Tuesday, February 14, 2012

El Salvador’s Funes Retreats on Drug Legalization Debate

Hours after expressing support for the Guatemalan president’s call for a debate on drug legalization, Salvadoran leader Mauricio Funes has beat a hasty retreat, declaring himself opposed to any such initative.

Newly-inaugurated Guatemalan President Otto Perez dismayed some by declaring on the weekend that he would open a discussion on drug legalization in the next meeting of regional leaders. "I want to bring this discussion to the table," Perez said. "It wouldn't be a crime to transport, to move drugs. It would all have to be regulated."

The two presidents met on Monday, and, after the encounter, Funes told press that he was open to “promoting the discussion” of Perez’s proposal, and that it would have to be a regional initiative.
I agree that it is a theme that President Perez should bring to the next meeting of Central American presidents, on the understanding that this is a strategy that shouldn’t be ruled out.
However, later on Monday night, Funes changed his position, stating that
I am not in agreement with the depenalization of drugs; neither the production, nor the transport, nor the consumption.
This hasty clarification seems likely to have been made under pressure from Washington. The US Embassy in Guatemala was quick to slap down Perez’s proposal, a response which the Guatemalan leader classed as “premature.”

Various analysts have suggested that Perez may not actually want to bring about drug legalization, and may rather be using it as a tool to put pressure on the US to contribute more to security. Perez has stated that he will push for the resumption of US military aid to his country, which was suspended during the civil war.

The US has placed certain conditions on resuming this aid, demanding that Guatemala show it is respecting human rights, cooperating with investigations of former members of the military, and with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). One of the demands is that the government release military documents relating to the civil war -- something that may be difficult for Perez to do, as a retired general who has himself been accused of war crimes.

The US has taken a cautious approach towards the new Guatemalan leader, with President Barack Obama waiting until two weeks after the November election to congratulate Perez on his victory.

Washington seems to have successfully exerted pressure on Perez to toe the line in some cases. Contrary to expectations, he declared his support for Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, who has campaigned for justice for abuses committed by the military during the war, in a turn of events some attributed to US intervention. He has also sought an extended mandate for the CICIG, a UN-backed investigation unit which has made itself highly unpopular with powerful forces in the country, as detailed in previous posts.

News Briefs
  • The Associated Press looks at how indigenous groups in Bolivia have turned against President Evo Morales, who had at first presented himself as their champion. The president, himself an Aymara Indian and the first indigenous person to lead the country, came to power in 2005 promising to grant new autonomy to the country’s large native population. He brought in a new constitution specifying that the native groups must be consulted over issues that affect them and their traditional lands. However, Morales has now taken measures that contradict the spirit of this, backing a highway through the TIPNIS national park where thousands of indigenous people live, and carrying out a harsh crackdown against protesters. According to the AP, the lowlands indigenous federation CIDOB is now making an alliance with Morales’ “arch-nemesis,” pro-business Santa Cruz Governor Ruben Costas.
  • Police in Rio have decided to end their strike until after the city’s famous carnival celebrations are over, and said they will concentrate on fighting for the freedom of their colleagues jailed over the action. Striking police in the northern state of Bahia took the same decision the previous day. Rio Real blog interprets the events as part of the long history of how Latin America elites “have managed the needs and wants of the poor,” noting that there have also been recent strikes among construction workers. Meanwhile, the Bahia strikes seem to have revealed sinister forces at work. Of the 187 murders committed during the 12 days of the strike, some 45 appear to have been “exterminations,” according to reports in O Globo newspaper, with death squads made up of military police officers suspected of being behind them.
  • US aid to Colombia continues to decline, with President Barack Obama requesting $332 million in funds to aid Colombia in the 2013 budget. This is down about 15 percent from the 2012 budget, and half that of five years ago, reports El Tiempo. It is still higher, however, than the sum requested for Mexico, which is $242 million, down from $281 the previous year. Some $199 million of this is to be channeled via the Merida Initiative.
  • After winning a primary held by the Venezuelan opposition to field a single candidate against President Hugo Chavez, Henrique Capriles has promised to unite the country behind him and end political polarization. His pledges include depoliticizing the military, and reviewing costly economic cooperation with countries including Cuba, reports the Wall Street Journal. In a dig at the attention-loving Chavez, he also said that as president he would appear on TV only when there was important news to announce.
    More from the Miami Herald.
  • A second journalist has been murdered in Brazil in a week, when Paulo Rodrigues and his girlfriend were gunned down by assassins riding a motorbike, close to the border with Paraguay. He was editor of Jornal da Praca newspaper and website Mercosulnews.com, which exposed corruption in the region. Another journalist, who also focused on exposing corruption, was murdered in Rio de Janeiro state on Thursday, after being kidnapped from his house along with his girlfriend.
  • Haiti has asked the US for help to reform its judicial system, amid a controversy over the ruling that former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, aka “Baby Doc,” should not be tried for human rights abuses. A delegation from the State Department will arrive this week, reports the AP. The UN is also sending a team to Haiti to review the organization’s mandate in the country and consider plans for police reform, while the Caribbean Community has sent delegates to look at earthquake reconstruction efforts.
  • An NGO has said that there are between 8,000 and 14,000 minors fighting in the Colombian conflict.
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ looks at Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño’s plans to switch electiricty supply from oil to natural gas, which she says would help the poor by lowering electricity, but is being blocked by environmentalists.
  • Jose Fernandez, US assistant secretary for economic and business affairs, says more work is needed before free trade agreements can be implemented with Colombia and Panama, including addressing concerns about labor rights in Colombia.

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