Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pot debates in Mexico (Nov. 17, 2015)

Mexico's Undersecretary for Human Rights Roberto Campa announced a national debate on overhauling Mexico's marijuana legislation. The announcement comes in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that could potentially pave the way for decriminalization of cannabis. (See Nov. 5th's post.)

The debate will consider easing custodial sentences and raising the amount of the drug that people can carry, reports Reuters. It will take place in five locations around the country and focus on the issues of: security and justice, ethics and rights, health and economic aspects of regulation, reports El Universal.

The court's decision permits the four plaintiffs in the case to cultivate and consume their own marijuana, but could be the first step to changing the national norms. Government officials say they are attempting to step up to the challenge presented by the ruling.

It was quickly followed by a Senate proposal from within President Enrique Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party to legalize medicinal use of marijuana, which appears to have substantial cross-party support, reports Reuters. It's worth noting that decriminalization is widely opposed by Mexicans. A recent poll found that 77 percent of Mexicans are against recreational marijuana use, although 81 percent are in favor of its use for medicinal purposes reports the Associated Press.

A 2012 study by Mexican think tank CIDE found that just over 60 percent of the prison population - today about one quarter of a million people - was serving time for drug-related crimes, including eight out of 10 women inside. Nearly 60 percent of those inmates said they were jailed for marijuana offenses, according to the study, reports Reuters.

Campa notes the relevance of legal recreational weed in an increasing amount of U.S. states: "We can't ignore the relevance of the decisions in the United States, and we can't ignore the fact that a change in California will have very important implications in the United States and also in Mexico," said Campa.

But don't get too excited cautions El Daily Post's Alejandro Hope. "The exercise will consist of a bunch of events, with lots of people talking about marijuana in separate thematic silos, in different cities, with no end-product (except maybe some transcripts and some videos of the hearings). A recipe for total pointlessness," he concludes. 

In particular he criticizes the government for opening a general discussion about marijuana, rather than marijuana regulation, saying it will likely drown the process but look forward thinking. But such a perspective ignores the full implications of the judicial ruling and creates the groundwork for a future of an unregulated marijuana industry he warns.

"And once an industry exists, the task of regulating it will be much tougher ..."

News Briefs

  • Honduran opposition journalist David Romero was sentenced last week to more than eight years in prison for "insulting" a prosecutor's wife. He the eight year sentence is retaliation from the president for uncovering public embezzlement and his lawyer said they'd appeal the verdict, reports AFP.
  • More on the Cuban land-migration route to the U.S. (see yesterday's post): More than 28,000 Cubans requested asylum in southern Texas in the 12 months ended Sept. 30, reports the Wall Street Journal. They represented about two-thirds of all Cuban asylum seekers in that period and an 80 percent increase over the previous year. Migrants traveling by land from Ecuador, instead on rafts by sea, are attempting to reach the U.S. before the end of the so-called "dry foot" policy that allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil a fast track to legal U.S. residency.
  • A decade of homicide counts in São Paulo omitted killings by off-duty police officers committed in self defense. This week the state government admitted to Folha de S. Paulo that the deaths were not included in official statistics on homicides, nor on police lethality. The new data significantly pushes up the deaths attributed to off-duty officers
  • American financial giant TIAA-CREF and Brazilian partners have poured millions of dollars into farms in the cerrado, a huge region on the edge of the Amazon rain forest where agricultural expansion is replacing forested savannas, fueling environmental concerns, reports the New York Times. The purchase of vast holdings of farmland required the American financial group and its local partners to circumvent a 2010 ban on such large-scale deals by foreigners. It's what some would call "land grabs," and has exposed the companies in question to claims that they acquired farms from a shadowy land speculator accused of employing gunmen to snatch land from poor farmers by force.
  • Civil war in Yemen is fueled by a large supply of weapons. The usual suspects -- the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran and partners -- are not the only culprits. Brazilian armament producers are also involved, albeit indirectly, explains Robert Muggah in El País. Last week, unexploded cluster munitions produced by Brazilian company Avibras Aerospace were found there. The rockets were used by the forces of Saudi coalition. When confronted with pictures of the weapons by Amnesty International, Avibras representatives said they would investigate the incident. But it's not the first time the company has sold weapons to countries with a history of human rights violations, writes Muggah. In 2012, the company sold 36 missile launchers to Indonesia, which were delivered in 2014 at a cost 400 million dollars. Although Brazil's economic crisis is affecting the defense industry, Avibras reported a more than 25 million profit last year, and expects to exceed 250 million in sales in 2015. "Brazil is not new in the global arms market. Since the 1980s, the country has been supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and other countries in the Middle East and Africa. Often, internal criticism aimed at government subsidies and tax breaks that favor the production of cluster weapons are ignored. The Ministry of Defense intervened to ensure the solvency of companies such as Avibras, without showing much interest in the fate of the weapons." Muggah denounces the continued lack of control that permits the production of cluster munitions that wreak havoc around the world.
  • Sanmarco, the mining company behind the massive dam failure that devastated several river communities and killed at least 11 people earlier this month, said it will set aside $262 million to fund cleanup efforts. Deutsche Bank estimates the companies’ final bill could top $1 billion, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul told the Miami Herald that he's open to a request by a group of opposition presidential candidates and local observers for an independent verification of the count in the controversial Oct. 25 first round of presidential elections. But he added that he wonders whether an independent five-member commission, as they are demanding, will be enough to create trust in the ongoing electoral process -- the country's citizens must head to the polls for a third time in December in a run-off election to determine the next president. (See last Friday's post.)

  • Last week Ecuador's governing party rejected Human Rights Watch's latest report (see Nov. 10th's briefs), that says Ecuadorian security forces used excessive force to disperse anti-government protests in August of this year. The report criticizes the government, which made little effort to investigate abuses and congratulated security forces for their role. Allianza PAIS accused HRW of misrepresenting the sizes of demonstrations, minimizing opposition violence, and of misrepresenting the state of emergency declared with the eruption of the Cotopaxi volanco – portraying that measure as a repressive tool, reports TeleSur. However, an HRW statement to local media insists that these criticisms don't refute the central findings of the report and urges authorities to investigate the abuses presented in the report. HRW explains that the report doesn't elide denunciations of attacks on security forces, but rather maintains that they do not justify excessive use of force against pacific and transient protesters as effectively occurred in several places around the country during August's protests.
  • Venezuelan National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said that two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro's wife were kidnapped by the U.S. in an attempt by Washington to discredit the country's government right before a vote. Maduro can’t be held responsible for the actions of his relatives, said Cabello in a television interview, reports the Wall Street Journal. Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas and Efrain Antonio Campo Flores were detained in Haiti last week and flown to New York to face charges of conspiring to smuggle 800 kg of cocaine into the U.S. (See last Thursday's post.) They plan to plead not guilty at their next court appearance on Dec. 2, reports Reuters. The timing of the case is crucial for the Maduro government, which is predicted to lose its majority in the National Assembly in elections on Dec. 6. Venezuela's opposition has cast the case as further evidence of high-level corruption and demanded an investigation.
  • The Miami Herald has a piece on a new documentary by Adriana Bosch on William Morgan -- the Cuban revolution's "yanqui comandante" -- an upper class, Midwestern boy who joined the fight against Fulgencio Batista.

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