Panama's government has stated its opposition to drug legalization, ahead of a visit by Guatemala's vice president to promote debate on the issue.
Before a planned visit to Panama by Guatemalan vice president, Roxana Baldetti, Panamanian Foreign Minister Roberto Enriquez said, "We absolutely do not agree with the decriminalization of drugs," reported El Nuevo Diario. He added, however, that his government would listen to Baldetti's proposals when she visits Wednesday.
Baldetti is undertaking a tour of Central America in order to explain her government's position on the issue prior to a summit of Central American leaders in March.
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Guatemala's new president, Otto Perez, surprised onlookers after he took office in January by calling for debate on liberalizing drug laws, saying that legalizing the trade would cut the revenue of organized criminal groups. The presidents of El Salvador and Honduras have both expressed their opposition to the idea, while Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla said it would not do anything to decrease levels of violence in Central America.
Thanks to its proximity to Colombia, and its location as the link between South and Central America, Panama is a key route for drug trafficking organizations. In 2009 its seizures of illicit narcotics were the third highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the UN's 2011 World Drug Report.
Though Panama has not witnessed the same levels of violence seen in its northern neighbors -- particularly Guatemala and Honduras -- its homicide rate has been rising over the last decade, reaching 21.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010, double that in 2000.
Panama has a strong relationship with the US, which has spoken out against Perez's proposal.
US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano reiterated her country's opposition to altering the drug war's strategy during a tour of Central America that will see her visit Guatemala.