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New voice in drug-war debate: businessmen who are feeling the pinch

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The renewed debate over the legalization of drugs in the Americas is largely a result of Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina.  He met with Salvadorian president Mauricio Funes on Monday, and proposed decriminalizing the drug war in Central America as a way to undercut the viciously violent cartels and gangs that are moving narcotics through the region and leaving high body counts in their wake.

Mr. Funes initially backed Perez’s initiative in Guatemala City, but by the time he returned home that evening he was backpedaling.

“I am not in agreement with decriminalization of production, trafficking or consumption of drugs,” he said in an attempt to “avoid erroneous interpretations.”

Funes’s response is not entirely surprising. The region is still largely dependent on the US, an opponent of legalization, for training and investment in the region’s war on drugs, efforts to strengthen government institutions, and fight impunity.

Mr. Perez is one of few sitting presidents in Latin America to explicitly call for the decriminalization of drugs. In 2009, three former Latin American presidents from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico wrote a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling the drug war a failure. A year later, former Mexican president and long-time drug war supporter Vicente Fox came out against the approach to curbing trafficking and violence as well.

Perez criticized the US government’s handling of drug consumption in the United States on Monday, saying, “As long as they don’t reduce consumption in the United States, the problem (of drug trafficking) will continue.”

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