Friday, August 10, 2012

Bogota Mayor Proposes Drug Centers for Addicts

Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro has stirred controversy by proposing the establishment of centers in the city that would allow addicts safe access to drugs, in order to cut drug-related crime.

The centers would be established in three areas of Colombia’s capital where there is a high concentration of people hooked on a crack-like cocaine derivative called “bazuko,” as the AFP reports. Petro, a former guerrilla with the M-19 rebel organization, said that the plan would need the approval of the national government. He announced that for now he will focus on the first stage of the scheme, sending vans around the city staffed with doctors and psychologists to give healthcare to drug users and gather information about the dimensions of the problem, as Semana reports.

The mayor’s plans have met with strong opposition from some sectors in the country. Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, a deeply conservative Catholic, said that Petro “must be smoking pot,” an accusation he later retracted, according to Colombia Reports. Health Minister Beatriz Londoño said that the government could not take the role of supplying drugs to users, reports Semana.

Semana published a list of Ordoñez’s objections to the proposal. He argued that the scheme was unconstitutional, that it was a criminal and not a public health policy, and that it would give rise to a contradiction with the state’s policy of combating drug trafficking.

El Espectador argues that the proposal is a good idea, and that if Colombia is to start treating drugs as a public health problem, Bogota should lead the way by helping to bring addicts from the margins of society. It says however that the moralist opponents of the measure have some justification, in that Petro gave little detail of his proposal, leading some to think that the drug distribution centers would encourage drug use amongst young people. The newspaper calls for Petro to carry out detailed studies and proposals to give weight to the plan.

One recent study showed that 15 percent of all homicides in Bogota are drug-related, as Terra reports.
In Colombia, the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use has been decriminalized. The country also recently passed a law which dictates that drug use should be treated as a public health problem and not as a crime.

The director of addict care center Nuevos Rumbos told the AFP that, if the measure succeeds, it would be the first in the world to help crack addicts, as similar centers in Europe have focused on heroin addicts.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, a bill that would allow the government to sell marijuana to licensed users has been put before Congress. One official told the Associated Press that the Mujica administration does not expect the bill to advance quickly. The government would control the import and sale of the drug, in a market that is thought to be worth $30-40 billion.

News Briefs

  • A US citizen has been arrested in Venezuela on suspicion of being a mercenary sent to destabilize the country if President Hugo Chavez wins the upcoming elections, reports the AP. The president said that the man, detained while crossing the border from Colombia, might have been recruited by the opposition to incite violent protests if they lose in October.
  • Fourteen bodies were found in a truck in the central Mexican state of San Luis Potosi, seemingly victims of drug violence kidnapped from nearby Coahuila state, reports the LA Times. The newspaper notes that San Luis Potosi has in the past seen less violence than many other parts of the country. Reuters says that this is the fifth time in recent months that 14 bodies have been found in Mexico, suggesting that the number may be some sort of code for drug traffickers.
  • Mexican alleged drug trafficker Sandra Avila Beltran, known as the “Queen of the Pacific” has been extradited to the US to face charges of smuggling drugs to Chicago. She was arrested in Mexico City in 2007, but her lawyers fought extradition, arguing that she had been cleared of similar charges in Mexico, reports the AP. The LA Times notes reports that she had a doctor visit her in prison to give her Botox injections, and says that she is accused of being “a rare figure -- a powerful woman -- in Latin America’s testosterone-saturated drug world,” her rise helped by relationships with high-level traffickers.
  • A Salvadoran drug trafficker known as “Chepe Luna,” who was captured by Honduran police on Tuesday, was freed the following day after the courts found there were no outstanding charges against him, as InSight Crime reportsBloggings by Boz points out that there are more than 6,000 people in Honduran jails who have not been tried -- “The one time that the world would have benefited by having the Honduran court system move a bit more slowly, they are a model of efficiency and speed.” El Faro reports that Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said his country’s intelligence services had assisted in the operation to arrest Chepe Luna.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics looks at the country’s plans for a SWAT-style elite police unit which will train on military bases, and in times of war will be under the command of the defense minister. The team would support President Lobo's “goal of merging the Security and Defense Ministries. It also continues a troubling trend of merging civilian policing and military defense,” argues the blog.
  • A Swedish politician who was in a car with Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya at the time of his death in a crash said that he is worried about the Spanish citizen who was driving, who may face manslaughter charges, reports the AP. Aron Modig, who was allowed to return to Sweden, said that he had faced days of high-pressure questioning from officials in Cuba, who wanted to know what he was doing in the country, but did not ask anything about the crash or how it took place.
  • Colombia Reports reports that attacks on power stations allegedly carried out by the FARC guerrillas in southwest Colombia have left some 30,000 people in Cauca and Valle del Cauca without electricity.
  • A piece published in the Miami Herald looks at Brazil’s ethanol industry, which it says is helping the country move towards energy independence, with oil imports falling to almost zero.
  • The Washington Post reports on the struggle of a gay couple in Medellin, Colombia, to gain joint legal guardianship of their children. The pair married in Germany, and their partnership is recognized by Colombian law, but the woman who did not give birth to the children would have no legal right to see them if her partner were to die. The WP reports that legal challenges across the region have “led to a range of rulings that are giving gays once unthinkable rights in a traditionally conservative and Catholic region.”
  • The WSJ looks at the cycling boom in Latin America, with Buenos Aires building bike lanes and and Mexico City expanding a public bike program. Colombia and Chile are the leaders in bike lanes in the region, according to the report, which says “The change is remarkable for a region where drivers often imitate their Formula One heroes … and where enforcement of traffic laws is lax.”