In response to recent calls for legalization of narcotics in Central America, the U.S. government says there can be no truce in the war on drugs.
The U.S. State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Kevin Whitaker, told The Nicaragua Dispatch yesterday that the U.S. and its drug-war allies in the region cannot “declare a truce at this point and hope that everybody will go home and play nice.”
“That is not consistent with what has happened in other parts of the world,” Whitaker said.
The U.S. official’s comments come one day after Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina criticized the U.S. for not doing enough to reduce demand for illicit drugs and suggesting that decriminalization of drugs in Central America would be an effective strategy to undercut the cartels’ vicious grip on the region. The Nicaragua Dispatch has learned that Guatemala’s private sector is also quietly debating the merits of decriminalizing drugs, and is expected to come out with a joint position next week.
Pérez’s call for decriminalization also found brief echo with Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, who supported the idea Monday morning and then backtracked on his comments by Monday evening.
“Obviously there are a number of leaders in the region who have expressed frustration about the devastating effects of the drug trade on their societies, and we understand that and we appreciate that,” Whitaker said in an interview Tuesday evening from Managua.
The Obama Administration official, who last October testified before the U.S. Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, said the U.S. government remains firmly opposed to decriminalization and committed to “working with our partners to combat transnational crime.”
Whitaker also challenged the notion expressed by Presidents Pérez and Funes that the U.S. is not doing enough to combat demand for drugs.
“We can talk about the $8 billion we provided to Colombia and the $200 million we intend to spend in Central America and the money we intend to spend in the Caribbean Basin Initiative, which represents a solidarity and effort to work with our partners in the region,” he said. “But the U.S. also spent about $31 billion over the last three years in demand-reduction and other efforts and that goes to the question of shared responsibility. That’s serious money.”
Whitaker added, “We recognize we have a problem, but we all have a problem together, we all have to treat it together.”