By Alejandro Varela
PANAMA CITY – Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina reaffirmed his stance on legalizing drugs in an interview with Efe, and said that the U.S. is now open to discuss this possibility as its position on the matter has become more flexible.
“From totally rejecting and avoiding the topic (of drug legalization), the U.S. has moved on to say that they are ready to discuss the issue even though they may not agree with it, which is a significant change,” the Guatemalan president said on Wednesday at the end of a 24-hour official visit to Panama.
“I am convinced that we have to do things differently from how they have been done over the last 50 years,” Perez Molina said, adding that “prohibition has not worked for us” in the battle against drug trafficking.
Guatemala’s stance, according to the president, is to seek “regulation, as some drugs have to be legalized, others have to be regulated and some have to be banned, while keeping in mind issues of public health and people’s rights.”
He argued “this can be a much more positive (step) from what we have been doing which has not worked.”
According to Perez Molina, “fortunately, the idea – that we have to be more creative and see what things we have to do differently – has been gaining more ground.”
The president lamented that so far the repressive fight against drugs “has made us lose human resources, which is most valuable, and has undermined the institutional structure of our countries.”
“They have not been able to win, after 50 years, nor even improve the conditions,” he emphasized, in reference to the war on drugs.
Perez Molina recalled that when he made “the first declaration – about the necessity to legalize drugs –, within 24 hours, the U.S. embassy repudiated (the declaration), indicating that they were against it and that it was not viable.”
According to the president, “it is going to take time,” but drug legalization “is a trend that cannot be stopped.”
He emphasized that the drug problem, inseparable from violence, along with poverty, hunger, inequality, the child immigration crisis and the chronic exclusion of the indigenous population were the most serious issues affecting his country.
Perez Molina said his government will complete its term in 2016 with the achievement of having noticeably reduced violence, poverty and inequality.
Within a period of two years and eight months, his government has been able to reduce the homicide rate for every 100,000 people from 40 to 30, which amounts to a reduction of 10 percent or 15 murders less per day.
Regarding the problem of illegal immigration to the United States, especially involving children, the president admitted that there is no definite agreement yet to resolve the issue with Washington.
However, “it is an achievement that the five affected countries have started talking about,” he added, while referring also to El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
“We made a proposal to create a plan for Central America but it remained on the table,” he remarked, regarding his last visit to Washington along with the presidents of El Salvador, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, and Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez.
“Our proposal is in line with the promotion of investments and generation of employment opportunities, besides cooperating on security matters,” he said.
Along these lines, he explained, “things have been progressing and we hope to have a more concrete plan by the end of next month. We are looking at the possibility of having another meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the time of the UN General Assembly meeting.”
Perez Molina admitted that the marginalization of Guatemala’s indigenous population was the result of “historic neglect.”
However, he asked these communities “not to confuse respect for traditions with backwardness” referring to their opposition to development projects within the territories they inhabit.