While he has become known as one of the main proponents of drug policy reform in the Americas, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has done relatively little to enact policy shifts in his own country. It looks like this may finally change, however, with the creation of a new advisory commission tasked with proposing alternative drug policies in Guatemala.
According to Prensa Libre, the commission will be chaired by Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera, who will appoint several policy experts to study the matter, as well as Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla. The paper reports that the group is in charge of coming up with policy proposals that are: “comprehensive, multidisciplinary, respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as related to reducing the supply and demand of drugs, drug enforcement, money laundering, asset forfeiture, drug trafficking and associated criminal activities, institutional structure and legislation on drugs, foreign policy on drugs and gender.”
Former Foreign Minister Edgar Gutierrez, who serves as Guatemala’s special ambassador to the OAS on drug policy, told Prensa Libre that the commission’s main role will be to recommend changes in sentences for drug-related crimes. “The government has criticized excessive penalties for possession of cannabis for personal consumption, as this represents an excessive prison population. Reducing or eliminating penalties with the aim of easing such pressure, as well as providing alternatives to poppy growers are some of the actions under consideration,” said Gutierrez.
Perez announced the commission’s creation in his speech before the UN General Assembly last week, the same address in which he praised marijuana legalization initiatives in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington. Perez also met with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica in New York, signing an agreement to exchange information related to the design and implementation of drug policies.
Depending on how much weight is given to the commission’s recommendations, this could be an important first step for drug policy reform in the country. While Perez has advocated decriminalizing marijuana, and spoken at length in international forums on the issue (see his remarks at the World Economic Forum in January, for example), he has made no major push to enact reforms in his own country. Part of this doubtlessly has to do with the fact that his government receives considerable support for counternarcotics operations from the United States. With no other governments in the region considering relaxing drug laws, Guatemala risks standing out as a rogue state in Central America, potentially putting its U.S. ant-drug aid in jeopardy.
But Perez’s lack of initiative is likely based on domestic political factors as well. As it is in Mexico and Uruguay, public opinion on the drug policy reform is divided in Guatemala. According to an April 2012 Prodatos poll, roughly half of all Guatemalans surveyed are against decriminalizing drugs.
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