The decision by Pérez Molina to speak out is seen as highly significant and not without political risk. Polls suggest the vast majority of Guatemalans oppose decriminalization, but Pérez Molina's comments are seen by many as helping to usher in a new era of debate. They will be studied closely by foreign policy experts who detect that Latin American leaders are shifting their stance on prohibition following decades of drugs wars that have left hundreds of thousands dead.
Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón, has called for a national debate on the issue. Last year, Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's President, told the Observer that if legalizing drugs curtailed the power of organized criminal gangs who had thrived during prohibition, "and the world thinks that's the solution, I will welcome it".
One diplomat closely involved with the summit described the event as historic, saying it would be the first time for 40 years that leaders had met to have an open discussion on drugs. "This is the chance to look at this matter with new eyes," he said.
Latin America's increasing hostility towards prohibition makes President Obama's attendance at the summit potentially difficult. The Obama Administration, keen not to hand ammunition to its opponents during an election year, will not want to be seen as softening its support for prohibition. However, it is seen as significant that the U.S. vice-president, Joe Biden, has acknowledged that the debate about legalizing drugs is now legitimate.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of Brazil and chairman of the global commission on drug policy, has said it is time for "an open debate on more humane and efficient drug policies", a view shared by George Shultz, the former U.S. secretary of state, and former president Jimmy Carter.
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Correspondent Jamie Doward in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/07/war-drugs-latin-american-leaders