Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Alternative approaches to drugs in Ecuador, Bolivia and (maybe) Brazil (August 18, 2015)

Discussing alternative approaches to battling drugs is an ongoing debate in the region, which is tending away from classic "war on drugs" approaches.

A few examples from around the region:

The new Código Orgánico Penal (COIP) in Ecuador has permitted for the release of over 2,000 prison inmates, condemned for having small quantities of illicit drugs. The year-old law differentiates between possession of small amounts of narcotics and larger amounts with intent to sell, while the previous legislation gave the same penalty regardless of amount, reports El Comercio.

It's an issue that's making waves in Brazil, where this week the Supreme Court is supposed to rule on potentially decriminalizing possession of narcotics for personal use. Igarapé's Ilona Szabó de Carvalho and Ana Paula Pellegrino write in O Globo about the excruciating situation of small-time users imprisoned for getting caught with minuscule amounts of narcotics.

"About 62 percent of women arrested today in Brazil are awaiting trial for or have been convicted of drug trafficking. They took illegal substances to their partners or be stumbled into being mules for a few bucks, trying to somehow sustain the home. 'Just once.'"

And over in Bolivia, the area used to cultivate coca fell 11 percent last year, the fourth consecutive yearly reduction, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said yesterday in a new report. This means government efforts to reduce the raw material used to make cocaine appear to be paying off, reports the Wall Street Journal. The country’s area used to grow coca leaves has been reduced by 34% in the past four years, placing Bolivia well behind Colombia and Peru, the world’s other major coca-growing nations.

The WSJ piece quotes WOLA expert Kathryn Ledebur saying that "... the four-year net reduction shows that cooperative coca reduction, with direct participation of farmers, is more effective, humane and sustainable than forced eradication." 

News Briefs

  • The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Inter American Commission assigned to review the investigation of 43 students “disappeared” in September last year issued a report criticizing the handling of the case by Mexican authorities. The case of the missing students from the Iguala, Guerrero, teachers college might never be solved because Mexican prosecutors mishandled evidence, reports El Daily Post.
  • Brazil's business community is turning into an unlikely ally of embattled President Dilma Rousseff at a time when political opposition and popular demonstrations are calling for her resignation or impeachment. Business leaders have their ideological differences with Rousseff, but worry that an ouster would add political uncertainty to an already problematic economic downturn, and see few gains, reports Reuters. Earlier this month big business leaders called for a political deal to secure stability, though many investors hope the government's weakened political state mean abandonment of interventionist economic policies.
  • Protests on Sunday across the country -- with an estimated 600,000 - 900,000 nationwide -- were not as big as organizers hoped (they were second to anti-government demonstrations in March, for example) but significant enough to affect the administration, explains a Wall Street Journal piece. The popular pressure puts the government in a difficult position as it attempts to pass unpopular austerity measures through a recalcitrant Congress. A key fiscal measure that rolls back payroll-tax breaks for businesses is likely to be put to a final vote in the Senate today. Nonetheless, Rousseff got a boost last week when opposition Senate president Renan Calheiros reached out to cooperate on a pro-business proposals he calls the Brazil Agenda.
  • U.S. fast-food companies are taking advantage of Brazil's economic downturn to expand while many local operators are pulling back. They are aiming for the Brazilian middle class, which is estimated at more than 100 million people, many of whom love to eat out and have an affinity for U.S. brands, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The anti-corruption NGO Transparencia Mexicana and 32 citizens last week filed two injunctions against the Mexican National Elections Institute (INE) ruling allowing political parties to keep the public campaign funds that they did not spend during the midterm election campaigns. This is the first time that private citizens have filed an injunction against a decision by the INE, in the filing declaring the matter "of legitimate public interest." The case could find its way to the Supreme Court and a positive ruling could establish a significant precedent for public cases against political institutions, reports El Daily Post.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed new laws to increase transparency and tighten controls over debt issued by states and municipalities, reports the Wall Street Journal. The proposals would create a registry to make public debt levels and financial obligations of local governments, and to ensure that loans are taken out with financial institutions that offer the best market conditions, said Peña Nieto.
  • Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said yesterday that it had selected former Sonora state governor Manlio Fabio Beltrones as its chairman-elect, a legislator widely seen as a possible PRI candidate for the country's 2018 presidential election, reports Reuters.
  • An imminent peace accord between the FARC and the Colombian government are not quite as close as might seem, says Silla Vacía. Negotiators in Havana still have to address gordian knot issues such as justice for FARC war crimes and economic reparations for FARC damages.
  • Rumors are swirling that Victor Ramon Navarro Cervano, alias "Megateo," the leader of a Colombian splinter rebel group, the People’s Liberation Army (EPL), dedicated to drug trafficking along the border with Venezuela has been killed in an offensive by the security forces, reports InSight Crime. The piece explains Megateo's modus operandi, and analyses whether his death means the end of what is left of the EPL. "One of the issues that InSight Crime is currently exploring is the risk that FARC units remain involved in criminal activities, should a peace agreement be signed. ... Megateo's drug trafficking model might inspire FARC front commanders uninterested in the peace process, as that would involve moving away from the  criminal economies that they control, including the coca and cocaine trade, and illegal mining and extortion rackets. For more than a decade, Megateo has defied the Colombian and US governments and generated a fortune estimated in the tens of millions of dollars. This is certainly an attractive option for the FARC and ELN commanders who have spent their entire lives involved in armed struggle and control multi-million dollar criminal empires," argues Jeremy McDermott.
  • The Associated Press has a feature on Venezuela's decimated telenovela industry, complicated by fines and political accusations under former President Hugo Chavez's government. 
  • InSight Crime has an English translation of the June 22 El Faro piece denouncing a police massacre of 8 youths in a countryside farm and of a July El Faro piece detailing how a journalist witnessed a police beating of suspected gang members. "[One of the suspects] falls in front of the desk where, under normal circumstances, the police receive citizen complaints. Two officers with ski masks ... circle him and kick him in the chest with their boots. They kick him with the strength a goalie kicks a soccer ball to clear it from the penalty area. There is an echo as if someone was knocking hard on a wall. The suspect turns his face away and spits out blood and saliva, more than the first time. One of the officers kicks him twice more in the ribs and face. The last kick lands before the suspect gets up. The instep of the boot reaches his throat and the tip hits his chin. He spits out more blood. He is choking. He makes the hoarse noise one makes after staying under water for as long as possible. They throw him into the holding cell. He falls, head-first, against the wall," writes Oscar Martínez. El Faro has denounced that the publication and several of its journalists have received threats since the publication of pieces denouncing police brutality and a massacre of alleged gang members (see July 23rd's post).
  • Regular commercial air flights between Cuba and the U.S. could be established as early as December, in an agreement that chips away at a travel ban for U.S. citizens without requiring Congressional intervention, reports the Wall Street Journal. In parallel, U.S. officials are seeking further ways to loosen the decades-old ban, in an attempt to continue to solidify rapprochement with the island and make a future Cuba foreign policy shift more difficult. "The White House hopes Mr. Obama’s Iran and Cuba policies follow the same political trajectory as his health-care law. The idea, administration officials have said, is that like the health-care law, the Iran and Cuba initiatives will become so embedded in American policy over Mr. Obama’s final 18 months in office that undoing them would be too difficult."
  • The Miami Herald has a feature on Cuban health-care workers caught in limbo in Colombia, after fleeing Venezuela in the attempt to make it to the U.S. under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program.
  • There's a great photo-essay in the New York Times by Yana Paskova, who grew up in Bulgaria under Communist rule and witnessed it's return to democratic government after the fall of the Berlin Wall. "The recent warming of Cuban and American relations has been of particular fascination to me, as it has led to speculation over the future of Communism on the island. During my visit, I observed life in Cuba as only a native of the Soviet Bloc could — struck by the decorum of Communism, the appearance of choice that belied government involvement in nearly every aspect of daily routine," she writes.

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