In a meeting with the President, Foreign Minister Fernando Carrera, and the Secretary for Strategic Intelligence José María Argueta, Amanda Feilding and Dr Corina Giacomello (our field researcher in Guatemala) presented the Beckley Foundation’s analysis of the situation in Guatemala and our recommendations for measures the government can take to improve domestic drug policy. The President welcomed the report, calling it “a useful contribution to Guatemalan drug policy”. He has been invited to speak at the debate on drug policy at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week, and had asked for our initial report and proposals in advance of that trip.
We hope that our report will result in improvements in the situation in Guatemala. As a transit country, it is part of the ‘Northern Triangle’ of Central American states (with Honduras and El Salvador) that face astronomical levels of violence, partly as a result of their being located between the drugs-producing states in South America and the primary consumer market in the USA. Many countries in the region are still recovering from civil wars and years of dictatorship, and the high levels of criminality resulting from the drug trade threaten to undermine the democratic and social institutions of the states affected.
Among our proposals is a recommendation to fully decriminalise possession of small quantities of drugs, and to make prosecution of minor non-possession offences a low judicial priority. This would reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of addicts, improve access to treatment, and allow law enforcement to focus on the international trafficking organisations.
Nevertheless, the main factor influencing the Guatemalan situation originates from outside of Guatemala itself in the form of the international prohibitionist policy, giving Guatemala little leeway to improve the situation in their own country. Latin American leaders have been the most vocal in the need for change, with President Pérez Molina and other Latin American Presidents making special statements at the UN and OAS assemblies regarding the need to consider alternatives to the current global approach. President Pérez Molina and President Santos (of Colombia) last year became the first incumbent heads of state to sign the Beckley Foundation Public Letter, marking a sea change in the willingness of current leaders (rather than former) to call international drug control into question.
As a result of this unprecedented international dissent, largely from the producing and transit countries that face the most dire consequences of prohibition, the UN have agreed to hold a special session on global drugs policy in 2016.