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Costa Rica, Guatemala leaders slam drug report

June 6, 2011

Central American presidents lambasted a new report by a high-level drug policy group that calls for an end to the war on drugs and urges countries to try legal regulation of certain narcotics.

“I think all presidents have the temptation of legalizing drugs so that this violence finally leaves us alone,” Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom said on Sunday while visiting Costa Rica. “However, I believe that it is not the right path. The right path is to fight all together against drug trafficking in the area.”

But last week a group of former and current world leaders, experts, entrepreneurs and intellectuals called the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a report in New York saying that model has failed.

Among the members are former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, United States’ ex-Secretary of State George Schultz and former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and billionaire co-founder of U.K. company Virgin, Richard Branson.

“Fifty years after the initiation of the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs and 40 years after President (Richard) Nixon launched the U.S. government’s global war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed,” said Cardoso in a statement.

“Let’s start by treating drug addiction as a health issue, reducing drug demand through educational initiatives and legally regulating rather than criminalizing cannabis,” the former Brazilian leader added.

The message, pushing for a “paradigm shift” in nations’ approach to dealing with narcotics problems that favors health care and prevention over law enforcement, is not new but the high profile of its backers added weight to the report.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who joined Colom during Sunday’s press briefing, ratcheted up the level of criticism against the drug commission.

She said Costa Rica has already decriminalized marijuana use, but she slammed the idea of legalizing the sale of the drug. That misses the point of how organized criminals work, she said.

“It seems to me naïve for those who say ‘let’s legalize all the marijuana and watch (illicit) earnings drop,’” Chinchilla said. “(Criminals) will move to harder drugs, and the resulting situation will be worse, because it will open up larger consumer markets for hard drugs.”

She said Central America is already grappling with the trafficking and related violence of hard drugs such as cocaine. Central America is struggling to repel deadly drug cartels in turf wars over this critical drug-trafficking route from southern producing nations to rich consumers.

Chinchilla stressed that 90 percent of the United States’ cocaine supply runs through Central American countries like Costa Rica but these developing isthmus nations spend 40 times the amount of money donated here in foreign aid to crack down on drug cartels.

“Something I don’t understand is why are they advocating for this as ex-presidents and not while they were president,” Chinchilla said.

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