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REGION: DRUG WAR WINDING DOWN?

Thursday, February 23, 2012


WHAT The presidents of two Central American countries have called for a public debate on legalizing drugs, including marijuana and cocaine.

WHY Both Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Guatemala's Otto Pérez, want a better sense of whether or not their respective countries would be more peaceful and richer, as a result of legalizing and taxing the drug trade. Narco gangs in either country might still fight each other. On the other hand, an end to the conflict between drug traffickers and security forces would likely reduce violence overall, especially in Guatemala, where there is a persistently high level of drug-related crimes.

WHAT’S NEXT An unanswered question for both Guatemala and Costa Rica, is what a truce in the drug war would mean for the United States, which remains committed to a hard line against trafficking. The United States also remains the biggest market by far for drugs produced in Latin America. Washington recently handed out benefits to El Salvador and Honduras, including an extension of the right of undocumented Salvadorans and Hondurans to live and work in the United States, in exchange for continued participation by the two countries in the drug war.

A concern for Guatemala and Costa Rica is that - in the event of a refusal to continue fighting the drug battle - Washington complicates life for exporters from the two countries, as well as for tourists and business visitors. On the other hand, it may a bad idea for the United States to make an enemy of Pérez, a former General, who is an outspoken foe of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, or of Chinchilla, who leads a country, which is a model Latin American democracy.

In any case, it's too early to predict what Costa Rica or Guatemala may eventually do. Two years ago, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, said that they favored legalizing marijuana. To date, however, nothing has happened in Mexico, other than more bloodshed.

For more information, please contact Esteban Alvarez, at [email protected]