Drug law reform in Guatemala

30 August 2014
Primer

This page was originally published in August 2014, and last updated in June 2016.

Overview of drug policies, drug laws and legislative trends in Guatemala

  1. What are the current drug laws in Guatemala?
  2. What reform proposals and reforms to the drug laws have recently occurred in the country?
  3. How have drug laws impacted the prison situation in the country?
  4. What does the law say about drug use? Is it a crime in Guatemala?
  5. What is the dynamics of the drug market in Guatemala?
  6. How does Guatemala positions itself in the international debate on drug policy?
  7. What role has civll society played in the debate on drugs?
  8. Relevant drug laws and policy documents in the country   

 


In October 2013 the Guatemalan government announced the formation of a national drug policy reform commission, Comisión Nacional para la Reforma de la Política de Drogas, which was tasked with evaluating current policies and studying possible alternatives. The Commission was finally installed in February 2014, and is set to provide technical input and design proposals in order to tackle drug related problems. The Commission also centers itself around a multidisciplinary focus and with respect for human rights.

 

1. What are the current drug laws in Guatemala?

The Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala (1993) declared that public health is a public good that must be protected, and affirms that the state has an obligation to carry out disease prevention and health promotion, recovery and rehabilitation actions. Taking action against alcoholism and drug addiction is proclaimed to be a matter of social interest.

Articles 306 and 307 of the 1973 criminal code impose punishments and fines for  sowing and cultivating proscribed plants, as for the illegal trafficking of pharmaceuticals and drugs.

The Law Against Drug Activity (1992) was enacted before the civil war ended. This special law broadened the concepts and terms that had previously been laid down in the criminal code and legislation concerning public health. It was subsequently reformed by decree 62-98; later by decree 32-99 (modifying Article 3 with regard to legal use and Article 19 on the legally-mandated destruction of drugs); and finally by decree 17-2003, which introduced changes with regard to the instruments of crime (Article 1.i) and confiscation (Article 18), added a second paragraph to Articles 46 and 56, and finally altered Article 57, entitled “Squestration and Embargo of Assets.”

This law defines concepts used in the law itself. An example is the term “drug” in Article 2 letters A and B, where the legislators clearly set out what drugs are understood to be, extending the term to include raw materials, i.e., the plants and seeds that produce the substances. However, it also stipulates that alcohol and tobacco do not fall within the remit of this law, even though, once consumed, they too produce physical and mental alterations.

Article 12 sets out the sanctions, including the death penalty, prison sentences, fines, professional bans, confiscation, seizure or destruction of the objects obtained from the crime and the instruments used to commit it, deportation from the country in the case of foreigners, etc. In 2001 a moratorium was imposed on the death penalty, since President Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004) determined that requests for clemency should be dealt with through a legal procedure, and should not depend on the government. Since 2012 this mechanism exists, enabling theoretically the application of capital punishment.

Prison sentences range from a minimum of 4 months to a maximum of 30. According to Article 52 of the law, the death penalty would be applied if ‘’(...) as a consequence of the crimes typified in this law, the death of one or more people should result, the death penalty or a prison sentence of 30 years shall be applied, depending on the circumstances of the crime. If the crime results in serious or very serious injuries, or the loss of or reduction in mental faculties, the punishment shall be between twelve and twenty years in prison.”

Infringement of the drug laws can also lead to the extradition of national citizens to the United States. This option is not stipulated in the Law against Drug Activity, but is included in the extradition treaty signed between the US and Guatemala in 1940. In 2012, Guatemala extradited several of its citizens accused of drug trafficking to the United States.

 

CRIME

YEARS IN PRISON

FINE (Quetzales)

Planting and cultivation

5-20

10,000-1,000,000

Production and processing

8-20

50,000-1,000,000

Trafficking and storage

12-20

50,000-1,000,000

International transit

12-20

50,000-1,000,000

Possession for own use

4 months – 2 years

200-10,000

The tendency is to punish drug offences with lengthy prison sentences. The law does not establish drug-specific limits in order to draw a distinction between the possession for personal use (Article 39) and trafficking (Article 38), which causes legal confusion. Article 39 merely states that the judge may draw upon the circumstances of the events to decide whether the quantity seized was destined for immediate use or whether it was a question of possession for subsequent sale/supply. Likewise, Guatemalan jurisprudence has not yet thrown light on this matter, leaving it to the discretion of the courts. 

The Law Against Drug Activity also established the Commission to Combat Addictions and Illicit Drug Trafficking (Comisión Contra las Adicciones y el Tráfico Ilícito de Drogas - CCATID), whose purpose is “to design policies to reduce the supply and demand for addictive substances and alcoholism, as well as designing strategies to control, prevent, and treat addictions and to combat the illegal trafficking of these substances.” The Commission’s Secretariat formally plays an important role both in the drawing up the national drugs plan and in carrying out surveys and epidemiological studies of drug use in the country. Furthermore, one of its main areas of work involves care and rehabilitation for dependent drug users and their families. In practice, however, it has only a small budget and plays a merely secondary role.

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2. What reform proposals and reforms to the drug laws have recently occurred in the country? 

In February 2012, Guatemala’s President insisted on a debate about decriminalising drugs, when he claimed current policies to control the drugs market had failed, in addition to the high incidence of violence linked to drug trafficking organisations, one of the major problems affecting Central America. 

Despite this announcement, no law reform proposals have been presented to Parliament since. According to President Pérez Molina, an international agreement is previously needed, to ensure implementation will be successful. Unless steps are taken to change domestic laws, there will be no change in the way drug control agencies operate, and the necessary level of transparency will fail to be achieved. Nevertheless, some proposed reforms relating to the problem are now under way:

August 2012 – Police reform – A reform of the police was initiated in 2010, beginning with the inauguration of a police academy. The aim of this change is to professionalise police officers and reduce corruption with the creation and development of a criminal investigations policy and model, especially with regard to violent crime and drug trafficking. During his term in office, President Pérez Molina has created specialist police units for certain crimes, but the reform is still pending.

October 2012 - Reform of the Law against Drug Activity – A decree has been approved to allow precursor chemicals to be incinerated in situ. The decision about this has to be taken by the relevant judge no later than 72 hours after the precursors are seized. This reform seeks to prevent the collateral damage caused when confiscated precursors are kept in storage, since these are chemicals that are harmful to the environment.

October 2012 - Anti-corruption law approved – After ten years on the drawing board and having been brought before parliament five times in 2012, decree 31-2012 was finally approved with a small majority of votes. The new legislation addresses corruption and transparency in state operations. The law increases penalties for existing crimes and also includes new crimes, such as charging commission, embezzlement, illicit enrichment, active and passive bribery, and the trafficking of influences in the sense that anyone who exerts an influence – either themselves or through someone else – by making use of their rank, position or friendship to obtain some undue benefit, is committing a crime. Furthermore, it also includes the figure of the front man, meaning any individual or legal entity that lends their name to collaborate in a crime against public administration, as set out in title XIII of the criminal code.

Many are arguing that this law is nothing more than the result of social pressure, as well as a political commitment made before the 2011 election. Critics maintain that the law is weak in the face of institutional fragility and that most members of congress were not in agreement with its content when it was approved.

October 2013 - Creation of the National Commission on Drug Policy Reform – In 2013 the Guatemalan government announced the creation of the National Commission on the Reform of Drug Policies (la Comisión Nacional para la Reforma de la Política de Drogas), officially established by Decree 396-2013. This commission consists of independent experts that will evaluate current drug policies with the objective to reform ineffective policies and recommend possible changes in drug policies. In January 2014 President Pérez Molina inaugurated the commission, which is expected to finalise its work in July/August of 2014. 

The first assignment of the national commission is addressing the issue of opium cultivation in Guatemala. The Beckley Foundation report, Paths for Reform also makes some recommendations related to the cultivation of opium poppy in Guatemala, situated in the province of San Marcos on the Mexican border. The report recommends legalising poppy cultivation crop for the production of opioid medication; a measure supported by president Pérez Molina and other government officials.

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3. How have drug laws impacted the prison situation in the country?

In 2013, the occupation rate in Guatemala’s prisons was 251.6%. This means that 16,336 prisoners were being held in prisons with a total capacity for 6492. 8.7% of these prisoners are women and 4.6% are juveniles. It should be pointed out that 50.3% of the total number of prisoners was awaiting sentencing, i.e. being held on remand. This abusive use of preventive detention contradicts the principles of the presumption of innocence and infringes the prosecution system set out in the criminal procedures law. 

The prison population has almost tripled since 1992. There are several reasons for this increase: the level of violence has been growing sharply, as reflected in an increase in the number of crimes committed, especially murders. Much of this violence is related to disputes between different groups of drug traffickers, but figures are not available to indicate the relevant percentages. As a consequence of the increase in violence, the government has resorted to criminal justice policies, imposing harsher prison sentences. Despite this tendency, Guatemala still has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the world, although overcrowding is a serious problem.

 

YEAR

TOTAL PRISON POPULATION

INCARCERATION RATE (No. of prisoners per 100,000 of the population)

1992

5,592

59

1995

5,814

58

1998

6,296

59

2001

7,303

63

2004

8,698

70

2007

7,143

53

2010

11,140

77

2013

16, 336

105

Source: World Prison Brief, International Centre for Prison Studies, London.

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4. What does the law say about drug use? Is it a crime in Guatemala?

The Guatemalan drug legislation, like in most Central American countries, criminalises drug possession for personal consumption. Prison sentences for the possession of drugs for personal consumption can range from four months to two years.

The social infrastructure regarding treatment and rehabilitation of problematic drug users is minimal and often of poor quality. In 2004 the Guatemalan government evaluated the health system regarding treatment and rehabilitation of problematic drug users, which culminated in the creation of the Minimal Norms of Attention to Drug dependents (Normas Mínimas de Atención a Drogodependientes) by means of the agreement 1152-06.

The national drugs strategy acknowledges that current policies are insufficient and fail to address the health consequences related to drug use. “La cobertura de atención a los pacientes a través de los programas de tratamiento, rehabilitación y reinserción social son limitados, así como, los servicios de atención gubernamental; por lo que es necesario mejorar los ya establecidos, fortalecer y consolidar la red de atención, y diversificar las modalidades de atención existentes de acuerdo a las Normas Mínimas de Atención, además que atiendan las necesidades de los usuarios tomando en cuenta que el problema de drogodependencia es multicausal.” (CCATID, 2009, p.15)

One critical aspect regarding treatment of problematic drug users is the application of compulsory treatment. Guatemalan law permits the use of forced treatment in cases of "drug addiction" and a tacit consensus seems to rule on forced treatment as a useful tool for both the patient as for society as a whole.

In practice, however, most compulsory treatment centres are of very poor quality and lack the most basic requirements regarding staff, housing, food and hygiene. Some reports show that religious (often Evangelist) centres are basically motivated by profit. The use of so-called hunters (grupos de cazadores) is common; they pick up users by force from the streets. Once inside ‘patients’ often endure psychological and physical abuse.

In October 2013, during the 52nd Directing Council of the Pan American Health Organisation, the health authorities of American nations discussed a proposal from the representation of Guatemala on the current state of the health systems. Guatemala suggested that PAN should prepare a report on how current health systems are treating people with substance abuse problems and also prepare an evaluative report on the cooperation between the Pan American Health Organisation and the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).

At the moment there are no separate drug tribunals in Guatemala, although, during a meeting of the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana - SICA) in 2012, President Pérez Molina did suggest creating a regional criminal court to prosecute crimes related to drug trafficking in order to free up the overburdened local courts.

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5. What is the dynamics of the drug market in Guatemala?

Controlling routes and supply


Since the deployment in 2006 of the Mexican army in the battle against drug trafficking organisations (DTOs), drug routes have shifted towards Central America. Small private airplanes fly the drugs to Honduras and Guatemala, and up the Caribbean or Pacific coast of Central America. The region has suffered from escalating levels of drug-related violence since then. As noted in the 2013 World Drug Report, there exists a strong correlation between contested trafficking areas and high homicide rates. The highest incidence of violence is in the border region.

The internal dynamic of active criminal groups in Guatemala can explain this high incidence of violence. Territorial groups, which focus on maintaining territorial control using violence if necessary, as well as trafficking (transportista) groups, are active in Guatemala. There are at least four major borderland territory-bound DTOs, some of which formed alliances with Mexican counterparts. In the past six years a violent territorial conquest by new actors in drug trafficking took place, displacing traditional actors.


The breakdown of the alliance between two big DTOs (the Mexican Gulf cartel and the Zetas) marked a decisive moment for Guatemala. As a result the Zetas needed to develop their own trafficking networks from the Andes via Central America to the United States and started to develop ties with existing criminal groups in Guatemala. Since 2008 the Zetas have increasingly gained prominence in Guatemala, and specifically in the department of Petén. 

Before 2006 there was a clear division of supply routes in Guatemala. In the west, close to the Pacific Coast (and crossing the border at San Marcos), the Cartel del Pacífico was dominant and in the northeastern part other groups were active. The Zetas are reported to have extended their power into western Guatemala, trying to secure the Franja Transversal de Norte route (the bridge between Honduras and Guatemala). 

The violent conquest by the Zetas in the last six years has fractured the allies of the Sinaloa Cartel (The Lorenzana group) and weakened the Guatemalan branch of the Mexican Gulf Cartel. In 2013 a high-level leader of the Zetas in Guatemala, Walter Overdick and the top commander of the Mexican branch, Miguel Treviño Morales (alias Z40), were captured by the authorities. The question rises how this will effect the internal functioning of the Zetas.

 

The drug markets

According to Executive Secretary of the Commission to Combat Addictions and Illicit Drug Trafficking (SECCATID) 3.16% of the Guatemalan population consume illegal drugs. The average age when a person starts to use illegal drugs is 12.5 years old.  
Government officials indicate that increased drug use in Guatemala can be a result of the way drug cartels are paying their ‘subcontractors’; in recent years almost a 100% of these payments are done in drugs.

Cannabis
Cannabis cultivation occurs usually in proximity of the consumption market and therefore cannabis trafficking is mainly an intra-regional activity. In Guatemala cannabis is cultivated in Petén, San Marcos, Izabal and the capital. In 2009, 429610 kilograms of plants were eradicated and in 2008 the Guatemalan authorities seized 10.8 million cannabis plants and 4.3 million in 2009. In 2012, 1.25 million cannabis plants were eradicated and 14 million plants were seized in 2011. In 2010 8.7 million cannabis plants were destroyed and 
4.29 million plants in 2009.

Cannabis is, in accordance with global trends, the most widely-used illegal drug in Guatemala. Data on drug use in Guatemala is unfortunately not up-to-date. According to government statistics the annual prevalence of cannabis consumption under the general population (12-64) was 0.13% in 2005 (CICAD). In Guatemala, unlike other countries in Central and South America, the annual prevalence of cannabis use (in 2005) is estimated to be higher in the adult population (4.8%) than in the 12-19 age group (1%). 

2003 data about the prevalence of cannabis consumption among male and female secondary school students shows that the consumption by male students is five times higher. The difference in consumption patterns between sexes for the general population (age 12 to 64) is even more pronounced. In 2005, annual cannabis use prevalence in the general population was 0.29% for men and 0.03% for women (almost ten times higher for men). CICAD notes that the smaller difference in consumption between male and female students compared to that of the overall population may represent a shrinking gender gap.

A more recent study (ENJU, 2011) of 5,875 people between 15 and 29 years old, show that marijuana is the most consumed illicit drug in the country with an average prevalence rate of 3%. Another recent study, carried out by SECCATID (EFE 2012), of 5,600 students showed that almost half (49%) of Guatemalan students have used cannabis at least once in their lives, and that four out of ten students have received proposals to sell cannabis within their educational institutes. These figures were based on a poll carried out in 2011 by the National Institute of Statistics. In another study, carried out by SECCATID in July 2012 of 3,351 students between 12 and 24 years old, 45% of the students said that marijuana is the most consumed illicit drug.


Cocaine
Mexico has intensified its drug enforcement efforts since 2006, thus driving cocaine traffickers to look for alternative routes (particularly along the border of Guatemala and Honduras). The remarkable increase in cocaine seizures in this region gives some evidence of this. Between 2000 and 2005, the amount of cocaine seized in Central America was still about equal to the amount seized in Mexico. In 2011 the amount of cocaine seized in Central America was 13 times higher than that in Mexico. Authorities seized 3.96 tons of cocaine in 2011 and then 4.7 tons in 2012. 

Studies reveal that after cannabis, cocaine is the most consumed drug in Guatemala. The estimated annual prevalence of cocaine in Central America among the adult population is 0.6%, which is higher than the global average (World Drug Report). A more recent study (ENJU, 2011) of 5,875 people between 15 and 29 years old, showed that cocaine is (after marijuana and crack) the third most consumed drug with a prevalence of 2%. In another study, carried out by SECCATID in July of 2012 of 3,351 students between 12 and 24 years old revealed that 12% of surveyed students claimed that they have used cocaine.

According to the CICAD the use of crack in Central America is currently lower than the use in South America. However, signs that the consumption of crack is increasing in Guatemala. The lifetime prevalence in Guatemala in the general population (12-64 years) is under 1%. In 2005, the lifetime prevalence of crack among Guatemalan adults was 0.26%.

In 2003, the lifetime prevalence of use among secondary students in Guatemala was 0.37%. The study mentioned above (ENJU, 2011) showed that crack is the second most consumed illicit drug among the Guatemalan youth after marijuana, with an average use rate of 2%. 

Amphetamines
In recent years the market for methamphetamine has grown; the production as well as the trafficking of methamphetamine is increasing. The influence of Mexican drug trafficking organisations in the synthetic drug market is rising within the region. The Sinaloa cartel and its successors have long been the dominant suppliers of methamphetamine to the United States. This position was interrupted when the cartel lost the port of Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico to rival groups, which resulted in an increased transhipment of precursor chemicals and methamphetamine from Guatemala to Mexico.

Recently, however, an opposing trend in methamphetamine trafficking has been occurring. Guatemalan authorities have reported large volumes of precursor chemicals entering Guatemala, suggesting that methamphetamine is manufactured in the country. Tighter Mexican restrictions on precursors have resulted in this shift of production to Guatemala. Some laboratories have been discovered in San Marcos and near the Mexican border. The number of ATS laboratories that have been discovered and dismantled has increased from 1 laboratory in 2008 to 8 in 2012.  The seizures of precursor chemicals in Guatemala have risen sharply in recent years. Guatemalan authorities seized thousands of liters of precursor chemicals (including acetone, dimethyl-maleate, monomethylamine and methylamine) especially in Puerto Barrios, in the territory of the Mendoza family, who is an ally of the Cartel del Pacífico. 

In 2005, the amphetamine use rate among the population aged 15-64 was 0.9% (World Drug Report). In a more recent study, carried out by SECCATID in July of 2012 of 3,351 students between 12 and 24 years old, 1% of the students said that they had consumed amphetamines.

Opium
Allegedly, Guatemala is the second largest producer of opium in the region, after Mexico, with an estimated 1,000 hectares of poppy cultivated in 2011. This seems like a small amount in comparison to Mexico, which has around 15,000 hectares of poppy under cultivation, though some experts believe that Guatemala cultivates many more poppy plants per hectare than other countries. 

The Cartel del Pacífico is the cartel most associated with heroin trafficking. The majority of poppy production in Guatemala is concentrated in the border province of San Marco, controlled by Los Chamales, an ally of the Cartel del Pacífico. 

Forced poppy eradication in Guatemala tripled between 2007 and 2011, from less than 500 hectares eradicated in 2007 to more than 1500 hectares in 2011.

 

  2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Opium Poppy Eradication (ha) 489 720 449 536 1,345 918 1,490

Source: World Drug Report 2013

In 2005 the annual prevalence of opium use among those aged 15-64 was 0.04%. In a more recent study, carried out by SECCATID in July of 2012 of 3,351 students between 12 and 24 years old, 3% of the students said they have consumed heroine. There are also recent studies on drug use in Guatemala City. Local drug authorities working with SECCATID indicate that most drug consumption in Guatemala City involves non-injection drugs (J.T. Bertrand, J. Hembling, P. Ceballos and L. Johnston, 2012). This study also mentions that heroin is the fourth most widely used drug among drug users in rehabilitation centres in Guatemala.

Source: USAID/Project Search, J.T. Bertrand, J. Hembling, P. Ceballos and L. Johnston (2012)

 

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6. How does Guatemala positions itself in the international debate on drug policy?

Guatemala is one of the countries most avidly pushing for changes to current global policies on drugs. President Pérez Molina’s calls for alternative options to the War on Drugs have been widely-welcomed around the world. Current policies have increased drug-related violence, with Guatemala being affected particularly badly. Perez Molina stresses that in order to deal effectively with this trans-border traffic, international cooperation is essential. 

SICA meeting - Following a meeting with President Felipe Calderón in January 2012, and shortly after being installed as the head of Guatemala’s government, Otto Pérez Molina launched his proposal for alternatives to current policies, including decriminalising drugs. At a meeting of the Central American Integration System (SICA), held in March in the town of Antigua (Guatemala), Pérez Molina proposed to his Central American counterparts that a discussion forum should be set up to look at alternatives to current drug policies. Pérez Molina proposed very clear measures: the decriminalisation of drug use and transport; compensation from the US for each consignment of drugs seized; and using these funds to invest in local prevention and rehabilitation programmes. Finally, he suggested creating a criminal court to try crimes related to drug trafficking with a ring-fenced budget in order to free up the overburdened local courts. The meeting did not produce the expected results because several Central American Presidents – namely those of El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama – declared that they did not support decriminalisation, even though they were in favour of starting to discuss the issues.

The Cartagena Summit - The Americas Summit

At this bi-annual event in April 2012, hosted by the Organisation of American States (OAS), Perez Molina, with the support of President Santos of Colombia, insisted on discussing alternatives to current drug policies. 

Pérez Molina proposed that the OAS member States “join a global initiative for a high level political dialogue, where we listen to civil society organisations, academics and businesspeople concerned with these issues. In the framework of this dialogue, it will be necessary to assess the effectiveness of international drug policy over the past five decades, taking into account the damage that these substances cause to human health, but also seeking to reduce the unacceptable violence levels endured by many Latin American countries today.”

At the OAS Summit, only a few Heads of State supported decriminalisation, although a majority expressed support for the idea of opening a debate. Nevertheless, the summit did serve to pursuade high-level politicians to acknowledge that current drug policies have failed. The Summit concluded by a recognition of the need to undertake a study to assess the effectiveness of current policies while also offering plausible alternatives. This resulted in two policy documents on The Drug Problem in the Americas, published in May 2013.

UN General Assembly and the Cádiz Summit

In his speech at the UN General Assembly in September 2012, Otto Pérez Molina sought to explain the effects of drug trafficking and the need to make changes to the international conventions: “Fifty years is quite enough time to be able to evaluate clearly what we have done and to understand why we have not achieved the results we expected." The President stated that drug trafficking has become an evil that makes it impossible to reduce violence and street crime, as well as the high rates of poverty and unemployment. Together with presidents Calderón (Mexico, 2006-2012) and Santos (Colombia), Pérez Molina demanded at the Assembly that the UN must intervene in the matter and lead a discussion of the issue "without false prejudices."

In a joint declaration, the three governments stated that that “the United Nations must exercise the leadership that corresponds to it in this effort and conduct a process of profound reflection to analyse all the available options, including regulatory or market-driven measures, in order to establish a new paradigm that prevents the flow of funds to organised crime groups.” In November 2012 Pérez Molina and Santos were two of the many signatories to a public letter calling for the taboo on drugs to be broken. 

At the Iberoamerican Summit held in Cádiz, Spain, in November 2012, the two countries again insisted on a leading UN role regarding the issue. The final declaration calls for: “a special session of the UN General Assembly on the world drugs problem, to be held no later than 2015, with the aim of evaluating the achievements and limitations of current policies for tackling this problem, particularly the violence caused by the production, trafficking and use of drugs everywhere in the world, as well as identifying actions to increase the effectiveness of the strategies and mechanisms used by the international community to address the challenge posed by the worldwide problem of drugs.”

At the end of November, the 2012 UN General Assembly adopted the omnibus resolution on international cooperation to address the world drugs problem, as presented yearly by Mexico with the support of 95 countries, which adopts UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in 2016.

January 2013 - World Economic Forum – At the World Economic Forum of 2013 Pérez Molina, expressed his views on the need to reform current drug policies and announced the proposals for drugs policy reform. One of the potential reforms he mentioned was the legalisation of poppy cultivation in northern Guatemala for medicinal uses. 

He also stated that reforming prohibitionist drug laws would reduce violence in his country by 50 percent. "Prohibition, this war on drugs, has seen cartels grow and the results are not what we looked for," Otto Pérez Molina said. "There is a new trend towards drugs now – not war, but a new perspective and a different way of dealing with the problem."

May 2013 – OAS-CICAD presented a report on the drug problem in the American states. The report was commissioned during the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena in 2012, as a result of the complaints of some of the region’s leaders about the ineffectiveness of the prohibitionist drug policies. The report recommends that countries decriminalise drug use, reduce sentences, concentrate on rehabilitation and establish drug courts. 

June 2013 - General Assembly Meeting of the Organisation of American States – During the 43th OAS General Assembly meeting, the drug policy theme was the primary theme of a hemispheric meeting for the first time. This indicates a major shift in the views of American states regarding drug policies, recognising that present drug control policies are failing. The meeting was hosted by the Guatemalan government, which played a crucial role in ensuring the outcome of the Antigua meeting. The declaration adopted: For a comprehensive policy against the drug problem in the Americas, encourages considering new approaches to the world drug problem in the Americas, based on scientific knowledge and evidence and also calls for a Special Session of the OAS General Assembly focused on drug policy to be held in 2014.

September 2013 – During the 2013 UN General Assembly, four Latin American countries - Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico - jointly called for a global discussion on alternative approaches to drug policies, using the outcomes of the regional debate within the OAS as a starting point for fuelling the debate within the UN in the lead up to the UNGASS on drugs in 2016. Pérez Molina was the most vocal of the four Latin American presidents. He praised voters of Colorado and Washington for supporting the regulation of cannabis and president Obama for allowing them to proceed. He also said that the UN should allow countries to “experiment with new models”.

“Since the start of my government, we have clearly affirmed that the war on drugs has not yielded the desired results,” Otto Pérez Molina told the General Assembly. “We cannot keep on doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

January 2014 - World Economic Forum – During the 2014 World Economic Forum a panel called “The Drugs Dilemma: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business”, discussed alternatives to the failed war on drugs. Pérez Molina was invited to participate in the panel, but had to cancel due to internal affairs in Guatemala.

At the High Level Segment celebrated in the two days preceding the  57th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the Guatemalan declaration, read by the vice-minister of Foreign Affairs urged the international community to reform current drug policies and to adopt alternative policies that are based on a public health and human rights approach. Guatemala announced that it will host the Extraordinary General Assembly of the OAS in September 2014 to follow up on the implementation of the Declaration of Antigua Guatemala: "Toward a comprehensive policy addressing the world drug problem in the Americas”  and in May 2014 Guatemala will organise a meeting of Public Security Ministers of the Latin-American and Caribbean states (CELAC) to debate the global drug problem in the region.

During the inauguration of the World Economic Forum on Latin America – on the second of April, 2014 – President Pérez Molina said that Guatemala is exploring the legalisation of the cultivation of cannabis and opium poppy. The National Commission on Drug Policy Reform recently active is, according to President Pérez Molina, expected to publish their recommendations in October 2014. If this report is favourable the government will send an initiative to parliament proposing the legalisation of drugs, in particular cannabis.

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7. What role has civil society played in the debate on drugs?

National and international human right organisations are alarmed by the growing militarisation of Guatemalan society giving rise to new tensions and violence in Guatemala.  The rhetoric of Pérez Molina regarding non-prohibitionist alternatives to the war on drugs stands in sharp contrast with the remilitarisation of society under his rule. Since Pérez Molina took office in January 2012, the military have expanded its role in citizen-security initiatives and current and former military personnel have permeated the leadership of civilian institutions. 

Pérez Molina favoured an increased intervention of the Kaibiles, a controversial special police/military unit with a troubled history of human rights violations in order to counter organised crime. Almost immediately after his inauguration, Otto Pérez Molina deployed the Kaibiles to its northern border with Mexico. Human rights organisations in Guatemala criticise the militarisation of society and the iron-fist strategy of the government. They strongly object to the Martillo operation, a joint US-Guatemala initiative that started in 2012. “Drug trafficking in Guatemala shouldn’t be combated by the Guatemalan military, much less by the US military,” commented analyst Sandino Asturias in an interview with GHRC.

In June 2013 more than 160 civil society organisations from the Americas and Europe sent an open letterto the OAS General Assembly calling for alternatives to the “War on Drugs”, that guarantee respect for human rights. 

They propose “a new model for security cooperation that provides alternatives to the ongoing war on drugs, such as regulation rather than prohibition, strong regional anti-money laundering efforts, and withdrawal of the armed forces from domestic law enforcement. We call on the U.S. government to end military aid and instead channel scarce public resources into domestic efforts to block transnational crime.“ 

In November 2013 a number of human right organisations, including Guatemalan organisations, also sent an open letter to the Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas in the context of the Fourth Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Security in the Americas to call upon governments to revise the orientation of drug policies that are being implemented in the Americas.

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8. Relevant drug laws and policy documents in the country

Legislative and government documents
 

Studies, reports and other documents