Friday, September 28, 2012

Latin American Presidents Call for New Debate on Drugs at UN

The U.S.-led drug war in Latin America has been placed firmly on the agenda at the UN General Assembly in New York by the presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala, who united to call for a renewed debate on anti-narcotics legislation.

Although Presidents Juan Manuel Santos, Felipe Calderon and Otto Perez avoided explicit mention of legalization, they told the Assembly they would  “welcome wholesale changes to policies that have shown scant evidence of limiting drug flows while contributing to massive violence throughout Latin America”, according to Reuters.

Of the three leaders, Guatemalan President Otto Perez has previously been the most explicit in calling for a possible legalization of drugs, but this time limited himself to stating that Guatemala wanted to convene nations “well disposed to reforming policies on drugs” to consider “new creative and innovative alternatives,” reports Americas Quarterly. 

The move follows similar attempts to put the debate on the table at the Organization of American States (OAS) summit held in Colombia earlier this year. The OAS is currently studying the idea of legalization and is expected to release a report and recommendations within a year.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon also called for the U.S. to tighten gun controls to stem the flow of weapons into Mexico, which he says contributes to the drug war slaughter, urging the U.S. government to revive a ban on assault weapons in the United States that expired in 2004.

The renewed calls for a debate on drugs coincided with the release of a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report on Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean, which assesses the threat posed to the region by drug trafficking organizations.

The report found that cocaine trafficking remains the main source of income for organized crime despite diversification into other areas such as human trafficking and arms dealing.

It asserts that the Mexican assault against the cartels has reduced the flow of cocaine into the states, leading to higher prices and lower purity in the U.S. but this has not reduced violence and has contributed to increased violence in Central America as cartels look for new trafficking routes. It adds that if the flow of cocaine abates, criminal organizations will seek to increase revenues in areas such as extortion and there may be an increase in violence.

However, according to the report, the regions deteriorating security situation is not just related to drug trafficking but has deeper routes in “weak governance and powerful sub-state actors” and any solution must combine cross-sectoral crime prevention strategies with a strengthening of civil institutions and the assertion of government control over territories.   

News Briefs
  • Paraguayan President Federico Franco has accused the Venezuelan government of supporting the People’s Army of Paraguay (EPP), a revolutionary leftist guerrilla movement that has been implicated in kidnappings and assaults on the security forces, reports Merco Press. Franco accused the Chavez administration of bringing insurgents to Venezuela for military training under the pretense of agricultural training programs.
  • Insight Crime analyzes Wednesday’s arrest of breakaway Zetas commander Ivan Velazquez Caballero, alias “El Taliban,” arguing his capture is unlikely to prevent the Mexican cartel from fracturing into independent “orphan” cells.
  • The Inter Press Service features an interview with Sandra Ramirez - the partner of legendary FARC founder and leader Pedro Antonio Marin, alias Manuel Marulanda, who died of heart attack aged in 2008, aged 77. Ramirez, herself a guerrilla, is the only publically recognized woman to be involved in peace talks in Havana so far, according to the IPS.
  • Also in the IPS is a piece looking at the new “roadmap for NGOs in Haiti,” which, it says, is designed to “weed out the bad apples.” According to the IPS,  Haiti has received so much aid through foreign NGOs that the country has been nicknamed “a republic of NGOs.” The new agreement aims to coordinate their efforts and impose stricter guidelines and standards for NGOs working in the disaster hit country. 
  • The Huffington Post marks the 52nd anniversary of the formation of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) with an article that claims behind the facade of “an apolitical neighborhood group ready to solve community problems” lies a hidden “mechanism of surveillance and control.”
  • Oil giant Chevron and drill-rig operator Transocean have 30 days to halt their operations in Brazil after a court served the companies with an injunction for their roles in an offshore oil spill last year,reports the WSJ.
  • The British and Ecuadorian foreign ministers met in New York to discuss the deadlocked Julian Assange case, reports the LA Times. While the meeting was described as “cordial,” no agreement was reached and Assange looks set to remain the in the Ecuadorian embassy as the two countries argue over whether he should be granted asylum in Ecuador or face extradition to Sweden to face sexual abuse charges. The Christian Science Monitor has an article marking Assange’s 100th day inside the embassy.
  • The Just the Facts blog looks at the latest attempts at military justice reform in Colombia, arguing that Congress is moving quickly to weaken the civilian court system’s ability to try and punish human rights violations committed by the country’s armed forces by proposing to send all but the most absolutely severe human rights cases to the military court system, which, it says, has a long history of failing to punish such crimes.
  • The New York Times reports on a potential trade war brewing between Mexico and the U.S., prompted by U.S. moves to end a 16-year-old agreement between the two countries that has kept the price of Mexican tomatoes so low that American producers have not been able to compete.
  • The Venezuelan army has responded to fears that the military will not accept a defeat for President Hugo Chavez in the coming elections. The chief of the strategic operational command for election day, Wilmer Barrientos, said the army will “respect the will of the people” reports Merco Press. Barrientos also outlined what role the army will play on election day.
  • The Colombian government has introduced a bill to promote equality for the country’s Afro-Colombian population, according to Colombia Reports. The bill aims to increase Afro-Colombian political participation through financial incentives for movements and parties that represent black communities and will introduce quotas designed to ensure 10% of institutions such as the police and military must come from the Afro-Colombian population.