Thursday, January 24, 2013

Guatemala’s Perez Brings Drug Policy Debate to Davos

As the World Economic Forum kicked off yesterday in Davos, Switzerland, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina made good on his pledge to spark a debate on drug policy reform at the summit, staging a press conference in which he called for a new approach towards regulating drugs, implemented “on a scientific basis” and geared at making real progress against the harms associated with the drug trade.

"Prohibition, this war on drugs, has seen cartels grow and the results are not what we looked for," said Perez. "There is a new trend towards drugs now – not war, but a new perspective and a different way of dealing with the problem."  The president has previously spoken in favor of a regulatory approach to drugs as an alternative to the “extremes” of prohibition and full-blown legalization, and has pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana in his own country. 


According to Prensa Libre, Perez also said that regulating the flow of illicit drugs could reduce violence in his country “by 50 percent,” although the source of this figure is unclear. The announcement comes amid new reports that Mexican drug cartels are deepening their operations in Central America and contributing to violent crime in the region, as the AFP notes.


The Guardian reports that the retired right-wing army general was joined in Davos by an unlikely ally: liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros. A major advocate for drug policy reform, Soros appeared next to Perez at his press conference and backed the president’s words, stressing the illegal drug trade’s harmful effects on developing democracies.  "Drug policy has endangered political stability and security in many countries, and not just in Latin America," Soros said.


Perez also announced that Guatemala would host a summit for world leaders and policy organizations on alternative drug control proposals sometime in the middle of this year. According to the president’s official press release, the summit will be held in Tikal National Park, and organized in coordination with Soros’ foundation.


Perez is the first Guatemalan president to be invited as a speaker to the Davos Forum, and his decision to take the drug debate to the forum is significant. While Perez has joined other Latin American leaders in lobbying the United Nations and the Organization of American States for a shift in anti-drug policy, addressing the issue at Davos could open up a new strategy in the push for drug policy reform, based on engaging the business community. As The Observer’s John Mulholland noted in his recent profile of the Guatemalan president, Perez has several potential allies in the private sector, as a surprising number of companies have voiced support for a regulated drugs market.

News Briefs

  • Mexico’s Supreme Court yesterday ordered the release of French citizen Florence Cassez, who was arrested in 2005 on kidnapping charges and sentenced to 60 years in prison, El Universal and the BBC report. The case had contributed to heightened tensions between France and Mexico ever since. Cassez denied the charges against her and the case was riddled with irregularities, including a televised police raid which was used as evidence against her. It was revealed yesterday that the raid, which had been billed as a live broadcast, was actually a reenactment carried out for the benefit of the Mexican media.  
  • After months of investigation, Mexico’s electoral commission (IFE) voted not to fine the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) over allegations that the PRI bought votes during the July presidential elections by handing out $10 gift cards, although the IFE found evidence linking the party to the gift card purchases. The opposition PAN and PRD parties expressed indignation at the decision, and have vowed to push for reforms against such schemes in the future, El Universal reports.
  • The New York Times profiles the recently-built memorial to victims of the drug war in Mexico City, the construction of which was fast-tracked under the Caldron administration. While it has not yet been opened to the public, there has been much debate in the country over its significance as well as the appropriateness of building a memorial to a conflict which is still raging.
  • Spanish newspaper El Pais sparked controversy after publishing a front page photo in its Thursday edition which supposedly showed a very sick Hugo Chavez lying in a hospital bed with a feeding tube in his mouth, under the title “the secret of Chavez's illness.” The photo was subsequently found to be fake, and El Pais immediately apologized and withdrew the image from its website, but not before the Venezuelan government criticized it as “grotesque” and shameful.
  • Meanwhile, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro again visited Chavez in Havana yesterday evening in order to receive instructions from the president ahead of the upcoming Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Chile.  
  • La Razon reports that Bolivia’s Supreme Court has ruled that human rights cases against the military must be tried only in civilian courts, a decision which was hailed by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • The Honduran Congress has once again passed a controversial law allowing for the creation of “model cities” in the country, after the Supreme Court ruled last year that the establishment of areas outside of the law was unconstitutional, El Heraldo reports. Lawmakers say that the latest version has been amended with the ruling in mind, and it is likely that Congress’ decision to fire four out of five Supreme Court justices last December has made the new Court more amenable to the controversial project.
  • Writing for Upside Down World, Rosemary Joyce and Russell Sheptak argue that the current conflict between the Honduran Supreme Court and the executive is an example of just how much the rule of law and respect for the constitution have deteriorated in the country since the 2009 coup which overthrew President Manuel Zelaya.
  • Following the announcement that he might face a challenge to his re-election from the Urubista right in 2014, a new poll by Datexco shows that 40 percent of Colombians are currently willing to re-elect President Juan Manuel Santos, a 30 percent lead over his closest rival.