Monday, March 19, 2012

The Mystery of Who Runs Peru's Drug Policy

Peru’s top drug official Carmen Masias, speaking before the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, expressed support for Bolivia’s position on refusing to recognize coca as an illegal drug.

Bolivia withdrew from the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on January 1 this year, and wants to rejoin if a reservation is added that coca chewing is not illegal. It can be blocked from rejoining if a third of signatories vote against it.

IDL-Reporteros reports that Masias’ words of support for Bolivia were surprising to delegates, who had expected to hear a hardline speech in keeping with the US’s traditional position in the “war on drugs.”

Masias took the position of Peru’s drug czar in January, replacing Ricardo Soberon, in what was interpreted as a move away from Soberon’s progressive positions and back towards US-approved policy. Soberon, who has links to coca-growing unions, had criticized forced coca eradication, and called a temporary half to eradication programs when he took office, saying instead he would focus on attacking the structures of drug trafficking groups. This caused concern in Washington, and Soberon was replaced following President Ollanta Humala’s cabinet shake-up, which moved his government further towards the right and put the ex-military officer Oscar Valdes as prime minister. Masias was a more traditional appointment to the post, and announced plans to eradicate some 14,000 hectares of coca in 2012, up nearly 50 percent from last year. IDL-Reporteros describes the handover as being as if the moderate left had been replaced by the ultra-right.

After Soberon’s departure,  Valdes said that drug policy would focus on prevention and rehabilitation of addicts. InSight Crime described this as “a clear step by the department towards softer social policy and away from the issues of supply and interdiction.” Masias said in recent weeks that her anti-drug policy will work to empower rural women, as a way to decrease farming communities’ dependence on coca, noting that in these women are often heads of families.

IDL-Reporteros reports that the transition between the two officials was so dramatic that, after Masias took office, delegates from the Transnational Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) arrived in Lima for a meeting on reformist drug policy, organized under Soberon, and found that it and their welcome reception had been canceled.

The website suggests, however, that “all is not as it appears to be” under Masias, noting that her new drug strategy has not yet been published, and that the president is dissatisfied with her work, while Soberon has been asked to contribute research on drug policy. According to the site, Masias’ speech to the UN was heavily edited and corrected by her predecessor -- “in the uncertain world of coca policy,” concludes IDL-Reporteros, “no one knows who they work for, or rather no one knows who works for them.”

News Briefs
  • Brazil has banned a number of top Chevron and Transoceon executives from leaving the country, as it moves to file charges over an oil spill last year. The decision follows news Friday of a new leakage at the same site, off Rio de Janeiro state. The WSJ says that last year’s leak was relatively small, and that the country's “zero-tolerance response raises questions about whether Brazil is prepared for the sometimes messy problems involved in developing a massive deep-water drilling operation.” The executives could face 20 years in prison for environmental crimes, reports the NYT.
  • A Brazilian federal judge blocked efforts to prosecute a retired colonel for forced disappearances committed under the military dictatorship, reports the BBC, in a blow to efforts to overturn a much-criticized 1979 amnesty law which protects officials for political crimes committed in that period.
  • El Salvador’s government has denied negotiating a deal with “mara” street gangs, following the publication of an investigation by El Faro which suggested that the authorities had made a deal with gang bosses to grant them prison privileges in exchange for a reduction in violence in the country. Security Minister David Munguia Payes said Friday that “the government is in no moment negotiating with any gang,” and said that prisoners had been transferred due to human rights concerns, and to foil a planned escape.
  • The New York Times looks at education reform in Ecuador, where the government has removed tuition fees from public universities, brought in a standardized aptitude entry exam, and said that by 2017 all professors must have a masters degree. The reforms involve taking on some of the sacred cows of the left, says the newspaper, with Correa arguing that university should be made more selective, based on merit, as the country can’t afford to roll out college education to large numbers of its young people.
  • Colombian rebel group the FARC released a statement on their website Saturday saying they were ready to begin the promised liberation of 10 hostages in two days, but that the only thing that remained was for the government to allow humanitarian visits to “political prisoners and prisoners of war.” President Juan Manuel Santos responded with a speech saying that the FARC were lying to the families of the hostages, to the country, and to the international community, and that visits to prisoners had never been part of the deal. Some of the men set to be released have been held more than 14 years.
  • The 19-year-old daughter of a Chilean diplomat was shot dead by police in Venezuela after her car failed to stop at a checkpoint. She was in the vehicle with her brother and another person in the early hours of Saturday morning, and her father said that they were afraid that the police manning the checkpoint, who had not turned on the lights of their patrol cars, might be robbers. Police chief Jose Humberto Ramirez called the killing “bad practice” and said it the officers would answer for it in court.
  • In Guanajuato state, west Mexico, the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug gang promised to maintain a truce during the visit of the Pope, which begins Friday, reports the AP. "The Knights Templar disavow any military action, we are not murders, welcome to the Pope," read messages hung in five cities. Similar messages, signed by the offshoot group of the Familia Michoacana, were hung in Michoacan state in February, and InSight Crime saidthat they appeared to be part of a cynical ploy to win support.
  • Cuban authorities have detained 70 members of the Ladies in White dissident group ahead of the Pope’s visit, which begins March 26, reports Reuters. Some have since been freed. Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ expresses disappointment that the Pope has not agreed to meet with any dissident groups, including the Ladies. The Miami Herald notes that “the world and Cuba have changed” since the 1998 papal visit to the island, and that this time there is little hope his visit will drive reform.
  • The younger brother of two of Colombia’s biggest drug bosses, who run the Rastrojos gang, known collectively as “Los Comba,” has been arrested in Ecuador and deported to his home country, reports the AP. Juan Carlos Calle Serna, alias "Armando," is nowhere near as important in the gang as his brothers, according to InSight Crime. His arrest will however put more pressure on the brothers, who are rumored to be negotiating a surrender deal with the US, says the site.
  • President Hugo Chavez returned to Venezuela Friday, after undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba. He told supporters he would get healthy and continue his Bolivarian Revolution with another term as president.
  • The NYT looks at rising rates of kidnapping in Mexico, which some analysts say reflect the weakness of the state; the crime “which require teams of captors, safe houses and a degree of territorial control, flourish[es] when the state is particularly feeble.” The piece examines the mass kidnapping of the Cazares family, 18 members of which were abducted in one day in July from three residences in Matamoros. The women and children -- including a 9 and 11 year old -- were released within days, but four of the men are still missing, including Rodolfo Cazares, who is an orchestra conductor in Germany. There has been minimal work by Mexican authorities to investigate their case, the NYT reports.
  • The LA Times has a piece on extortion in Mexico, which it says is the country’s “fastest-growing non-lethal criminal enterprise.”
  • The Washington Post profiles Mexico’s expanding middle class, which it says issocially moderate but fiscally conservative -- “The new Mexican is the overscheduled soccer dad shopping for a barbecue grill inside a Home Depot.”

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