Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mexican President backs marijuana legalization in U.N. speech (April 20, 2016)

Yesterday the U.N. General Assembly kicked off the three day drug session by adopting a "people-first" framework for drug policy, according to the U.N. press release. The new approach was drafted last month in Vienna by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN's top policy-making body on the issue.

"The document recognizes that to address and counter the world drug problem, appropriate emphasis should be placed on individuals, families, communities and society as a whole, with a view to promoting and protecting the health, safety and well-being of all humanity."

But the document was heavily criticized by civil society organizations who said it doesn't go nearly far enough. (See March 14's post.)

The agreement leaves in place the prohibitionist policies banning narcotics use, despite growing international discontent with the "war on drugs" – and the concerns of the nations that called the meeting, reports the Guardian.

Latin American countries in general argued for the U.N. to accept a trend of legalizing soft drugs, saying aggressive war on drugs has failed, leading to thousands of lives being destroyed worldwide, reports Voice of America. They hope to reduce the violence that has accompanied the war on drugs, notes the New York Times.

The battle-lines in the General Assembly pit the Latin American countries against supporters of existing anti-drug conventions, such as Russia, China and smaller countries with some of the strictest drug laws, including those that impose the death penalty, such as Singapore, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

While the meeting is unlikely to lead to major reform of drug treaties, it highlights how divided the world has become over the right approach to drug laws, according to the NYT. 

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said he is open to legalizing marijuana in his country and that his government would announce new measures in coming days, reports Reuters. (See Monday's and last Friday's briefs.)

"I am giving voice to those who have (in public forums) expressed the necessity of changing the regulatory framework to authorize the use of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes," Peña Nieto said yesterday.

His speech was surprising, considering he has been an opponent of drug legalization and almost skipped the U.N. meeting, announcing his attendance as part of a last minute switch.

Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales was also critical of the existing international drug control regime, saying that: "People – not substances – [should be] at the center of these policies," reports the Guardian.

News Briefs
  • The Intercept has an interview with Mexican environmental activist Gustavo Castro, who is the sole witness to the murder of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres. He was barred by Honduran authorities from leaving for over a month, an experience that gives insight into the workings of the country's justice system, notorious for impunity. "The government wanted me under its control. It has no laws that protect victims. Nor does it have regulations or protocols or a budget to protect human rights activists. Nor does it have regulations for protected witnesses. So they wanted me under their so-called protection where there is no law that obligates them to do anything," said Castro. "... It was a state of complete insecurity and a constant violation of my human rights."

  • The new OAS backed anti-graft mission in Honduras (MACCIH) is getting off to a strong start, or at least promising one. It announced that it will investigate a multi-million dollar corruption scandal involving President Juan Orlando Hernandez. (Last week there were reports that it will also be assisting with investigations into the murders of environmentalist Berta Cáceres in March, and anti-drug official Julian Aristides Gónzalez in 2009, see April 11's briefs.)
  • Questioned last week by the New York Daily News, Hillary Clinton gave a somewhat garbled defense of her decisions as U.S. Secretary of State during Honduras' 2009 coup. She said calling the ouster of President Mel Zelaya in the middle of the night, when he was smuggled out of the country in his pajamas, would have affected U.S. aid to the country, victimizing poor citizens. She also said she was aiming to avoid further bloodshed which could have flung the country into civil war "terrifying in its loss of life." Karen Attiah criticizes Clinton's stance in a Washington Post op-ed, noting that "what Hillary fails to mention is that bloodshed reigns supreme in Honduras today, not only in terms of its astronomically high murder rate, but also for activists, LGBT persons, journalists and indigenous leaders. ... As Honduras and other Central American countries continue to grapple with corruption and violence, the presidential race is as good a time as any to reexamine U.S. policy toward the region. Clinton’s questionable record as secretary of state will invariably influence her polices toward Honduras and the region if she is the next president. Clinton’s dodgy answers on her role in Honduras should alarm anyone concerned with human rights and stability in Honduras, Central America and around the world."
  • Though Cuban President Raúl Castro called on aging revolutionaries to spend more time with their grandchildren and to make room for young leadership, the Cuban Communist Party congress ratified Castro and his hardline deputy in top leadership positions, reports the Associated Press. (See Monday's briefs.) Castro indicated that he and his second in command might step down from the party leadership before the next congress in 2021, saying this year's session was the last to be led by Cuba's revolutionary generation. His presidential mandate ends in 2018, when he is expected to be replaced by a younger president. But his reelection to the party post added to a sense that younger leaders are being passed over, according to the New York Times. Five younger party officials, including three women, ascended to the party's powerful 17-member Political Bureau. But Cubans hoping for more change were disappointed by the Congress, which meets every five years, according to the AP.
  • Fidel Castro used his speech to the congress yesterday to say goodbye, telling party members that he would soon die and urging them to fulfill his communist vision, reports the New York Times.
  • The impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in the lower chamber of congress spurred celebration in certain factions across the country, but doesn't do much to alter Brazil's grim situation of political and economic turmoil, reports the New York Times. Inflation is at 10 percent, unemployment is at a seven year high, and the economy is expected to contract by 3.8 percent for the second year in a row. "We may be witnessing the end of Dilma but not the end of the Brazilian crisis," Sylvio Costa, the founder of Congresso em Foco, an anticorruption watchdog group. Should her impeachment move forward in the Senate, as is expected, the country's government will be further paralyzed when she is forced to step down for the trial in the upper chamber. (See Monday's post.) 
  • There seems to be widespread agreement that Rousseff's administration did employ the budgetary tricks she is accused of using to hide a growing deficit ahead of her 2014 reelection campaign. The question however remains whether that is an impeachable offense, reports the New York Times. Experts say she borrowed about $11 billion from state banks to fund social programs, but its unclear how much of a crime that really is.
  • "... The real reason the president is being impeached is that the Brazilian political system is in ruins. Her impeachment will provide a convenient distraction while other politicians try to get their own houses in order," argues Folha de São Paulo columnist Celso Rocha de Barros in a New York Times op-ed. Observers worry that a government led by Vice President Michel Temer could declaw the wideranging investigation into corruption dubbed "Operation Car Wash" which has implicated many lawmakers in wrongdoing. "The crisis brought on by the Operation Car Wash scandals should have been part of Brazil’s painful — and extraordinary — process of establishing a functioning judiciary and fighting corruption. But Ms. Rousseff’s fall is not the logical conclusion of that happy story. Far from being the dawn of a new era, it may very well turn out to be the way the old political class reasserts control over the country — and escapes jail."
  • The Guardian reports more on the largely overlooked comment by an opposition lawmaker on Sunday who voted to impeach Rousseff, lauding the torture used against her and others during the dictatorship era. (See Monday's post.) Asked about the comment yesterday, Rousseff told foreign journalists that "It is regrettable that this moment in Brazil has opened a door to intolerance, hate and to this kind of statement."
  • A second large earthquake (6.2 magnitude) hit Ecuador early today, hampering rescue and relief efforts for victims of the larger (7.8 magnitude) quake last weekend, reports Reuters. The coastal town of Pedernales, at the epicenter of the larger quake, is no stranger to tragedy, reports Reuters separately, noting its history of reinvention in the wake of disaster. Remote towns along the coast were completely cut off for days by the earthquake which has already claimed at least 500 lives, reports the New York Times. Quote of the day: "You ask what buildings fell? The question is what building didn't fall," Eduardo Alciva Domínguez, 59, a fisherman told the NYT.
  • The Venezuelan opposition plans to unveil a measure to cut short President Nicolas Maduro's term in office, reports AFP. Thousands of opposition supporters gathered yesterday to demand a referendum that would oust the leader, but such a move would need to be done by the national electoral board, which the opposition accuses of being controlled by the president's allies. Caracas Chronicles has a good "insider baseball" piece on the various schisms within the MUD opposition, and the diverse tactics they're espousing to try to get rid of Maduro. In the meantime, citizens are becoming increasingly impatient with the leadership's "underwhelming response to post-6D obstructionism, even as the need for a change in regime becomes ever more of a life-or-death proposition," writes Emiliana Duarte. "It's a classic case of chicken and egg: People are demobilized because MUD events lack substance, and the MUD doesn’t convene events because people are demobilized. And that’s why, for all the attempts to downplay expectations, yesterday's Cabildo Abierto mattered so much."
  • A colorful column in Caracas Chronicles by Francisco Toro mulls the difficulties of the international press in covering Venezuela's apparently eternal downward economic spiral. "... foreign journalists in Venezuela are under constant pressure to find new ways to say the same thing. The result is a kind of arms race with journalists trying to outdo each other on how to communicate a single, grim, overwhelming fact: the country is preternaturally fucked."
  • Activists say that Peru's rightward swing in this month's presidential elections could lead to an escalation of conflicts between local communities and mining companies, reports Vice News.
  • Peruvian journalists say they are facing "systematic judicial persecution" for expressing unpopular opinions and exposing official corruption, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Panama will adopt international tax reporting standards and participate in the automatic exchange of tax information by 2018, said President Juan Carlos Varela, according to Reuters.
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has left the comedy stage, but it doesn't mean he's done with jokes. He used the opportunity of a Facebook Live interview with the Spanish-language edition of the New York Times to mock Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s proposal for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. "To the gentleman who wishes to build that wall, I offer cheap labor ... We have good workers and with great pleasure we will build it for you – just tell us the dimensions and we can do it," he quipped.
  • Former Chilean President Patricio Aylwin, who led his country in the transition to democracy after Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, died in his home yesterday at the age of 97, reports the New York Times.
  • The Monsanto seed company reportedly rejected a request from the Argentine government to get more time to force farmers to pay for genetically modified seeds, reports Bloomberg.
  • As experts from around the region call the "death of the pink tide," Daniela Blei analyzes what it means in The New Republic. Populist governments around the region are coming to an end and disillusionment with leftist leaders has grown. "The old right isn’t making a comeback. Rather, the left no longer enjoys majority support," she writes. Redistributive policies, sustained by a global commodities boom, made a real difference in people's lives across the region, but were not sustained when economic downturn imposed budgetary constraints. "It’s too early to declare that populism has died, or is irrelevant to contemporary processes, as some political scientists have suggested. Leftist populism will soon resurface, if not in exactly the same way." Her conclusion? The Latin American left should look to the example of Uruguay. The country has low corruption levels, is a leader in clean energy, and has had a largely successful and unifying road to socially inclusive growth, she writes.

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