The west’s “war on drugs” has failed and continuing with prohibition will only cost more lives, the Guatemalan president, Otto Pérez Molina, declares in an interview in the Observer.
In a further sign that the global consensus on drugs is fragmenting, Pérez Molina will use a debate at this week’s Davos forum in Switzerland to attack the international community for its support for prohibition, and to call for a regulated narcotics market.
“I believe western countries fail to understand the reality that countries such as Guatemala and those of Central America have to live in,” said Pérez Molina. “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.”
He said western leaders must look beyond their domestic agendas. “A message should be sent to the leaders of the countries with the biggest drug markets. They must think not only of… the context of their country, but of what is happening in the world, in regions such as Central America, where this destruction, this weakening of democracy, is happening. They must be open to recognising that the struggle against drugs, in the way it has been conducted, has failed.”
Up to 400 tonnes of cocaine are transited through Guatemala each year, up from seven tonnes in 2008, because US-led operations in the Caribbean and the Pacific have prompted the cartels to seek alternative trafficking routes.
Pérez Molina said the cartels now pose a serious threat to the Guatemalan state. “Drug traffickers have been able to penetrate the institutions in this country by employing their resources and money,” he said. “We are talking about the security forces, public prosecutors, judges. Drug money has penetrated these institutions and it becomes an activity that directly threatens the institutions and, therefore, the democracy of countries.”
He said the cartels were getting stronger. “The flow of arms towards Central America from the north and deaths in our country have grown.”
He does not favour full legalisation of narcotics but is arguing for the introduction of a regulated drugs market. His comments come shortly after two US states, Colorado and Washington, voted to legalise marijuana. He predicted that attitudes within the US government would see the country soften its stance on prohibition.
“There is going to be a change away from the paradigm of prohibitionism and the war against drugs, and there is going to be a process that will take us towards regulation. So I would expect a more flexible and more open position from President Obama in his second term.”
Pérez Molina also said he has a message for western drug users. “They should reflect not only on the harm to their own health, but also on the deaths that enable them to consume that cocaine.”