Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Biden Dismisses Drug Legalization

Following a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, US Vice President Joe Biden told the press that while the US welcomes a debate on drug legalization, there was no chance of his administration altering its stance against the move. 

Biden said that while he sympathized with the frustrations of Latin governments who were fighting the drug trade, legalization would only cause more problems, such as increased addiction rates:
"I think it warrants a discussion. It is totally legitimate,” he said. “The reason it warrants a discussion is, on examination you realize there are more problems with legalization than with nonlegalization."
However, Biden said he did not discuss the subject during his meeting with Calderon,reports the New York Times. Calderon has in the past hinted that he would be open to debate on drug legalization, although he has not spoken out to support neighbor Otto Perez, Guatemala’s new president, who breathed new life into the issue with his recent outspoken calls for discussion. Since he left office, Calderon’s predecessor Vicente Fox has openly said that he supports the idea of legalization. Current presidents that have agreed there should be dialogue on the issue include Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Undeterred by Biden's firm words, Perez said that he would state his case before the vice president at a meeting of Central American leaders today in Honduras:
Of course at lunch the subject will come up; if it doesn’t I will raise it myself, to tell the whole table, so that they have no doubts about the proposal we are making.
The Guatemalan leader said he hoped the prime minister of Belize and the president of the Dominican Republic would be present, so that he could explain his position to them. El Salvador’s leader Mauricio Funes, however, told reporters that the issue of Perez’s proposal was not on the agenda.

Perez plans to raise the subject at the summit of Central American leaders in March. Many analysts have said that his stance could be an effort to encourage the US to give more military aid to combat drug gangs in the Central American country.

Nicaragua Dispatch brings another perspective to the issue by quoting the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who compares Perez’s campaign to bring the drug legalization issue to the table with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias’ work on the Central American peace plan 25 years ago. The plan was signed in 1987 despite opposition “from the United States, Cuba and the Soviet Union, all of which were convinced that the only solution to Central America’s problems was a military one,” according to Arias.

Meanwhile, Biden also met with the top candidates for the Mexican presidency, and said that he did not sense any big differences between them with regard to cooperating with the US. For Bloggings by Boz, this may be even more significant than the drug issue:
while the media has become a bit obsessed over the drug legalization debate and Washington's unwillingness to change positions, it's worth considering that this willingness to meet with and work with any [Mexican] democratically elected president may be an even bigger and more important position change for the US.

News Briefs 
  • In more on Mexico's upcoming elections, George W. Grayson has a piece at the Foreign Policy Research Institute on how the capture of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman could be a game changer for the Mexican presidential contest, allowing President Felipe Calderon’s party to save its fortunes. He says that only Calderon’s PAN party, which has been in power nearly 12 years, stands a chance of beating the formerly dominant PRI. Capturing Chapo could help the party shake off allegations that it has colluded with the drug lord, or at least pursued other cartels with more vigor, says Grayson.
  • The latest opinion poll reasserted the massive lead of Enrique Peña Nieto in the race, with 47 percent against the 29 percent of his closest rival, the PAN's Josefina Vazquez Mota. This is in sharp contrast to a poll released last week which put Vazquez only seven points behind the front-runner. The 18-point gap takes the race back to its stage of recent months, with polls showing a 20-point difference between the two in January, and makes it seem likely that Peña’s long-ruling PRI party will retake the presidency.
  • A reason for his discrepancy is suggested by a post from the Economist, which points to an analysis in Mexico’s Nexos magazine on how reliable the country’s various pollsters are at selecting the winning candidate. The author looks at the success rate of each polling firm, finding that those carried out by newspaper El Universal have been the most accurate in recent months.
  • Antauro Humala, brother of Peru’s President Ollanta Humala, who is currently in prison for leading an attempted uprising in 2005, has been transferred from his high-security facility to a cell in a military academy. The prison authorities say this is for his security, because jailed Shining Path rebels were planning to take him hostage. Two lieutenants of captured guerrilla leader “Comrade Artemio” were being kept in the same jail, according to reports. Some have claimed that his move amounted to preferential treatment, reports the AP. Humala has ruled out pardoning his brother, but the Supreme Court did shorten his sentence in December, shortly after the president took office, from 25 to 19 years, for the deaths of four policemen in his uprising attempt. El Comercio newspaper complains that Antauro “coincidentally” fell sick for Christmas, allowing his transfer to a comfortable military hospital for the holidays.
  • Green Left has a report from San Ofre, Sucre, in northern Colombia, where some say a UN-approved carbon credit scheme is a cover to legitimize land grabbed by paramilitaries over the last two decades, and prevent land restitution from taking place. Some of the families who sold land to Argos, one of Colombia’s biggest companies, say they did so under fear of their lives, while some of the land bought by Argos was reportedly owned by demobilized paramilitaries.
  • Some 49 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia in 2011, according to NGO Somos Defensores, while 239 attacks were carried out against them. More than half of the killings took place in the northern provinces of Antioquia, Cordoba and Sucre, which a representative of the organization said was connected to conflicts over the government’s land restitution program.
  • Haiti’s President Michael Martelly has set up a commission to clear groups of ex-soldiers out of old military bases where they have set up training camps, reports the AP. The groups are calling on the government to reestablish the army, as Martelly promised during his campaign last year. Some are armed, and have said they will not be cleared out by the police. As reported in Friday’s post, it is not clear how much support they were receiving from the government, but the UN has called on Martelly to take decisive action against the camps.
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ reports on the rise of a Mexican middle class, a development which she says is being overlooked amid the carnage of the drug conflict. O’Grady attributes this rise to market opening and more prudent fiscal policy, which has kept inflation under control.
  • Members of the Wayuu indigenous group clashed with police in Zulia, north Venezuela, after officers killed a young man in a firefight, who was suspected of being a fuel trafficker. InSight Crime notes the massive gap in prices between the two countries that makes this trade profitable, and says that in this northern border area it has apparently passed from the hands of paramilitary forces into those of Wayuu extended family groups.
  • The AP has a story on “Love across the border,” about a married couple who hail from Mexico and El Salvador. The husband does not have a US visa, despite living in LA for 20 years, and has been caught twice trying to sneak back into the US. Now his wife has to visit him over the border in Tijuana.
  • Dialogo Americas looks at the role of dogs in police operations across South America, highlighting their important role in tracking, drug and bomb detection. The newly-established Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police, for example, has set up its own canine branch, with some 14 dogs currently in training.

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