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Press Releases 2012

U.S. Embassy Statement on Decriminalizing Drugs

Guatemala, February 12, 2012

“The idea of decriminalizing drug use has been debated in a number of different jurisdictions, including Colombia, Mexico, California, and various Central American regional fora.

The United States continues to oppose such measures because evidence shows that our shared drug problem is a major public health and safety threat. In the U.S., drugs are present in roughly half of all those who commit crimes, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Research shows, however, that drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated.

In the last fiscal year (2011), the United States spent over $10 billion to support drug demand reduction programs, compared to $2.4 billion for international drug control programs. While still too high, the rate of overall drug use in America has dropped by roughly one-third over the past three decades. More recently, cocaine use has dropped by 43 percent, and methamphetamine use in the United States has been cut by half.

Just as these programs have shown that we can succeed in reducing demand for illegal drugs, the case of Colombia shows that strong multilateral commitment to combat narcotrafficking and transnational criminal activity can succeed. Violent deaths in Colombia fell by half between 2002 and 2011. The government recovered both control of its territory and the confidence of its citizens. With similar political will, other governments can have that same success.

If the trafficking and use of illegal drugs were decriminalized tomorrow in Central America, transnational criminal organizations and gangs would continue to engage in illicit activity, including trafficking in persons and illegal arms, extortion and kidnapping, bank robbery, theft of intellectual property, and money laundering. Corruption and homicides in Central America are certainly exacerbated by the transit of illegal drugs, but with increased cultivation and consumption of decriminalized drugs, crime in Central America could well increase as the drug cartels shift their focus to these other forms of illicit activities.

Respect for laws and strong justice-sector institutions are essential to combating all types of crime. The U.S. government is helping Central American governments strengthen the rule of law through building capacity in law-enforcement and justice institutions and supporting community policing, gang prevention, and economic and social alternatives for youth and communities affected by crime, as well as by assisting the government in improving border security and disrupting criminal infrastructure, routes, and networks.

The solutions to the difficult situation that Guatemala confronts today include combating poverty and malnutrition, rebuilding institutions and respect for the rule of law, and re-establishing an effective State presence in all areas of the country. The United States government's assistance to Guatemala (valued at $220 million in the last fiscal year) is focused on exactly these objectives.

The government of the United States is committed to working with Guatemala, and all of our partners in Central America, so that together we can prosper and end the cycle of fear and violence which has plagued the region for far too long.”