Thursday, June 21, 2012

Uruguay Govt Seeks to Sell Marijuana to Registered Buyers

The administration of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has announced that it plans to send Congress a proposal for a bill which would legalize marijuana, but establish the government as the only legitimate provider of the drug.  Under the plan, the state would sell marijuana cigarettes to adults who have signed onto a government registry, a move which would allow officials to monitor purchases over time. People who attempted to purchase more than a specified amount at a time would be required to submit themselves to drug rehabilitation treatment.

According to El Pais, the move has been framed as a part of a larger policy that would make inroads against cocaine consumption in the country. Uruguayan law enforcement have seen a significant rise in the amount of cocaine seized in recent years, usually in the form of cocaine paste, a cheaper and less refined version of the drug. If marijuana is legalized and regulated, authorities hope it will encourage drug users to turn to a less addictive drug.

The proposal is also designed to cut criminal profits, and comes amid growing concern over the influence of organized crime in the historically peaceful South American country, as InSight Crime reported in January. While Uruguay still has the lowest homicide rate in Latin America (6.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants), a May 2011 survey by polling firm Interconsult, 62 percent of Uruguayans believe that their country is becoming more insecure.  The perception is backed by the statistics; according to the country’s Interior Ministry, 133 homicides occurred from January to May, up from 76 in the same period last year.

The AP notes that Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters yesterday that several details of the plan need to be worked out, but if implemented it could significantly deter the illicit drug trade in the country. "The laws of the market will rule here: whoever sells the best and the cheapest will end with drug trafficking," Fernandez said. "We'll have to regulate farm production so there's no contraband and regulate distribution ... we must make sure we don't affect neighboring countries or be accused of being an international drug production center."

News Briefs
·         WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is still taking refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been staying since Tuesday. There has been no word on whether Ecuador will accept his request for political asylum, but CNN reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Marco Albuja has promised to make a final decision public in the next 24 hours. The New York Times notes that Assange has put himself in a difficult position: “if Ecuador declines his application for asylum, he will have to leave the embassy to face arrest and probable imprisonment. If it accepts, he will have to make a literal sprint for South America, trying to evade the British police in the vast tract of city between Knightsbridge and any international flight.”

·         The LA Times’ World News Now blog highlights a televised May discussion between Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa and Assange, which may point to ideological overlaps between the imprisoned transparency activist and Correa’s government.

·         After Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner  criticized Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for minimizing violence by “turning a blind eye to the cartels"  during a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing yesterday, PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto responded harshly. Lamenting the US lawmaker’s “lack of knowledge,” Peña Nieto said that he would continue to pursue drug trafficking organizations as president, according to El Universal and the AP

·         A new poll by the Pew Research Center finds widespread support for the military-led offensive against drug traffickers in Mexico, with 80 percent of respondents supporting the military’s role. However, almost as many (74 percent) voiced concerns over the potential for security forces (military and police) to carry out human rights abuses.

·         While Mexico City is known for its poor environmental record, a local government initiative is seeking to reduce waste by providing locals with food vouchers in exchange for sorted collections of trash. CNN has more on the project.

·         Bolivia has credited several recent seizures of coca processing labs in the country’s east to the help of the Brazilian government, which has provided unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the border. Felipe Caceres, Bolivia’s drug czar, would not comment on the type or capability of the drones other than to say they are Israeli-made and have permission to enter Bolivian airspace.

·         The Miami Herald takes a look at the writings of aged Communist leader Fidel Castro in Granma, which have become shorter in recent years and are now often less than 65 words. The paper reports that Cubans themselves are often puzzled by the communiqués, as they frequently feature the kind of poetic brevity usually reserved for haikus.

·         The Argentine government deployed military police military police to subdue protests by the country’s largest truckers’ union at fuel plants on Wednesday, reports BBC Mundo. In response, the union called for a national strike which could cause pervasive shortages in the country. The administration of President Cristina Fernandez has leveled criminal charges against union head Hugo Moyano, who the Wall Street Journal notes has had a rocky relationship with the government.

·         New details have emerged about the death of ex-Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s father, who died in the aftermath of the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende in 1973. El Nuevo Herald reports that Judge Mario Carroza said yesterday that a new forensic investigation into the death of Alberto reveals that he died as a result of torture. Bachelet was a general in the Chilean air force at the time, and refused to support the Pinochet regime.

·         The UK-based New Economics Foundation’s “Happy Planet Index” has ranked Costa Rica the happiest country in the world. Surprisingly, it was not the only Central American country ranked highly, as El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Belize and Guatemala all made it to the list’s top ten happiest countries despite the endemic violence in the region.