Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mexican legislators pledge to propose marijuana reform (Feb. 24, 2016)

Last week the Mexican Congress wrapped up a series of public audiences on alternative options for marijuana regulation. The nine sessions analyzed the effects of cannabis on the health of the consumer, regulation of consumption in relation to public health, preventative public security, relation to the penitentiary system, and relation to criminal policy and relation to addiction treatment, explains Laura Rojas in Exelsior

In January she noted that legal reform, with a focus on avoiding the criminalization of consumers and human rights, is pertinent after last year's Supreme Court ruling that could potentially pave the way for judicial decriminalization. (See the post for Nov. 17, 2015.)

Legislators closing the debates said they were in favor of a change in marijuana regulation and committed to propose bills on the issue, taking the Supreme Court ruling as a base, reports Televisa.

The president of the Human Rights Commission noted in particular a grave problems stemming from prohibition that were presented in the hearings, reports La Razón.

Legislators noted that crimes against health are the leading cause of incarceration of women (80 percent), that most of them have no criminal record and were not carrying arms at the time of their detention, that 98 percent of those women are mothers, poor and with low levels of education.

And the governor of Morelos state, Graco Ramírez, proposed a national consultation for a new marijuana regulation framework. He emphasized the earnings of drug dealers, which are estimated at $39 billion and said the federal government could save more than $10.5 billion by legalizing cannabis.

Mexican Times reviews the debate.

Expert opinions presented to the Congress include Jorge Javier Romero, of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), who said the prohibitionist model has failed and brought along with it a high cost in social violence, reports Sputnik Mundo

The war on drugs has failed, and Mexico risks being left behind its allies if it doesn't work towards regulating cannabis, former said the former Minister of Foreign Relations Jorge Castañeda.

The former rector of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Juan Ramón de la Fuente, emphasized the need to discuss legal possession of the subject considering that two-thirds of the people in prison for illegal possession of drugs were incarcerated for marijuana, reports Proceso.

In fact, the main reason for legalizing cannabis is to get thousands of users out of the penal system, argues CIDE's Catalina Pérez Correa in El Universal.

While there is excitement about potential marijuana legalization paving the way for broader acceptance of alternative drug policies, Alejandro Hope cautions against over-enthusiasm in his El Daily Post column.

News Briefs
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales officially lost a constitutional referendum which would have allowed him to run for a fourth term. With 99.7 percent of the votes counted, the motion lost by 48.7 percent to 51.3 against the amendment, reports La Razón. Morales did not concede defeat yesterday however, and could still appeal the results before they become final, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post and Monday's.) The loss shows the limits of Morales' popularity -- its his first significant loss at the ballot box, util last fall his approval ratings were at 75 percent, reports the Los Angeles Times. He was also unfavorably impacted by plunging commodities prices and allegations of influence-peddling that arose this month. The Wall Street Journal puts the loss in a context of the decline of left-wing leaders in the region over the past year. "It is less an ideological shift than just a sense of fatigue with governments in power for a long time that are no longer delivering the results that they did before," Michael Shifter, the president of  the Inter-American Dialogue told the WSJ. "The slowing economy is a big factor that has led voters to be frustrated and reject the status quo and look for alternatives."
  • Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, head of a Mexican drug trafficking cartel pleaded guilty in a US federal court, admitting that he helped ship tons of cocaine from South America to the United States, reports the Associated Press. He was captured in Mexico in 2008 and extradited two years ago. Prosecutors say that Beltrán Leyva had sold drugs to US gangs in exchange for weapons, commanded squads of hitmen who tortured and murdered rivals, and paid bribes to Mexican government officials.
  • Meanwhile the wife of recently recaptured Sinaloa Cartel kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán," spoke to the media to relay an urgent message: she fears her husband won't survive his stint in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison, reports the Los Angeles Times. She says he is constantly watched, not allowed to sleep and without privacy to use the bathroom, conditions she describes as "slowly being tortured."
  • Subcomandante Marcos, the charismatic leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, is formally free of 20 year-old charges of rebellion, terrorism and possession of illegal firearms. A judge ruled that the statute of limitations of the charges against Marcos has expired by this month, reports the Associated Press.
  • El Daily Post reports on the soaring numbers of private security guards in Mexico, who operate without a reliable registry that tracks who they are and how many there are. Estimates compiled by the National Confederation of Private Security Agents suggest that the total number of security personnel is twice the number of state and federal police officers in the country.
  • Nicaraguan Rev. Fernando Cardenal died yesterday. He was one of four priests steeped in liberation theology who joined the revolutionary Sandinista cabinet in the 1980s and defied Pope John Paul II's order to quit. He was expelled by the Jesuits and suspended from the priesthood by the pope. As culture minister from mid 1984 to 1990 he oversaw a sweeping campaign that local officials credited with reducing illiteracy to 13 percent from 51 percent, reports the New York Times.
  • InSight Crime has an excerpt from journalist Ioan Grillo's new book "Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America," in which he goes into Antares, a Rio de Janeiro favela dominated by the Red Command drug gang.
  • The president of the Samarco mining company and six other people have been charged with aggravated homicide over the deaths of at least 17 people after a dam burst in November in Brazil, reports the Associated Press. The police say the catastrophic dam failure was the result of mining company's attempts to expand the structure too quickly without proper monitoring, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • El Faro reports on the links between Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes and João Santana, the Brazilian electoral consultant who was arrested yesterday in Brazil on charges of international money laundering in relation to the Petrobras corruption scandal. (See yesterday's briefs.) Santana and his wife, Mónica Regina Cunha Moura (who also surrendered to police yesterday) worked on Funes' campaign in 2009 and have done publicity for the government since, according to El Faro.
  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a possible Cuba trip to discuss human rights ahead of a scheduled visit to the island next month by President Barack Obama, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Ramón Castro, older brother to Fidel and Raúl, died in Cuba yesterday. The 91-year-old was a lifelong rancher and farmer, reports the Associated Press. He was a founding member of the Cuban Communist Party. But, though he aided the guerrilla movement led by his brothers, and was jailed by dictator Fulgencio Batista, he never took up arms, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. and Brazilian health workers are seeking to determine if there is a link between the Zika virus and a surge in birth defects in Brazil. But the eight teams of "disease detectives" ran afoul of traffic and logistics problems on their first day in Paraiba, one of the areas where the dual problems of Zika and microcephaly are concentrated, reports the Associated Press
  • Finding a definitive link between Zika and microcephaly will be difficult and could take a while, reports Reuters. It took a decade to prove the link between rubella and congenital defects. Case controlled studies, which will provide proof, could take months at least. Nonetheless, the World Health Organization is promising more answers in weeks.
  • Yesterday the head of the World Health Organization met with Brazilian government officials to discuss ways of combating the mosquito-borne Zika virus. New microcephaly figures released yesterday confirmed an additional 75 cases, a total of a total of 583 since October, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The end of international sanctions against Iran could trigger a flurry of trade deals, including negotiations for Brazilian Embraer airliners, taxis, buses and trucks, reports Reuters. The deal could be an important boon for ailing Brazilian industries.
  • A three-year drought in Haiti has devastated local agricultural production and is affecting a significant portion of the population's access to food. About 3.6 million of its 10.4 million people can't afford the minimum daily calories, and almost half of those are in urgent need of assistance, meaning they're getting significantly less nutrition than what they need and are so underfed they become weak, reports the Associated Press. The World Food Program is seeking $84 million in donations to distribute cash and food to roughly 1 million drought-affected Haitians. (See Feb. 10's post.)
  • A national public sector strike planned for today in Argentina will test President Mauricio Macri and the government's new anti-protest protocol. (See last Friday's post.) Unions representing hospital and government office workers, among other public sector employees, are staging a one-day walkout across the country, reports Reuters. In a bid at fiscal discipline, one of Macri's first moves since taking office in December was to fire thousands of public employees, along with a long-predicted devaluation of the peso and elimination of energy subsidies. While the moves are lauded by international investors, they've already taken a toll on the 60 percent approval rating he had upon taking office, notes Reuters. It's not clear what will happen with the new anti-protest protocol today, as unions have challenged it in courts, reports La Nación.

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