Thursday, October 1, 2015

Glyphosate in Colombia and drugs around the region (Oct. 1, 2015)

As of today, the Colombian government will no longer use aerial spraying of the herbicide glyphosate to eradicate illicit coca fields. The long-running U.S. backed eradication program was the target of criticism earlier this year for use of glyphosate, which the WHO has determined is probably carcinogenic. Colombian authorities decided to suspend the program citing health concerns.

But El Tiempo reports that eradication programs might have found a loophole in the new prohibition: they have suspended aerial spraying, but not the use of glyphosate itself. In an interview Police director General Rodolfo Palomino assures readers that police officers are already training to carry out manual eradication of coca fields using glyphosate. The strategy avoids collateral damage to crops and people that was the target of anger, he says. The government is also pursuing investigation into alternative substances to use in manual eradication, he said.

Earlier this year there were several pieces and studies examining the damaging effects of glyphosate. Critics say the fumigations damaged legitimate crops and sickened neighboring populations. Experts such as Daniel Mejía have long made the case that the practise is also ineffective.

Last week President Juan Manuel Santos also noted the significant increase of coca cultivation last year -- despite the aerial spraying program, reports El País.

He ratified the new approach, announcing the implementation of a crop substitution program to help farmers dependent on coca production. The Comprehensive Strategy for the Substitution of Illicit Crops, discussed during the peace negotiations with the FARC will be implemented in the southern provinces of Putumayo and Nariño this year, according to Colombia Reports. Approximately 26,000 coca farming families in the region will receive funding and technical agricultural support and be given land to farm outside of the nature reserves where currently two thirds of coca production takes place.

The Transnational Institute has a timeline on the history of the Chemical War on Drugs in Colombia.

Sidebar: Netflix's Narcos -- with actors and Spanish accents from around the region (including the lead, Pablo Escobar, played by a Brazilian actor) -- has aroused the anger of many Colombians who are bothered by the simplistic portrayal of a complicated history, argues Pablo Medina Uribe at Fusion. It might be an avowed fiction, but the series uses real names, places and even historical footage. "The end result is that Colombians are robbed of our own history, which becomes a mere plot device, cut down to fine, shredded pieces for American audiences to digest without having to gnaw on the bones," writes Medina. Earlier this month The Guardian ran a piece on how Colombians are annoyed by the series' iffy accents and the portrayal of the country's history. In many cases, they're just bored by yet another narco-drama.
If you can't decide between Narcos and the Colombian produced regional hit "Escobar, El Patrón del Mal" (also available on Netflix), Perú's El Comercio has a handy comparison. Chile's Publimetro notes that dissatisfaction with Narcos has fans recommending the Colombian series instead for your Escobar fix.
Of course The Guardian notes that El Patrón del Mal was also criticized for simplifying history and often had viewers rooting for the "Robin Hood of Medellín." It's an issue the show's creators have admitted concern about. In an interview with Argentine Radio America, the show's writer Alonso Salazar Jaramillo said they aimed especially to show Escobar's victims, and avoid a "Godfather" effect where viewers hope the bad guy will win. Nonetheless, the fans toss out favorite Escobar quotes and a recently released former Escobar associate has been getting interviews around the region.

News Briefs:

  • Back to coca eradication: Al Jazeera has a piece on Bolivia's rejection of the "war on drugs" model of fighting cocaine production. Rather than targeting coca crops, President Evo Morales -- a former coca grower himself -- has focused on voluntary or "cooperative" reduction. And it's worked. Bolivia slashed its illicit coca production by 34 percent over the past four years. The piece notes U.S. opposition to this approach and cites the Open Society Foundations' "Habeas Coca" report on Bolivia's community coca control.
  • The Mexican government extradited 13 people, including two top drug kingpins to the United States yesterday, an important shift in policy after the embarrassing escape of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán earlier this northern hemisphere summer. Since the beginning of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration in 2012, the government has been more assertive on issues of sovereignty, and has avoided extraditing prisoners, reports the New York Times. Among the prisoners sent to the U.S. yesterday is an American citizen, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, also known as "La Barbie," charged with participating in the murders of an American consulate worker and an American immigration and customs agent. All of the extradited prisoners were being held in the same high-security prison Guzmán escaped from, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An Animal Político op-ed tells about the battle for marijuana based medications being fought by the family of a young girl with severe epileptic seizures and calls on the government to assess legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and potentially decriminalize it in general.
  • The Associated Press has a feature on a Colombian needle exchange program for heroin addicts. Cambie is supported by the Open Society Foundations in Dosquebradas, but, faced with rising drug consumption, the government hopes to replicate the program in Bogotá and Medellín.
  • Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Miller raised the issue of reparations for slavery with visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron. Fourteen Caribbean countries have been documenting damages that they chalk up to the legacy of slavery, aiming for reparations and apologies from the former colonial powers of Britain, France and the Netherlands, which engaged in and profited from the slave trade, reports the New York Times. Britain outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and freed all slaves throughout its empire in 1833, offering compensation to their owners, but not the victims of slavery. 
  • Television comedian Jimmy Morales is on course to win the run-off election for Guatemala's presidency, but critics are concerned that his flimsy six page manifesto doesn't really give any detail about how he will govern, while others question the presence of former army officers in his party, reports Reuters. For example, Morales declines to give details of what his tax policy might be. "Talking about a tax reform right now in Guatemala would be like lighting the fuse of a powder keg," he told Reuters. Morales may have risen on an anti-establishment vote, but Nómada reports on the ties between his potential Ministro de Gobernación and the ousted president Otto Pérez Molina. An editorial at Plaza Pública wonders whether all of the anger of the past few months, that led to the unprecedented ousting of Pérez Molina might simply end in a veiled restoration of the old regime. Neither of the two finalists for the presidential office represent a break from the past, argues the piece, laying the onus for continued change on outside sectors such as social movements, the CICIG and the Public Ministry.
  • In the meantime, women at the Santa Teresa prison where former vice president Roxana Baldetti has been detained on corruption charges are protesting that she is being treated with privileges -- such as a cell to herself and a real bed -- that the overcrowded inmates can only dream of, reports Nómada.
  • Alejandro Hope at El Daily Post writes about Mexico's victimization survey and what the numbers can tell about crime in the country. "The government should really drop the line that crime is at its lowest levels since the 1990’s. It is not. And no, things are not improving. Face the facts," he writes.
  • U.S. airlines are "eager" to begin scheduled flights to Cuba, but there is still no timetable as to when that might happen, reports the Miami Herald.

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