Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Bolivia's drug policy unfairly criticized by U.S. (Sept. 14, 2016)

The U.S. has released its annual list of major drug producing or trafficking countries. Latin America and the Caribbean countries have significant presence -- including Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela. Bolivs and Venezuela, along with Burma, are emphasized as "as countries that have failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements."

The list remains the same as last year's, and it's not clear that Bolivia and Venezuela deserve such singling out on the basis of their contribution to the U.S. illicit drug market, notes InSight Crime

But the yearly exercise in condemning Bolivia is "futile." And ignores the promise of its approach to reducing illicit drug production, while respecting the rights and needs of poor farmers, as well as traditional use of coca as a non-narcotic stimulant, argues a New York Times editorial. In fact, the Bolivian strategy shows far more promise than the Washington promoted forced eradication of coca crops model in place in Colombia, for example, according to the piece.

UNODC figures show Bolivian coca production leveled off last year at 20,200 hectares, the lowest area under production since the body started monitoring in the country. "The Morales administration is now very close to meeting its goal of limiting coca cultivation for traditional and other legal uses to 20,000 hectares (about 77 square miles), an amount that would guarantee subsistence income for farmers and help to stem production for the illicit market," explained Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network (AIN) and WOLA's Coletta Youngers in July. The results should encourage international support for the Bolivian strategy they argue.

That stabilization is in marked contrast to the increase in neighboring countries such as Peru and Colombia. The latter has had more than a 40 percent increase over the past year, they emphasize, a view echoed in the NYT editorial.

At first glance, the comparison with Colombia's production seems somewhat unfair. The Colombian coca boom is not a marker of the failure of the war on drugs approach. Aerial eradication was suspended last year in Colombia but not replaced by intensive manual eradication. Additionally farmers may be turning to coca in order to benefit from crop substitution measures included in the peace deal with the FARC. A Wilson Center analysis by Juan Carlos Garzón and Julián Wilches includes the hypothesis that communities under FARC influence believe planting coca will give them leverage to receive government benefits. Other factors behind the Colombian increase include a drop in the price of gold, shifting labor from illegal mining to coca.

Yet, the Wlison Center report also concludes that the Colombian coca boom it points to the inadequacy of crop eradication-centric drug control policy -- arguing that "a greater, more effective government presence to implement sustainable rural development and offer viable, lawful alternatives for the communities participating in this illegal economy."

A fly in the Bolivian success story ointment: Coca leaf cultivation is not necessarily the metric to focus on, argues a Bloomberg piece from last year. While Bolivian coca production fell, the cocaine production doubled between 2008 and 2015, and the country is an important trafficking hub according to Mac Margolis.

Indeed, according to the U.S. White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) coca cultivation did not fall in Bolivia last year, but rather increased by 4.28, accompanied by a 24.32 percent surge in cocaine production. But, AIN criticizes the ONDCP's opaque methodology for calculating these results, and notes that the numbers tend to be retroactively modified without explanation.

On a positive note, the U.S. memorandum naming major drug transit or producing countries does emphasize "a growing international consensus that counternarcotics programs must be designed and implemented with the aim of improving the health and safety of individuals while preventing and reducing violence and other harmful consequences to communities," observes InSight.

News Briefs
  • At least 13 activists promoting the peace accord with the FARC have been killed in the three weeks since the two sides announced a cease-fire, according to Colombia Reports. The Electoral Observer Mission said the assassinations have taken place near designated FARC demobilization camps, terrifying locals with the possibility of political violence. Rural social organizations say five leaders have been killed in the same time frame, and that they are in danger from right-wing paramilitaries, reports TeleSUR.
  • Humberto de la Calle, the government's lead negotiator in the peace talks, warned citizens that if they reject the pact it could take another decade to start new discussions, reports the BBC.
  • The complexities of the peace process in Colombia belie the simple "yes" or "no" vote citizens will be asked to make next month. An Associated Press interview with army Gen. Javier Florez, who left the front-lines of the military fight against the FARC to join the Havana negotiating table, gives some interesting perspectives. Flores, who will now be working to ensure the safety of FARC troops as they demobilize and lay down arms, says guaranteeing dignified treatment for the FARC -- despite Colombian society's high level of disregard for the guerrilla force -- has been a key component of the accords.
  • The U.N. Security Council approved the deployment of a political mission to monitor a cease-fire between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC yesterday, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Mexican coalition of conservative and religious NGOs is spearheading a regional movement against "gender ideology," more specifically against initiatives to ease access to abortion and same-sex marriage, reports Semana. The movement's leader points to the U.N. as the leader of suspect initiatives such as including homosexuality in schoolbooks. The movement is gathering groups from Mexico, Colombia and Panama, where conservative groups have faced off against human rights activists and sex-ed initiatives.
  • Guatemala's fight against corruption led by the national public ministry and the CICIG is being lauded as a regional success story. But the real struggle against organized crime in the country -- entrenched in the political system and interwoven with powerful business, military and criminal interests -- is just beginning, argues Anita Isaacs in a New York Times op-ed. After the success of investigations that jailed former President Otto Pérez Molina last year, the CICIG finds itself lacking the element of surprise, and under real threat of danger from organized crime. In the meantime, the attorney general's office is under-financed and lacks territorial presence in most of the country's rural areas. "And there’s an even more fundamental challenge: It’s one thing to root out corruption; it’s another to create the functioning democratic and civil society that can inoculate a country against the disease," she writes, calling on the U.S. to double down on efforts to support the Guatemalan fight against corruption.
  • Mexico's investigation into the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students has been widened to examine the role of federal and state police, reports Reuters. The special federal prosecutor assigned to the case after the IACHR group of experts criticized the government's handling of the investigation said in an interview that important new information had been gleaned from the analysis of hundreds of calls made by police and officials on the night of the disappearances, as well as from suspects in custody and students who disappeared. The Guardian reports on a new study by an Australian fire scientist that cast further doubt on the official narrative that the bodies were burned and thrown into a river. Such a fire would have required 27,000 kg of wood and would have still left organic material. 
  • Brazil's government launched a plan to auction off oil, power rights and infrastructure concessions, an attempt to strengthen the recession hit economy, reports Reuters. The administration is seeking to woo private investors to infrastructure projects with simpler rules that will permit private companies to either build new projects or improve existing infrastructure, then operate them for a certain period, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Venezuelan opposition party Voluntad Popular is a movement forged in protests and currently under siege, according to the Miami Herald. Nine of its leaders are currently in jail, four have outstanding arrest warrants and another four have gone into exile.

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