Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Drug Legalization Debate Heats Up in Central America

Bullet Riddled car
Should certain types of narcotics be legalized in order to lessen violence by drug gangs or should the “war on drugs” continue as is? This is the question being considered by numerous Central American presidents in a region hurt by crime and violence related to the illegal drug trade.

During his visit to Mexico earlier this week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden strongly opposed the possibility of drug legalization. “It's totally legitimate for this to be raised, and the reason it warrants a discussion is, that on examination, you realize that there are more problems with legalization than non-legalization," mentioned Biden to the Mexican press.

Biden also observed that illegal drugs have “unquestioned negative health effects” and that their consumption would certainly rise if they were made legal. “You can go out and decapitate an organization and it's like the hydra-headed monster, it'll grow another head. But you go and follow the money and the monster withers,” he added.

Biden’s remarks in Mexico echoes comments made last month by that country’s Exterior Minister. Patricia Espinosa warned that only focusing on one section of the “diverse” business of organized crime in the narcotics trade will “not permit us to solve the problem (of illegal drugs)”.

Biden refrained from discussing legalization yesterday during his visit to Honduras, the country with the highest per capita homicide rate in the world according to the U.N. “We understand the threat of narcotrafficking and gangs against the region…My country is committed to continue working with Honduras in order to win the battle against drug traffickers,” said Biden at a news conference yesterday where he appeared with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.

The vow to help Central America combat the narcotics trade came as several leaders have urged increased aid from the U.S. "We've not found that the concern of the international community is enough to translate into a commitment to ensure that Central America, which is a victim of drug production and consumption, can confront this scourge," said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

In recent weeks the push for discussion on drug legalization has come from two of Central America’s conservative presidents: Otto Perez of Guatemala and Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica. In an interview last month Chinchilla claimed that “if we keep doing what we have been when the results today are worse than 10 years ago, we’ll never get anywhere and could wind up like Mexico or Colombia.” Meanwhile, Perez said yesterday that he would soon present to Biden “our plan seeking alternatives” to combat the narcotics trade.

The leaders of other Central American states such as El Salvador and Panama do not agree with the notion of decriminalizing narcotics though they have expressed their willingness to discuss the issue. That chance may occur on the 24th of this month at a meeting of Central American heads of state in Guatemala. Furthermore, the issue will likely be discussed at next month’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia.

Image Source – Flickr via Knight Foundation (“A police investigator looks for evidence following a drug-related hit in Hermosillo, Mexico.”) (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Online Sources – U.S. State Department, La Tribuna, La Prensa, Vanguardia, Bloomberg, UPI, BBC News, AFP

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