Monday, June 13, 2016

Mexican Congress kicks off special session on medical marijuana, police and penal reform (June 13, 2016)

Mexico's Congress enters a special legislative session this week to consider pending proposals on medical marijuana, changes to the police force, and penal reform, El Universal reports. The session comes in the middle of a national debate over the Open Society Justice Initiative's recent report alleging systemic human rights abuses by government forces in the war against drugs (see June 6 briefing). 

Mexico's sub-secretary of Human Rights, Roberto Campa, attempted to deflect criticism of the government last week by claiming that only eight of the 50 cases documented by the report occurred during the current administration, reports. Meanwhile, James Goldstone, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said in an in-depth interview with Carmen Aristegui that "there's an impunity crisis in Mexico." 

Just in time for the legislative debate on medical marijuana, The Atlantic has an interview with Mexican activist Lisa Sanchez, who makes a human rights-based case for drug legalization. In the past decade, tens of thousands of Mexicans have lost their lives in connection with the war on drugs. Just this weekend, Mexican news outlets reported a massacre of 11 family members in Puebla state, though it's not yet clear whether the murders had to do with organized crime. 

The long-awaited police reform, "Mando Unico," is intended to replace Mexico's 1,800 municipal police units with 32 centralized state departments, Insight Crime reports. It was developed six years ago, launched by President Enrique Peña Nieto in 2014, and is still being implemented, with hopes that it will reduce corruption within local police forces, many of whom are in league with drug cartels. 

The legislature will also debate an anti-corruption initiative called "3 out of 3," which would require government officials to reveal their assets and potential conflicts of interest, as well as prove that they are paying taxes. The initiative was devised and pushed by community groups, following a 2014 change in Mexican law that allowed citizens to propose legislation with the support of at least 120,000 signatures. The two largest political parties, the PRI and the PAN, have expressed support for the legislation, though the ruling PRI came under fire last month amid claims they were trying to water down the anti-corruption proposals. 

News Briefs
  • CICIG and Guatemalan authorities arrested three former cabinet ministers Saturday and are seeking to detain two more in the latest ripple of a mass corruption scandal tied to the Partido Patriota, the Associated Press reports (see June 5 briefing). About 2,000 people gathered for a demonstration the same day in Guatemala City. The New York Times Editorial Board applauded the crackdown on corruption in Guatemala, but pointed out that Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez "has shown less enthusiasm for meaningful reforms."
  • Keiko Fujimori conceded the Peruvian presidency to competitor Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Friday after a tense week of ballot counting, the New York Times reports. Analysts are predicting that Kucynski may seek to ease hostility by releasing Fujimori's father, imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori, the Associated Press reports, though Keiko herself signed a pledge during the campaign never to issue a pardon.  
  • Brazilians took to the streets in various cities on Friday to protest the interim government of acting President Michel Temer and demand the return of suspended President Dilma Rousseff, the Wall Street Journal reports. Meanwhile, hundreds of academics protested Rousseff's ouster at the Latin American Studies Association's fiftieth anniversary congress in New York, NACLA reports
  • The Colombian government and FARC rebels will join hands in a crop-substitution program aimed at weaning tens of thousands of farmers off coca, the raw ingredient of cocaine, the Miami Herald reports. Over the past two decades Colombia has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on alternative development, but remains the world's top cocaine producer. According to the Herald, this is the first time the FARC will be partners in the process.
  • Paraguay's most recent census in 2011 showed that nearly 47,000 children work as domestic help in a colonial-era system of child labor, the Washington Post reports. The system, known as "criadazgo," finally became a topic of national debate in January after a 14-year-old girl was allegedly beaten to death by the couple for whom she worked. However, efforts to end the practice have met resistance from conservative lawmakers in Congress, ABC reports
  • A Chilean army officer accused of murdering popular folk singer and activist Victor Jara faces trial today in a Florida courtroom, the Guardian reportsPedro Pablo Barrientos Nuñez is accused of torturing and shooting Jara to death at a stadium in Santiago where thousands of people were rounded in the first days of Augusto Pinochet's 1973 CIA-backed coup, which toppled elected socialist president Salvador Allende and installed a 17-year military dictatorship.
  • The Cuban government has authorized six U.S. airlines to begin flight service to the island, the Miami Herald reports. Flights from five American cities, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, will take off as early as this fall. Havana, however, is not among the nine Cuban cities approved for U.S.-Cuba travel. Meanwhile, Politico has a cover story on the Castro brothers and their response to Obama's recent visit. "Fidel may have rescued Cuba from the clutches of the U.S., but it is Raul who is rescuing Cuba from Fidel," writes Ann Louise Bardach. 

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