Nicaragua says Poverty Alleviation Crucial to Control Drug Trafficking

Nicaragua News Bulletin 3/13/2012  US Vice-President Joe Biden met with the presidents of Central America on Mar. 6 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for a discussion of drug trafficking and organized crime in the region. After the meeting, characterized as frank and open, Biden said that the administration of President Barack Obama would ask Congress for US$107 million annually for a regional Central American security strategy. The summit, which was attended by the presidents of all of the Central American countries and Panama and the Foreign Minister of the Dominican Republic, was marked by the controversial proposal of Guatemalan President Otto Perez to discuss legalizing drugs and finding other means of combating drug trafficking and crime. The presidents agreed to reconvene in Guatemala on March 24 to discuss Perez’ proposal and other matters of security. President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador said, “Although it [legalization] is not a measure that my government supports, … I am of the opinion that it should be analyzed technically, apart from political and ideological considerations.”

Central America is currently the most violent region in the world, especially the so-called “Northern Triangle” of Honduras (with 85 murders per year per 100,000 inhabitants), El Salvador (with 65), and Guatemala (with 41). Nicaragua has 13 murders per 100,000 inhabitants and Costa Rica 11, still high compared with Uruguay, for example, which has only 6. Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said that it was Central America that was providing the dead in the war on drugs driven by what the presidents agreed was drug consumption in the United States. The presidents said that only a tiny part of the US$2 billion promised by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for regional security in 2011 had been made available so far.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said that fighting poverty would have to be a major component of the fight against drugs and organized crime. He maintained that neither the exclusive use of force nor decriminalizing the use and sale of drugs would be sufficient to solve the problem without improvement in the economies of the Central American countries. He underlined the importance of increasing investment, job creation, and improving socio-economic conditions as key to lowering levels of criminality.

In related news, Biden told CNN in Spanish after landing in Miami that his visits to Mexico and Honduras had been successful. He added in answer to a question, “I can guarantee that Iran represents no hemispheric threat to the United States.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited four Central American countries, including Nicaragua, in January. On Mar. 7, the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), approved House Resolution 3783 which is titled: “To provide for a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s growing presence and hostile activity in the Western Hemisphere.” Ros-Lehtinen said, “This legislation requires the Secretary of State to use existing funds to create a tailored strategy to fight the aggressive activities of Iran and its proxies in the Western Hemisphere, thereby establishing a strong U.S. policy stance and protecting U.S. security interests.” (El Nuevo Diario, Mar. 8; Informe Pastran, Mar. 7, 8; Radio La Primerisima, Mar. 7)

Nicaragua News Bulletin 3/13/2012