Revisiting yesterday's post, specifically the interesting example of Bolivia's successful illicit coca cultivation eradication policies.
On Monday the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that Bolivia has seen a decline in coca cultivation for the fourth consecutive year. The area used to cultivate coca fell 11 percent last year and is down by 34 percent over the past four.
An analysis of this data by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Andean Information Network (AIN) reveals that the country’s coca policy—which relies on "cooperative coca reduction" rather than forced eradication—is responsible for the drop.
Bolivia has been a strong proponent of traditional and legal uses of coca. Though the leaves are considered an illegal substance internationally, their cultivation for medicinal and religious purposes is legal in Bolivia. Bolivia temporarily left the U.N. drug convention and re-acceded with a reservation on the chewing of coca leaf. Bolivia currently allows 12,000 hectares of legal coca production, though President Evo Morales is pushing to raise the number to 20,000.
It's program relies on close monitoring to ensure individual cultivators do not exceed their cato, or measured plot of land for permitted coca cultivation, explains the WOLA-AIN report. Farmers participate in a biometric registry to facilitate identification and monitoring of production, transport, and sales, effectively ensuring crops are only used for licit products—not cocaine or its derivatives.
"Bolivia’s successes send a clear message: forced eradication of coca is neither effective nor just, and leads only to cycles of poverty and human rights violations—not sustained reductions in coca cultivation," said Coletta A. Youngers, of WOLA and co-author of the report. "By working to provide economic alternatives for coca growers and permitting small amounts of cultivation for traditional use, Bolivia has reduced the supply of coca deviated to the illicit market."
It's an example that could be of use in neighboring Peru and Colombia, where eradication efforts have been plagued with human rights issues.
In Colombia, coca cultivation surged by 44 percent last year, to 69,000 hectares, according to the U.N., and it's unclear what will happen after the government finally decided to suspend a controversial aerial fumigation of a cancerogenic herbicide earlier this year. (See May 15th's post.)
Earlier this week the Associated Press reported that thousands of Peruvians have lost their livelihoods to the government's campaign to destroy the plant used to make cocaine. They say officials have offered only paltry compensation, or none at all. In 2013-2014, 55,000 hectares of coca were destroyed — dropping the Andean nation to second place behind Colombia in land area under coca cultivation. But more than half of the 95,000 families affected by eradication have not received government assistance, or have rejected what was offered as too paltry.
"The AP report reflects how even a successful eradication program like the one implemented in Peru falls short if authorities provide no viable alternatives to coca growing," argues David Gagne at InSight Crime. "Even when faced with the threat of having their crops destroyed, farmers will seek to continue planting coca it they have no other option for making a decent living."
Last month a 5,000 person protest in a central Amazon town in Peru turned violent: one farmer was killed and 23 were injured -- the first violent "cocalero" protest in the past few years. The growers say they want eradication halted until the government offers them better alternatives for making a living.
Morales said the new figures showed the U.S.-led war on drugs was less effective than his government's softer approach, which allows limited coca farming and works with farmers to help them develop alternative crops, reports AFP.
"Eradication and fighting a war on drugs with military bases is not the solution, as we've seen in some Andean countries, where there are U.S. officials waging the war on drugs," he said.
Correction: in yesterday's post I incorrectly said that Kathryn Ledebur works with WOLA. She works with AIN, and is a co-author of the WOLA-AIN report, "Building on Progress."
- A Mexican soldier was convicted for forced disappearance in a 2012 incident -- a historic first, despite hundreds of complaints in recent years. The army lieutenant was sentenced to 31 years in prison for illegally detaining and causing the disappearance of the victim in the northern state of Nuevo Leon. The unidentified victim has never been found. Mexico had only six previous convictions of public officials in connection with what is formally called "forced disappearances," all federal police officers, reports El Daily Post. Since the involvement of soldiers on the street in the war on drug cartels starting in 2006, rights groups have accused the Army of engaging in human rights violations, though formal criminal complaints were not filed. (See for example July 2nd's post on the Tlatlaya Massacre of 22 civilians.) In yesterday's verdict, an aggravating factor in the sentencing was the suffering of the victim’s family and their struggle to find out the truth, notes the Associated Press.
- Over the past five years, 236,8000 Mexicans moved because of public insecurity and violence, and can be considered victims of forced displacement, reports Animal Político. That's 6.4 percent of all Mexican's who moved in those years. The results come from a national survey and represent the first time the government has recognized the forced displacement phenomenon, which international organizations have been warning about.
- Arrest warrants were issued for fifteen teacher union leaders in Oaxaca, accused of rioting and destroying electoral material during June's polls, reports Animal Político. (See June 3rd's post.)
- Donald Trump's potential presidential candidacy in the U.S. was initially treated as somewhat of a joke in Mexico, but as he numbers continue to stay up Mexicans have expressed growing concern about his bid for the Republican nomination, reports the Washington Post. Even if he doesn't win the nomination, his hardline stance against immigration seems to have influenced other candidates. The Mexican government issued a fact sheet noting that the more than 33 million people of Mexican origin in the United States account for 8 percent of the gross domestic product, that there are more than 2 million Hispanic entrepreneurs in the United States and that trade between the two countries has reached $530 billion per year.
- Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff had a congressional setback yesterday in her battle to lower the country's fiscal deficit (and to hold onto political power): the Senate put off a vote on a key austerity bill and the lower house of Congress voted to increase the cost of a workers severance fund, reports Reuters.
- Brazilian economists expect the country's economy to shrink by 2 percent this year, steeper than recent estimates, reports Al Jazeera.The median forecast of about 100 financial institutions included in a central bank survey expect Brazil's gross domestic product (GDP) to contract slightly in 2016; in last week's survey, the median view was that the nation’s GDP would stay flat.
- Nestor Cervero, the former international chief of state-run oil firm Petrobras, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Monday for corruption and money laundering related to a bribe allegedly paid to the speaker of Brazil’s lower house of congress, reports Reuters. Consultant Julio Camargo, who said in plea bargain testimony that Speaker Eduardo Cunha asked him for a $5m bribe, was given a 14-year sentence that was reduced to reporting to police twice monthly and doing community service because he collaborated. Lobbyist Fernando Soares, accused of funneling bribes to Cunha’s Brazilian Democratic Movement party (PMDB), was sentenced to just over 16 years in jail. Cunha quit Rousseff's government coalition last month, and accused the administration of framing him in the broadening Petrobras corruption scandal. He has since waged legislative war against Rousseff's attempts to pass austerity measures.
- Peruvian President Ollanta Humala's approval rating took (yet another) hit this month due to investigations into potential links to Brazil's political corruption scandal Lava Jato (Carwash), reports La República. An Ipsos poll shows that his approval rating is at 17 percent (two points below July's) and that nearly half of those interviewed believe the government engaged in the acts of corruption denounced by Brazilian investigators.
- Honduran prosecutors are investigating former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla over thousands of shoes bought for the poor that may have been improperly purchased, or never distributed, reports the Associated Press.
- Colombia's FARC rebel group hinted yesterday that it will extend its unilateral cease-fire if the government does not renew air raids on its bases, reports Reuters. The next round of peace talks in Havana opens tomorrow, and Rodrigo Grande, a member of the FARC's negotiating team, told Reuters to expect important news.
- Crimes perpetrated against human rights activists continue in Colombia, reports TeleSur, based on a report by non-profit organization Somos Defensores. Thirty-four activists have been killed in the first half of 2015 – 30 men and four women. Nine of the victims were of indigenous ethnicity, four were from the LGBT and intersex communities, two were journalists, and three farmers.
- U.S. airlines are not waiting for Congress to lift the trade embargo on Cuba or for the Obama administration to advance in a deal to establish civil air travel between the two countries -- they are already expanding charter flights to the island. Yesterday American Airlines announced non-stop service between Los Angeles and Havana, Cuba's first West Coast connection in a long time, reports the Miami Herald.
- Hundreds of thousands of people living south of the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, could be at risk from an eruption of the Cotopaxi volcano, reports the BBC. The volcano last erupted on Saturday, prompting President Rafael Correa to declare a state of emergency.
- Falling commodity prices, a sluggish growth outlook in China and fears of an imminent rate increase by the U.S. Federal Reserve have major Latin American currencies to tumble, reports the Wall Street Journal. This year, the Colombian peso has lost 21 percent of its value against the dollar, hitting a record low, while the Chilean peso and Mexican peso have depreciated by 12 percent and 10 percent, according to the piece.
- Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt suffers from dementia, according to a medical team that evaluated the 89-year-old former general as a court considers whether he is fit for trial on genocide and human rights charges, reports the Associated Press. He is said to suffer from significant memory loss and be unaware of the day, the date or his surroundings. Prosecutors accuse Rios Montt of responsibility for the killing of 1,771 Mayan Ixil people by security forces under his 1982-83 regime.
- Why are Latin American officials constantly attracted to so-called "iron fist" security policies, asks David Gagne at InSight Crime. Though the region's most violent countries are applying a militaristic approach to domestic law enforcement, there is scant evidence that such policies lead to improved security in the long run, he says. Worst, they could be undermining democracies in these countries. Yet the policies often have the support of general populations tired of crime and convinced that police forces are corrupt. The piece talks to several experts who give interesting insights into the paradigmatic Latin America question.
- Haitian election officials disqualified 14 candidates yesterday for involvement in the violent disturbances that marred voting at polling stations around the country earlier this month, reports the Associated Press. (See August 10th's post).
- Haiti's local version of Pablo Escobar -- Beaudouin "Jaques" Ketant -- was deported from the U.S. to Haiti, after serving prison time for smuggling 30 tons of cocaine from Haiti to the U.S. Ketant accused former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of turning a blind eye to drug smuggling on the island, which he called a narco-state, reports the Miami Herald.
- And speaking of Pablo Escobar, the legend continues to astound twenty years after his death. Netflix has an upcoming series, Narcos, about the cartel boss. The series was filmed in Medellín, something that would have been "unthinkable" a few years ago, reports theAssociated Press."But as memories of Escobar's terror campaign fade, and with the homicide rate at a decade low, Colombians are starting to view their violent past more dispassionately. So much so that cinema-loving President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to pick up $2 million in production costs so Netflix could film in the country." But it's hardly the first look at Escobar's polemic and fascinating life. A 2012 Caracol series "Escobar: El Patrón del Mal" made waves across the region -- gripping audiences and polemically portraying Escobar as a relatively good guy.