Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bogota Plans to Treat Addicts with Illegal Drugs

The Colombian government has approved a proposal by Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro to give illegal drugs to addicts as part of their medical treatment, in the framework of his scheme to improve healthcare for drug users in the capital.

On Friday, Petro announced that he had been granted authorization to the proposal after a meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos. The mayor explained that the constitution provides for the use of illicit drugs in medical treatment, and so he only needed the approval of the national government, as Semana reports.

Petro on Monday proposed using drugs seized by the security forces in this medical treatment, saying “They do it in the United States, here it is a taboo but it isn’t a foreign idea in the world,” reports El Espectador.

The mayor has proposed setting up consumption centers to provide drugs to those who need them as part of their treatment. Petro said that the idea of the proposal was not just to help addicts, but to weaken the power of drug dealers in the city.

As well as his plan for these consumption centers, Petro has also propsed setting up mobile treatment centers to help Bogota’s drug addicts and other vulnerable populations. This is already going ahead -- the first such center was launched on September 16 in the district of the Bronx. The Health Care Center for Drug Addicts (CAMAD) will provide medical, dental, psychological and psychiatric care, and will not hand out illegal drugs, as Bogota Health Secretary Guillermo Alfonso Jaramillo explained to El Espectador. It will also administer vaccinations, and help people find housing.

The unit aims to treat some 40 people a day. After spending a short period in the Bronx, it will be moved to San Bernando, and then will rotate between the two neighborhoods, reports El Tiempo. The Health Ministry has invested 2.4 billion pesos ($1.3 million) in the scheme for this year.

Julian Andres Quintero of the Accion Tecnica Social in Bogota explained to the OSI that the mobile centers were originally the brainchild of the Centre for Study and Analysis on Citizen Security (CEACS), but the idea has been toned down in the face of pressure from the media, so that the current model being rolled out will not carry out much intervention in terms of drug use. For addicts, all the mobile units will do is provide psychological care, diagnose other illnesses they are suffering, and sometimes administer drugs like methadone. According to Jaramillo, these mobile units are the first step towards the regulated consumption centers that Petro plans to roll out.

The health secretary said that it is possible that there will be a total of five mobile units by next year. He explained that the next phase will be to set up places where people living on the streets can come to wash, eat, get clean clothes and sleep for a night.

Petro’s schemes have come under opposition from the presidential advisor for Bogota, Gina Parody, who denied on Monday that the government had given permission for the scheme. Jaramillo told El Espectador that Parody was confused about the proposal, and pointed out that, “like most rich people,” she has the resources to send herself to rehab, should it become necessary, or to buy drugs, which is not an option for the poor.

Part of the controversy around the proposals is due to the lack of clear information on them. As Quintero points out, there has been little public debate over the plans to administer illegal drugs to addicts, and no formal planning document from the mayor's office has been made publicly available.

News Briefs

  • Human rights prosecutor Manuel Eduardo Diaz was murdered outside the Public Ministry in Choluteca, southern Honduras, on Monday. The crime was committed by two hitmen riding a motorbike, reports La Prensa.
  • Diaz’s death comes just two days after lawyer Antonio Trejo Cabrera, who worked on behalf of campesino organizations in the conflict-hit Bajo Aguan region, was gunned down in Tegucigalpa. The Associated Press reports that Trejo had reported receiving death threats, and had filed for protection from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against Miguel Facusse, a landowner at the center of the conflict in the Bajo Aguan region. “Before his death, Trejo had publicly said that if he were killed, Facusse would be responsible.”
  • The WSJ reports that the mensalão political corruption scandal in Brazil is hurting the chances of the ruling Workers’ Party in upcoming local elections, with 17 guilty verdicts so far out of 37 defendants accused of misusing public funds during the presidency of Lula da Silva. Ultimo Segundo reports that Supreme Court nominee Teori Zavascki could ask for time to catch up with the trial, which could mean it was suspended until after the October 7 vote.
  • A state congressman-elect killed in Sonora earlier this month was murdered by hitmen hired by his designated substitute, according to prosecutors, reports the AP.
  • A group of gunmen attacked a funeral in Torreon, north Mexico, killing seven people, including a 6-year-old girl, and wounding at least 20, reports Proceso. Some of the mourners were carrying guns, and were able to repel the attacks, according to local officials. The funeral was for a young man who was shot dead while driving a luxury car, and a sign referring to drug gangs was left next to his body, according to the AP.
  • Colombian criminal boss German Bustos Alarcon, alias “Puma,” has been captured in northern Antioquia, reports El Tiempo. Puma, a former paramilitary whose extradition has been requested by the US, joined the Paisas drug gang after demobilizing, but was later recruited into the Urabeños, as Colombia Reports reports.
  • Uruguay is considering decriminalizing abortions carried out in the first trimester of pregnancy, although women would need the consent of the baby’s father and of a medical review panel, reports the AP.
  • A proposed reform to Mexico’s labor laws which would allow part-time work, hourly wages and outsourcing is being opposed by the leftist PRD party, which says it would hurt workers’ rights. The AP notes that its supporters say the measure would help create a million new jobs a year, which could be a factor in stopping young people join drug cartels.
  • Venezuela Politics and Human Rights looks at polling for Venezuela’s October elections, weighing up the claim that any survey which gives opposition candidate Henrique Capriles less than 6.6 million should be treated with suspicion.
  • Gangs control 60 percent of Mexico’s prisons, according to the country’s National Human Rights Commission, reports Reuters.
  • In the New York Times magazine, John Jeremiah Sullivan has a long and personal piece about Cuba, based around a trip to visit his wife’s family. On The 6th Floor blog, he talks about the process of writing it.
  • The NYT reports on how a yellow line which purports to show the equator in the Middle of the World park in Ecuador is actually several hundred feet south.

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