Legalization won’t be topic of debate at weekend summit

Proponents of seeking an alternative to the U.S.-led drug war remain optimistic that change is in the air.

(posted March 22, 1:08 p.m.)- Central America will not come to any regional consensus about the decriminalization of drugs at this weekend’s presidential summit in Antigua, Guatemala.

Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Harold Caballeros said the controversial proposal to legalize drugs won’t even be a topic of debate this weekend, even though the summit’s host, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez, is the biggest regional proponent of the idea.

Instead, Caballeros said, in an effort to honor “the different points of view” that exist on the legalization alternative, the Central American presidents will discuss “other” strategic ways to combat drug traffickers and international criminal organizations.

Indeed, opinions on legalization are so varied that President Daniel Ortega’s own view on the matter appears to have changed just in the past week. Ortega initially seemed to supported the idea of debating decriminalization, but last night changed his tune (several days after meeting with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, a leading opponent to the measure), saying, “Decriminalization doesn’t make sense, it’s like saying we have lost.”

With Nicaragua’s Ortega and El Salvador’s Mauricio Funes flip-flopping on the issue, and Guatemala’s sudden pullback on its campaign to push legalization, those who were expecting a lively debate—and perhaps even regional consensus—at this weekend’s summit will most likely be disappointed.

Still, proponents of seeking an alternative to the U.S.-led drug war are optimistic that change is in the air.

“Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s meeting, the response to Pérez’s call to consider legalization as an option has revealed the widespread discontent that exists in the region—among both government officials and ordinary citizens—with present policies, and the urgently felt need to develop approaches that are both more effective and more humane,” said the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), in a statement released today.

 Some activists claim the fact that the issue is now out in the open is a major advance—and one that cannot be reversed.

“What was once taboo is no longer,” says Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading U.S. advocate for promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. “The discussion will continue next month at the Summit of the Americas – in Cartagena, Colombia – with President Barack Obama and virtually all other heads of state from the region in attendance. At this point it is no longer possible to put this genie back in the bottle.”


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