September 30, 2013

President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala attracted worldwide attention in January 2012 when he said he was considering new alternatives to fight drug trafficking, including decriminalization. Although Guatemala has not yet passed legislation to this end, Pérez Molina and other officials are still calling on the international community to develop a new approach for dealing with illicit drugs.

On September 25, Pérez Molina visited Columbia SIPA for a talk entitled “New Avenues for Global Illicit Drug Policies" and sponsored by the Economic and Political Development Concentration and the Institute of Latin American Studies.

“This is a long process,” Pérez Molina said in his speech. “It doesn’t depend only on Guatemala.” He said countries in which drugs are produced, transported, and consumed each face a "different reality" in the war on drugs, and therefore they also have "different reactions.” All should be part of the debate, he underscored.

Pérez Molina said the prohibitionist model has “clearly failed,” so countries must end what he called the taboo on discussing legalization. The debate, he added, should also take into account education, public health, and the respect for human rights. 

According to Pérez Molina, the impact of drug-related violence and corruption is especially hard on Central America because it is a key transit region for drugs produced in South America and traveling to the United States.

“The market is not in Guatemala,” he said. “We need to work with the countries from which the dollars and the weapons to produce the drugs come from. Their cooperation is key.”

Drug transportation and distribution networks are also becoming more sophisticated and difficult to detect, Pérez Molina said. “Now you have all types of vehicles transporting drugs, and it’s not trucks with big bales anymore. Sometimes, they are hidden in very sophisticated compartments in cars, or are thrown overboard and chased by boats.”

Pérez Molina congratulated President Obama for allowing some states to legalize recreational marijuana. “We hope that the U.S. can also have this approach in its foreign policy, and that they join this important debate.”

The event was moderated by Professor José Antonio Ocampo, director of the EPD concentration. Luis Fernando Carrera Castro, Guatemala’s minister of foreign affairs, and Professor José Moya, director of the Institute of Latin American Studies, also participated.

— by Valle Avilés Pinedo MIA ’14