Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Confusion with Ecuador's new drug law (Oct. 7, 2015)

Ecuador's new drug law -- an about-face in policy that hardens penalties for small-time dealers -- is already causing confusion because there is an overlap between the amounts of illicit substances that define consumers and traffickers, reports El Comercio.

Government officials are warning about the difficulties caused by this discrepancy, and the public defender is calling for judges to avoid excessive use of preventative imprisonment and for the police to have clear protocols to properly investigate drug crimes.

The new law, announced last month by President Rafael Correa, seeks to impose a zero-tolerance paradigm against "micro-traffickers," but goes against a previously lauded reform that lowered penalties for drug consumers, permitting many to avoid prison sentences. The nominal reason for the change is to tackle youth drug consumption, specifically heroin. While there appears to be an increase in use, based on the Health Ministry's overdose statistics, there is little reason to believe its related to the relaxed drug laws, reports InSight Crime. Rather the change might have more to do with appeasing Ecuador's security forces who didn't like the reformed law.

El Comercio reports that security forces have previously complained that microtraffickers were well aware of the table outlining limits between dealing and consumption. Dealers carry small amounts of drugs -- below the limit that will land them in jail -- and frequently return to "storage houses" for more, according to a report in May.

But officials and some legislators who are against the new law say it will increase the amount of jail inmates and isn't an effective tool to combat the microtrafficking phenomenon.

El Comercio has a feature piece on consumers who were arrested for microtrafficking but eventually freed when judges determined they were consumers. Between 2007 and 2013 over 1,140 prisoners regained their freedom in this way, according to statistics from the Public Defender's office.

(See Sept. 17th's and Oct. 2nd's briefs on the change of policy and Aug. 18th's post on the success of the former drug policy.)

News Briefs

  • Corruption in Honduras -- rather despair caused by the entrenched and unpunished scandals such as the $350 million looted from the country's health and social security institute -- is fueling immigration to the United States, joining more traditional causes like poverty and insecurity, reports the Miami Herald.
  • And a piece in the New York Times notes that the drop in migrants -- especially unaccompanied minors -- entering the U.S. is due largely to stricter controls in Mexico. That is to say, the problem has merely been pushed south. "The Mexican government detained close to 92,000 Central American migrants from October 2014 to April 2015. During the same period, the United States held 70,448 people from places other than Mexico, according to data from the Washington Office on Latin America." Earlier this year The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern over stepped-up actions reportedly being taken against migrant persons and those who defend their rights in Mexico since the Southern Border Plan (Plan Frontera Sur) was put into operation, as well as reports that migrants and their defenders continue to be targets of attacks in Mexico. And the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention to the case of migrant minors' detention, saying Mexico must end administrative detentions of minors and keep them in reception centers that are integrated into municipalities. (See April 29th's post and June 12th's briefs.)
  • Federal prosecutors will appeal a Mexican judge's ruling that would dismiss charges against four of the seven soldiers charged with the killings of 22 suspected gang members last year. (See yesterday's post.) Human rights organizations said the ruling suggested prosecutors weren't doing their job, and the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez human rights center said the ruling "does not exonerate the army," reports the Associated Press. Military officers are seeing the ruling as a vindication for the armed forces, explains Alejandro Hope at El Daily Post. "However, this might be more about prosecutorial incompetence than military innocence," he says.
  • And on the topic of the Mexican military: the head of the army says international experts will not be permitted to interrogate troops regarding their possible involvement in the disappearance and apparent massacre of 43 students last year, and rejects any suggestion they may have been involved, reports Reuters. Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos made the statement in response to a request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which sent an independent group of experts to investigate the case, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Guatemalan prosecutor's office announced it will investigate into who was responsible for allowing the dangerous conditions to exist at Santa Catarina Pinula, in the precarious neighborhood outside of Guatemala City where last week a mudslide killed hundreds of people (yesterday's official count was 186 dead and 300 believed missing). Though a government report from last year already indicated the potential danger of slides in the neighborhood, the area was only declared uninhabitable on Monday, reports the Associated Press. (See Monday's and yesterday's briefs.)
  • The Obama administration wants to create as many business opportunities as possible in their nation for American companies in Cuba despite the long embargo and more than five decades of Cold War estrangement, said United States commerce secretary, Penny Pritzker who is visiting the island. She is is the second member of  U.S. cabinet to make the trip since the two countries announced they would begin normalizing relations last year, reports the New York Times. The visit comes as American and Cuban commerce and finance officials begin a round of technical discussions of the process this week.
  • Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he favors lifting the trade embargo on Cuba because the island is making progress in the right direction. "Personally, I believe the embargo should be lifted, because it would help the people of Cuba," Kerry said in an interview on Chilean television, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Kerry visited Haiti to discuss preparations for the country's upcoming elections and encourage people to refrain from disrupting balloting after the first round of voting in August was marred by violence, reports the Associated Press. But that's not nearly enough according to Brian Concannon Jr., the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. In a Miami Herald op-ed he says the first round of voting "featured systematic voter suppression," and calls on Kerry to ensure the Martelly administration and the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) make fundamental changes to restore voter confidence.
  • Brazil's top electoral court ruled that there are grounds to investigate President Dilma Rousseff's reelection campaign last year. The TSE electoral court's investigation could lead to the invalidation of Rousseff's slim victory at the polls a year ago, though the judicial case is expected to last for months if not years and can be appealed to the Supreme Court, reports Reuters. In the meantime, it will likely add fuel to the legislative movement to impeach Rousseff. The investigation aims to see if the campaign was funded by illegal money, including donations originating from the massive kickback scandal that has engulfed state-run oil company Petrobras.
  • Two-hundred and fifty people were arrested by Venezuelan authorities along the western border of Tachira state -- including Venezuelan police, soldiers and 34 suspected Colombian paramilitaries  -- since the government ordered a crackdown along the Colombian border in August, reports EFE.
  • Venezuela's economy has the worst outlook in the world according to an IMF report that forecasts its economy shrinking by 10 percent this year and 6 next, reports Bloomberg. The World Economic Outlook, released yesterday, predicts Brazil's economy will shrink by 3 percent -- double the contraction published in its July outlook and more than predicted by local economists, reports Bloomberg. The general economic outlook for the region isn't good, according to the international organization, which predicts that Latin America's economy will shrink by 0.3 percent this year, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. The World Bank joined the grim predictions, saying the regional job market has begun to weaken and particularly affects young men and the less educated, according to EFE.
  • Moody's Investor Service gave Brazil a brief respite yesterday when it announced it won’t downgrade Brazil’s debt rating to junk in the near future, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Sales of a new Argentine bond yesterday raised $669.26 million, as the country seeks to replenish foreign reserves after a huge bond payout, reports Reuters. As this was happening, a group of holdout creditors from the country's 2001 default served international investors in an April bond with subpoenas, as they try to limit Argentina's ability to raise money internationally in order to force it to comply with a court order to repay defaulted debt, reports Bloomberg.
  • But hedgefunds trafficking in sovereign debt don't limit themselves to Argentina. Peru is facing litigation from a U.S. hedge fund seeking to convince Peru to repay $5bn of long-defaulted 40-year-old bonds issued to landowners after their property was seized by a leftwing junta led by General Juan Velasco, reports the Financial Times.
  • A policeman died, 23 other officers and eight civilians were injured in clashes with protesters yesterday, part of an ongoing labour dispute that has shut down operations at a Nicaraguan gold mine owned by Canada's B2Gold Corp, reports Reuters.
  • The Associated Press has a feature on Brazil's c-section epidemic: in private clinics nationwide, C-sections account for more than eight of every 10 births and even in public clinics account for 40 percent, which is considered very high.

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