Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has floated the possibility that his administration’s newly-created drug policy commission could recommend major reforms, but so far his own commitment to the issue remains heavy on rhetoric and light on substance.
Speaking on the sidelines of an economic forum in Panama yesterday, Perez Molina told reporters that there was a chance that a significant drug policy reform initiative would go before Guatemala’s Congress later this year. According to an official press release, the president hinted that the recommendations of a drug policy advisory panel he launched last year -- chaired by his foreign minister and made up of academics and civil society leaders -- “might lead to” a bill legalizing marijuana and poppy cultivation.
“For forty years the issue has been treated in the same way and the results are obvious. The ‘narco’ generates increasing violence and insecurity. The least we can do is look for other routes,” said Perez Molina, echoing talking points he has repeated since 2012.
But when asked for specifics, the president was vague. He told journalists that such an initiative could include legalizing marijuana cultivation, as well as authorizing poppy production along the Mexican border to be “controlled and sold for medicinal purposes.”
Reuters reports that the president claimed any such bill would be presented following the October publication of the advisory commission’s final report. This is appropriate timing considering that the Organization of American States (OAS) just motioned to hold a summit on drug policy in Guatemala in September.
Ambiguity on the issue is characteristic of the Guatemalan president. Even though he has become known as a crusader for widening the drug policy debate in the hemisphere, Perez Molina has made no major push to enact reforms in his own country.
Some of this is no doubt explained by the considerable support for counternarcotics operations his country receives from the main backer of the war on drugs, the United States. And the fact that polls indicate that between 50 and 75 percent of the population is against decriminalizing drugs probably doesn’t help.
Still, international pressure and unfavorable public opinion did not stop Uruguay from passing a historic marijuana law in December, nor did similar conditions prevent Mexican lawmakers from presenting bold marijuana initiatives at the municipal and federal levels earlier this year. If Perez Molina hopes to follow these examples, he will have to go beyond rhetorical support for a “different approach” and embrace a concrete policy proposal. The publication of the commission’s report in October will provide the perfect opening for this, but whether he will have the political courage to act remains to be seen.
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