Today our Director, Amanda Feilding, is travelling to Guatemala for meetings with President Otto Pérez Molina, his Foreign Minister, and other senior figures in the Guatemalan government. She will be presenting our proposals for alternative drug policy options in Guatemala, which aim to reduce violence and corruption and allow resources currently devoted to tackling criminality to be re-allocated for health, education and development.
President Pérez Molina has during 2012 played a crucial role in calling for the international community to look afresh at the realities of the War on Drugs, and to search for alternative drug policies which will stem the tide of violence, instability and corruption that disproportionately affect drug-producing and transit countries, especially in Latin America. The Beckley Foundation is honoured to have been working closely with the President and other key figures in the Guatemalan government on the development of these recommendations.
The document, Paths for Reform, contains the Beckley Foundation’s suggestions regarding the steps which the Guatemalan government might now take to maintain the momentum of the President’s initiatives. It complements our report Illicit Drug Markets and Dimensions of Violence in Guatemala, which analyses Guatemala’s situation under the current policies (see below).
President Pérez Molina and his counterparts in Colombia and Mexico (among others) have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the problems facing their countries are in large measure, a result of the current international prohibitionist system. Both President Pérez Molina and the Colombian, President Juan Manuel Santos, have signed the Beckley Foundation Public Letter, calling for a new approach to international drug control.
President Pérez Molina has been invited to speak about drug policy at the world economic forum in Davos next week, and we hope our report and analysis will be informative both to him and to the surrounding debate over the need to reform global drug policy.
The attempt over the last 50 years to eliminate the production of drugs in South America has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that that battle is unwinnable – local successes only result in the transfer of production to other parts of the region. Attempts to choke off demand for these drugs in the United States and elsewhere by policing and public education measures have also been largely ineffective.
The difficulties afflicting Guatemala and the other states of Central America stem primarily from their situation as transit countries, as a land bridge between the world’s greatest market for cocaine – the United States – and the sources of cocaine production in South America. Enormous efforts to interdict this transfer of these drugs from their areas of production to the North American market have demonstrated that this battle too is effectively unwinnable, with the trafficking of illicit drugs currently representing a significant fraction of Guatemala’s economy. Unpublished UN data suggest that it represented 4% of Guatemala’s GDP for 2007, and predicted that the figure would rise to 10% for 2010.
This ‘narcotraffic’ causes considerable damage to transit countries. In common with the other countries in the Northern Triangle (also including El Salvador and Honduras), Guatemala has a very high level of homicides compared to the global average. In the past ten years, the rate of homicides has averaged 42 per 100,000 of population, with 94% of homicides unsolved. According to President Pérez Molina, 40% of homicides in Guatemala are a consequence of problems related to the international trafficking of illicit drugs. He is not alone in this analysis, with the UNODC also finding a clear link between contested trafficking areas and murder rates in Guatemala and Honduras, with the border between the two countries said to be among the most violent areas in the world.