Monday, March 5, 2012

Vice President Biden Travels to Latin America as Support for Drug Legalization Grows

Amid unprecedented support in Latin America for a debate on drug legalization, Vice President Joe Biden will be meeting with political leaders in Mexico and Honduras this week. Biden arrived in Mexico yesterday, where, in addition to addressing economic and security issues with President Felipe Calderon, he is scheduled to meet with the three main presidential candidates.

Tomorrow Biden is slated to travel to Honduras, where he will attend a joint meeting of the Central American Immigration System (SICA) meeting. The AP reports that the presidents of El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala will also be in attendance, and quotes Obama administration advisor Dan Restrepo as saying that the leaders can expect a "robust conversation."

In recent months the current presidents of both Guatemala and Colombia announced that they would welcome a debate over the decriminalization of drugs. After making waves last month by calling for the legalization of drugs, Guatemala’s Otto Perez is also pursuing a regional discussion on the matter. Meanwhile, the government of Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos has said that it will raise the issue at the upcoming Summit of the Americas meeting on April 14th.

While drug policy is sure to come up at Obama’s meeting, the US is not likely to change its strategy. Restrepo told reporters that "the Obama administration has been quite clear in our opposition to the decriminalization or legalization of illicit drugs.” Thus the meeting represents an opportunity for the US to shore up support for the orthodox approach to the “war on drugs” ahead of the larger challenge it may face at the Summit of the Americas.


News Briefs
·         Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from an operation in Cuba, appeared on TV for the first time in nine days yesterday, and revealed that a growth in his pelvic region was "a recurrence of the initially diagnosed cancer." Still, Chavez said the tumor was totally removed, and that there is no sign of it having spread. He added that he will undergo another round of radiation therapy in the coming weeks.

·         The L.A. Times takes a look at corruption allegations against Tomas Yarrington, a former governor of the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Yarrington is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and accusations that he took drug payoffs may take a toll on current presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign.

·         Three weeks after capturing Peruvian guerrilla leader “Comrade Artemio,” Peruvian authorities have captured his successor, Walter Diaz. According to Peru21, Diaz had been attempting to organize a retaliation campaign against the informants who helped in the operation against “Artemio.”

·         After the US government canceled a contract with Brazil to sell warplanes to the South American nation, Brazil has responded with a statement criticizing the US for damaging military relations between the two countries. The LA Times’ World Now blog has more.

·         The AP has an interesting story on Luis Alfonso Beltran and Luis Arturo Arcia, the longest-held captives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). With the FARC’s recent announcement that it intends to free all of its hostages, the relatives of both men are voicing cautious optimism.

·         The BBC reports on the Nicaraguan military’s newly-formed Ecological Battalion, a 580-strong unit which was formed the purpose of cracking down on illegal logging and helping to plant trees in deforested areas. The project is Central America’s first-ever military solution to environmental threats.

·         The New York Times highlights the efforts of slum dwellers in Rio de Janeiro to resist large-scale evictions ahead of the 2014 soccer World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.

·         A new report indicates that violent crime in Haiti’s cities is on the rise, and contributes to a lack of faith in the country’s police force. Last year, the homicide rate of  Port-au-Prince was 60.9 murders per 100,000 residents.