Guatemalan President Perez Blows up the War on Drugs

Otto Perez MolinaThe war on drugs is America’s forgotten war. For over 40 years, it has continued largely unnoticed outside the region and, for the last decade, has been almost completely overshadowed by the war on terror and the related conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the illicit drugs trade and the militarised government responses are the greatest threats to state and human security in the Americas; many analysts and policymakers now conclude that the war on drugs has largely failed.

Open Briefing has today published a policy briefing outlining a ‘sustainable security’ alternative to the war on drugs.

Rehabilitating the war on drugs: Central America and the legalisation debate assesses the implications of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina’s surprise announcement that he wants to open a regional debate on the legalisation of drugs. The authors, Chris Abbott and Joel Vargas, conclude that decriminalising some drugs and legalising others should form the foundation of a sustainable security strategy to tackle the violent crime associated with the illicit drugs trade in the Americas. The report outlines the following integrated programmes that would constitute an effective strategy:

• Decriminalising some drugs and legalising others in a staged process.

• Separating the law enforcement and military elements of tackling drug-related organised crime.

• Addressing citizen security challenges, including lack of personal safety.

• Addressing police corruption through career-long training, supervision and assessment.

• Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programmes for former cartel members.

• Radically increasing funding for drug education and treatment programmes in North America.

By focusing on ineffective supply reduction strategies, the war on drugs is destroying the countries of Latin America in order to protect those of North America. The Sixth Summit of the Americas on 14-15 April needs to allow for a proper debate on the potential legalisation of drugs, and Central American leaders must be prepared to develop policy strategies that also ensure the health and security of their own citizens rather than only benefiting others. The sustainable security strategy outlined in Rehabilitating the war on drugs could form the basis of such an alternative to the war on drugs.

Chris Abbott is the founder and Executive Director of Open Briefing.