the opportunity to meet with the Vice President of the United States of America, Joseph Biden, with whom we examined the complexity and gravity of the actions of transnational organized crime in our countries, particularly with regard to drug trafficking, money laundering, trafficking in weapons, trafficking in precursor chemicals, and human trafficking, among others. We explained to the Vice-President of the United States the enormous human, social, and economic costs the above-mentioned illegal activities have on our countries, as well as and our governments’ determined efforts combat them.

We recall the commitments made by the international community in the framework of the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy, held in June, 2011 in the Republic of Guatemala, in which the principle of co-responsibility was adopted, additional resources were promised, and effective investment and management was agreed upon.

We urge the Central American Security Strategy Group of Friendly Countries and International Organizations to help inimplementing the projects defined at the conference, especially with the funds required for the implementation of eight projects that were launched at the High Level Meeting held in Washington, DC on February 16, 2012.

We listened attentively and with interest to the proposal of the president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, on the search for alternative mechanisms for the fight against drug trafficking and agree that after this initial dialogue, we will continue debating this initiative in a meeting on March 24 in the Republic of Guatemala. In preparation for this, we have formed working groups to define the agenda.

We reviewed the international resources made available until now to implement the Central American Security Strategy and we reiterate our conviction that it is imperative to lay new foundations for cooperation and effectiveness in the fight against organized crime.

We emphasize the importance of strengthening the mechanisms for information exchange between our countries and between Central America and other countries in the international community. We are calling to address the problem of drug trafficking in a comprehensive manner, taking into account not only interdiction efforts but also the need to reduce supply and especially consumption.

We welcomed the initiative of Honduras to establish a SICA Centre of Study and Analysis dedicated exclusively to security issues in Central America and the Dominican Republic.

View the article in Spanish.

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