Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Leader in 'legalise drugs' U-turn

Guatemala and El Salvador's leaders say they will consider legalising drugs

Guatemala's leader has said America's inability to cut illegal drug consumption leaves his country with no option but to consider legalising their use and transport.

President Otto Perez Molina's comments are a remarkable turnaround for an ex-general elected on a platform of crushing organised crime with an iron fist.

Mr Molina said he would try to win regional support for drug legalisation at an upcoming summit of Central American leaders next month.

He received his first public support at a security meeting with El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes, who said he too was willing to consider legalisation.

"We're bringing the issue up for debate. Today's meeting is intended to strengthen our methods of fighting organised crime," Mr Molina said. "But if drug consumption isn't reduced, the problem will continue."

In just a month in office, Mr Molina has transformed himself from one of Latin America's toughest advocates of military action against drug cartels to one of the region's strongest voices for drug legalisation.

His stance provoked strong criticism from the United States over the weekend, and intense discussion inside the country, where Guatemalans argued for and against his proposal in the streets and on radio talk shows.

One analyst said Mr Molina's about-face could be designed to pressure the US into providing military aid, currently banned by the US Congress because of past human rights abuses.

"This is kind of like a shot across the bow, saying if you don't help us, this is what we can do," said Anita Isaacs, a Guatemala expert and professor of political science at Haverford College.

But Mr Molina's backers said the change grew out of the realisation that if demand continues in the US, the small country, which has become a major drug transit point, will never have the resources to fight the flow of illegal drugs from producers in South America to the world's largest consumer market in the US.

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