President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala said Monday that his country and others in Central America should consider legalizing drugs to help reduce violence in the region. Speaking at a press conference with President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador after a meeting on crime and security issues, Pérez Molina said, “We’re bringing the issue up for debate. If drug consumption isn’t reduced, the problem [of drug trafficking] will continue.” Funes, too, said he was “open to discussion” in his country on the matter.
Pérez first indicated his support for legalization in a radio interview on Sunday, saying his proposal would include legalization of consumption and transportation of drugs. He plans to bring the issue up at a summit of Central American leaders next month. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala responded to the proposal with strong criticism, issuing a statement in which it said to legalize drugs would represent “a threat to public health and safety.” Pérez Molina said he considered the statement to be “premature” and that the U.S. should be a part of the debate.
Pérez Molina, a former general, was elected in November 2011 and took office last month promising to crack down on crime, including military action against drug cartels. In his first month in office, he has transformed himself into one of the strongest voices in favor of legalization. Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala expert and professor of political science at Haverford College, said the change could be a political calculation to pressure the U.S. into providing Guatemala with more military aid, while Pérez Molina’s backers say the change reflects a realization that, with continued U.S. demand for drugs, Guatemala will never have the resources to stem the flow of drugs north.
A growing number of Latin American leaders have expressed support for the legalization of drugs. President Santos has said it is a theme that “must be addressed,” and that he would be open to legalizing drugs if the entire world were. Former Presidents Vicente Fox, of Mexico, and Fernando Enrique Cardoso, of Brazil, have also expressed support.