Friday, April 22, 2016

Mexican president proposes minor marijuana changes (April 22, 2016)

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced yesterday that he will ask Congress to decriminalize personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, legalize its medical use and shift public policy from prohibition to prevention of the drug’s consumption, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The move is intended to accommodate demands for marijuana based medications for treatment of epilepsy for example, while also reducing incarceration rates for possession of small amounts of marijuana, reports Animal Político.

The move would place Mexico in the mid-range of marijuana regulation policies in Latin America: on the one hand Cuba and Venezuela forbid it entirely, while Uruguay set up a regulated market, reports the Associated Press.

El Daily Post columnist Alejandro Hope dismisses the proposal as "extremely limited."

But it's a u-turn for Peña Nieto, who has opposed legalization attempts, reports the Guardian. He had planned on skipping this week's United Nations special session on drug policy, but wound up going after heavy criticism from home.

Polls show Mexicans don't approve of full on legalizatoin: 71 percent of Mexicans are opposed to recreational marijuana, though 64 percent approved using it for medicinal purposes.

Last year the Mexican Supreme Court opened the possibility of judicial legalization of marijuana with a decision that declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. (See post for Nov. 5, 2015.)

Earlier this month an integral cannabis regulation bill, along the lines of the Uruguayan reform, was presented in the Mexican Senate. (See April 8's post.)

News Briefs
  • March set a record in violence in Mexico, with 1,725 homicide victims, reports Animal Político, based on a new Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública report. The average of 55.7 victims a day is the highest since the government started publishing these statistics in January, 2014. Indeed, this year's first trimester in general already represents a worrisome increase. "Violence in Mexico is on a really sharp uptrend," notes El Daily Post columnist Alejandro Hope. "The big problem is as much the trend as the level of violence. In March, the number of homicide victims grew by 19% compared to the same month last year." Deaths in Sinaloa, "El Chapo" Guzmán's former stomping grounds, are up 52 percent this year, due to gang turf wars aimed at controlling drug routes, reports El País.
  • The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, or EAAF, published the full results of their probe of evidence found at a trash dump, where Mexican authorities say the bodies of 43 students disappeared in 2014 were burned by a drug gang, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. The EAAF report maintains that there is no evidence that the bodies of the 43 students were burned at the Cocula dump.
  • Speaking at the Ungass 2016 session, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reiterated that the war on drugs is a failure (see yesterday's post) and stressed the importance of new approaches that prioritize human rights and treat drug consumption as a public health problem, reports EFE. "How do I explain to a poor Colombian farmer that he's going to jail for growing marijuana when in states like Colorado or Washington here in the United States anyone can freely produce, sell and consume that same marijuana? It doesn't make sense," Santos said.
  • The Paris climate agreement will be signed today in New York, a binding protocol that Latin American countries have overwhelmingly agreed to, reports Inter-Press Service. Countries in the region, many of which are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, are calling for the adoption of global measures to curb global warming.
  • El Salvador's newly minted Fuerzas Especializadas de Reacción El Salvador (FES) were presented earlier this week as a violent crime fighting measure, and will be permitted to use lethal force if they find it necessary, reports La Prensa Gráfica. One of their main tasks will be to find and capture the 100 most dangerous gang leaders in the country. The move comes as El Salvador is cracking down on gangs and violence. (See March 31's post.)
  • Legislators in El Salvador made negotiating truces with the gangs a crime this week, in response to reports of pacts between the country's principal political parties and the criminal organizations, reports El Faro. They also created mechanisms for mass roundups, including minors.
  • Opposition legislators in Venezuela chained themselves to a stairway of the country's electoral board yesterday, demanding paperwork needed to activate a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The latest in the "Venezuela keeps getting worse" genre: Venezuela's government will instate four hour daily blackouts in response to the country's worsening energy crisis, reports the Associated Press. The move will cover many of the country's largest cities, including Caracas. It joins other measures intended to save on electricity, including three day weekends for public employees, early closures for malls, and an upcoming clock reset to maximize daylight during the working day, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazilian VP Michel Temer said he's ready to take the helm if President Dilma Rousseff is suspended by the Senate for an impeachment trial, reports the Wall Street Journal. He criticized the president's depiction of the impeachment process against her as a coup d’état, and said talk of a coup is damaging the country's international reputation. Regardless, his leadership would start under grim circumstances: a recent poll found that less than 2 percent of the population would vote for him, he is linked to a massive corruption scandal, and he himself could be accused of the same budgetary crimes Rousseff allegedly committed, reports the New York Times.
  • Enough with the House of Cards comparisons, Netflix has taken notice: The internet television network announced that filming of its new original series based on recent corruption investigation Operation Car Wash, will begin this year in Brazil. The yet-to-be-titled series will be created and directed by José Padilha (of Elite Squad fame).
  • Two people were killed when a Rio de Janeiro bike path collapsed yesterday. The elevated bike path was supposed to be a legacy project of the city's upcoming Olympics, reports the Associated Press. An investigation is underway, but shoddy construction and graft are common features in many projects, according to the piece. The accident draws attention to safety concerns amid a construction blitz ahead of the sporting event, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori has proposed the death penalty for those convicted of raping minors younger than seven years old, reports El País. The current constitution only permits the death penalty for acts of terrorism, but it's not applied as the country is a signatory of American Convention on Human Rights.
  • A massive earthquake last weekend in Ecuador officially caused 577 deaths, but rescue workers on the ground are saying there are a lot more fatalities that are unaccounted for. It is the worst humanitarian catastrophe in recent history, writes Martín Pallares in a New York Times op-ed. He tells how the tragedy has spurred a citizen response that has pushed state relief efforts into a secondary role, and argues that its a rare moment in a country where President Rafael Correa has done his best to push aside civil society.
  • A Virgin Mary statue, which remained intact in an earthquake ruined Ecuadoran town has become a beacon of hope among the rubble, reports the New York Times.
  • Cuba lifted a ban on Cuban-Americans entering or leaving the island on commercial vessels, clearing the way for cruise operator Carnival Corp to set sail next week, reports Reuters.
  • Business relations between Cuba and the U.S. seem to have only one speed: slow, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The death toll from an explosion at a Pemex petrochemical plant in Mexico has risen to 24, reports the Associated Press. Eight workers are still unaccounted for and at least 136 were injured, reports the Wall Street Journal. Authorities say the explosion was caused by a leak of an as-yet unknown origin.
  • Belize has accused neighboring Guatemala of amassing troops on the countries' shared border after the death of a 13-year-old boy, apparently at the hands of Belizean soldiers, reports the Associated Press. Guatemalan authorities say they've sent 3,000 soldiers to the border, reports El País. Guatemala claims parts of territory governed by Belize as its own.
  • Delegates at the International Banana Congress are desperately seeking to stop a fungal disease wiping out fruit crops around the world, fearing that "Panama disease" will hit Latin America next, reports the Guardian.

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