San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Three of six Central American presidents attend drug summit

ANTIGUA, Guatemala – Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina told a regional summit Saturday that any new strategy to combat rampant crime from drug trafficking must end the “taboo” against decriminalization.

“We have realized that the strategy in the fight against drug trafficking in the past 40 years … has failed. We have to look for new alternatives,” said Pérez, inaugurating the summit attended by three of the six presidents in Central America.

“We must end the myths, the taboos, and tell people you have to discuss it, discuss it, debate it,” said Pérez, who hosted Presidents Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, and delegates from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Although some experts have said decriminalization would end the financial incentives for criminals and drug trafficking, the idea has been firmly rejected by political leaders in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

Saturday’s meeting was convened by Pérez to discuss new ways to combat drug trafficking, which is at the root of a war against criminal gangs that has left tens of thousands dead in the region.

Some hope to bring the issue of decriminalization of illicit drugs to the Summit of the Americas next month in Cartagena, Colombia.

Saturday’s gathering in the former colonial capital Antigua included experts such as former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria, a fierce critic of U.S. drug policy and who is in favor of decriminalization of many drugs.

But the Guatemalan effort appeared to be dealt a setback with three of the region’s leaders absent: Presidents Mauricio Funes of El Salvador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Porfirio Lobo of Honduras.

Drug-related violence has reached “alarming and unprecedented” levels in Central America as Mexican drug cartels have shifted their operations, according to a recent UN report.

El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, together with Jamaica, currently have the world’s highest homicide rates, the report said.

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