President Chinchilla reported open to broad drug debate

President Laura Chinchilla said Wednesday that she would welcome a broad debate over drugs and noted that drug use has been decriminalized in Costa Rica.

The president made her comments after meeting with the visiting vice president of Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti. Otto Pérez, Guatemala’s president, is promoting a debate on decriminalizing drugs. His country has been affected heavily by drug-related crime and cartels.

“If we continue the same road we have traveled during the last years, the only destination that Central America has is to fall into the same abyss into which nations such as Colombia and México have fallen,” she said, according to a summary of her remarks prepared by Casa Presidencial.

Ms. Chinchilla discussed violence in the region with Ms. Baldetti.

Ms. Chinchilla said that two nations in Central America now have the notoriety of being the most violent in the world. “We see sadly that many Central American youth join gangs that lead to the consumption of drugs and the violence and the prisons are collapsing because of persons used by the drug capos,” she said, adding that “between 60 and 80 percent of the women in prisons are there for drug violations. Without a doubt the situation does not allow us to reject at least discussing other courses of action.”

In fact, there are three very violent countries: El Salvador and Honduras, in addition to Guatemala.

Ms. Chinchilla is said to support a frank and open debate on the drug situation. She is said to want a discussion that does not have just two options: strong enforcement or decriminalization. She is on record open to all options. She said she is suggesting that the United Nations become involved in the discussion.

Ms. Chinchilla said that Costa Rica’s policy is to treat drug use as a public heath problem fortified with programs of prevention and rehabilitation. She said that for various decades the consumption of drugs has not been penalized in Costa Rica. However, she said, the country strongly enforces laws against production, trafficking and sales of drugs.

Costa Rica is a major trafficking country, and tons of cocaine and other drugs pass through the nation on the way to the United States, Canada and even to Europe.

The president’s recollection does not square with history because it was only last year that the nation’s chief prosecutor said that his office would not enforce crimes against the personal use of small amounts of drugs. Informally the president is correct in that individual policemen have been prone to overlook drug use even when they see a person smoking marijuana on a public street.

Tuesday the president met with Janet Napolitano, the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security. Ms. Napolitano was making a fast tour of Central America and Panamá to counter the comments of Pérez and to promote the U.S. policy of strict enforcement of drug laws. Ms. Napolitano did not say so, but Ms. Chinchilla most likely outlined her views in the meeting.

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