Guatemala's president makes drug legalization pitch

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina addresses a crowd during his inauguration ceremony on January 14.

Story highlights

  • Guatemala's leader also suggests U.S. economic compensation for seized drugs
  • President Otto Perez Molina proposes decriminalizing drugs in the region
  • Central American leaders do not come to an agreement at the meeting
  • Perez Molina says they hope to bring up the issue at next month's Summit of the Americas

Guatemala's president made a formal pitch to his fellow Central American leaders over the weekend, urging them them to sign on to a regional security plan that would include legalizing drugs.

President Otto Perez Molina proposed several options for dealing with drug-related violence in Central America, including creating a regional court to try drug trafficking cases, getting economic compensation from the United States for seized drugs and decriminalizing the transport and consumption of drugs.

The leaders did not come to an agreement during Saturday's meeting in Antigua, Guatemala, but Perez Molina described the summit as a success.

"It was as successful as we were hoping, successful in that we got rid of these taboos and myths that before kept the leaders of the region from talking or debating ideas, ideas that for a long time could not be talked about openly," he said.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli attended the meeting, which also included representatives from other Central American countries.

Perez Molina said Saturday that the leaders aimed to bring up the issue at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, next month.

The proposal could pave the way for a significant policy shift in a region where brutal drug violence is a daily reality.

Perez Molina isn't the first leader to propose that legalizing drugs may help stem the bloodshed.

In a 2009 report, three former Latin American presidents -- Brazil's Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Colombia's Cesar Gaviria, and Mexico's Ernesto Zedillo -- called for decriminalizing cannabis for personal use.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox also has said he supports legalizing marijuana use.

But analysts say sitting presidents rarely make such proposals, fearing political consequences.

"This has been an academic debate and it has also been a scientific debate, an issue that has been studied. And bringing it back into political debate, I think, is important," Perez Molina told CNN en Español last month.

The 61-year-old former military general pledged to rule Guatemala with an iron fist when he ran for office last year.

He caught many Guatemalans off guard last month when he said he wanted to legalize drugs.

"What I have done is put the issue back on the table," Perez Molina told CNN en Español shortly after he first floated the idea. "I think it is important for us to have other alternatives. ... We have to talk about decriminalization of the production, the transit and, of course, the consumption."

But some skeptics have suggested Perez Molina may be bluffing -- using the legalization debate to pressure U.S. officials into bringing back military aid to Guatemala. Such aid has been cut off for decades due to human rights abuses committed during the Central American nation's civil war.

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