Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended hard-line US drug policies and Washington's approach to prohibition-related violence in Mexico Monday even as Central American leaders prepare to discuss decriminalizing or legalizing the drug trade. Napolitano spoke in Mexico City, on the eve of a trip to Guatemala, where President Otto Perez Molina has recently led the call for a new model.
In recent years, under pressure in Mexico, the cartels have also pushed into Central America, causing upticks in violence and increased trafficking activity throughout the isthmus.
"I would not agree with the premise that the drug war is a failure," Napolitano said in remarks reported by Reuters, among others. "It is a continuing effort to keep our peoples from becoming addicted to dangerous drugs."
Napolitano compared the so far fruitless hunt for Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the search for Osama bin Laden. She said Mexico and the US would persevere until they got their man.
"It took us 10 years to find Osama bin Laden and we found him, and you know what happened there," Napolitano said. "This has to be handled in a somewhat different way. It's a different type of crime and it's a different type of plague, but that's also why it is so important that we act not only binationally, but in a regional way, to go after the supply of illegal narcotics," she noted.
Guatemala's Perez has a different idea. He wants a regional debate on drug policy, including discussion of legalization and decriminalization, and it looks like he will get his wish at a Central American summit in April.
"What we are putting on the table... although we know some are against it, is decriminalization," Perez said earlier this month. "We have to study the issue of production, the issue of transport and also consumption," he said at a separate event.