Monday, January 14, 2013

UN Accepts Coca Leaf Chewing in Bolivia

In a victory for Bolivia’s recent efforts to decriminalize consumption and chewing of the coca leaf, the country will rejoin the United Nations convention on narcotic drugs with a reservation allowing for the traditional use of the leaf in the country. Bolivia officially withdrew from the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in January 2012, following President Evo Morales’ unsuccessful campaign in mid-2011 to amend a section of the treaty that article that called for coca leaf chewing to be “abolished.”

While the United States has consistently opposed Bolivia’s efforts to normalize coca, it was not able to muster enough support among UN member states to block Bolivia’s re-entry under the reservation before the January 10th deadline. According to the AP, the US was joined by only 14 other countries in rejecting Bolivia’s re-entry, far short of the 63 countries (one-third of the treaty’s signatories) needed.

In a statement following the vote, a US State Department spokesman maintained that Bolivia’s readmission under the reservation would be harmful to drug enforcement in the region.  “We oppose Bolivia’s reservation and continue to believe it will lead to a greater supply of cocaine and increased cocaine trafficking and related crime,” the official said.

In Bolivia, the announcement was met with celebration and coca growers’ unions across the country plan on holding “chew-ins” across the country in order to mark the occasion and honor the tradition. La Razon reports that Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has said that the next step will be to resume a campaign to press for the UN to allow Bolivia to export coca leaves and traditional coca products to other countries. Choquehuanca also added that the Andean nation is now more committed than ever to cracking down on drug trafficking within its borders.

As a recent WOLA and Andean Information Network report notes, while coca cultivation in Bolivia has dropped in recent years following heightened regulations outlined in Morales’ “coca yes, cocaine no” policies, the overall cocaine being produced as well as the amount of the drug being trafficked through the country from Peru have increased, which could spell trouble for Bolivian anti-drug efforts.

News Briefs
  • Following last week’s rally in solidarity with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, the Venezuelan government has released an update on the ailing president’s health. According to a Sunday statement from Venezuelan Communications Minister Eduardo Villegas, Chavez’s overall health “has improved in recent days,” and the president is “strictly adhering to medical treatment." On Friday, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez traveled to Havana to try to meet with Chavez but were both unable to do so, although Fernandez did meet with Raul and Fidel Castro. President Nicolas Maduro and other major figures in the Chavez administration such as National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, Attorney General Cilia Flores and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez traveled to Havana over the weekend. El Nacional reports that all of these figures met with Raul Castro as well.
  • James Bosworth of Bloggings by Boz has an interesting analysis of Humala’s decision to visit Chavez. Because many analysts believe Humala’s decision to present himself as a more moderate candidate in the 2011 election (after portraying himself as a Chavez-linked leftist in the previous 2006 election) contributed to his victory, the move may seem odd to some. However, as Bosworth notes, the visit was likely an attempt to appeal to Humala’s lefist base, who have accused the president of becoming too close to business interests since taking office.
  • In a press release published Friday, Human Rights Watch slammed the Venezuelan government for “censorship and intimidation of media” that challenge the official narrative regarding Chavez’s health and the legality of delaying his inauguration, profiling the government’s recent announcement that it would open an investigation into the Globovision news station over its reporting on the inauguration issue.
  • Cuba’s long-awaited changes to its travel restrictions will go into effect today, allowing Cubans to leave the country without first obtaining an exit visa. As the New York Times points out, it also extends the amount of time that Cubans can spend abroad before forfeiting their citizenship, which will make it easier for Cubans to “shuttle between the United States and home in much the way that Mexican migrants do.”
  • A new round in the peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas has begun today in Havana, El Espectador reports. While both sides have so far expressed optimism that these talks could result in lasting peace, the government’s lead negotiator Humberto de la Calle has told Colombian press that officials would like to see the dialogues move forward at a faster pace.
  • Meanwhile, El Colombiano reports that the second-largest Colombian guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), secretly sent negotiators to Cuba in order to join in the peace talks this month, but the group’s emissaries were expelled from the island as they didn’t have the permission of the Colombian government.
  • Semana magazine has a detailed overview of the difficulties that the peace process must overcome to be successful, including the unity of the rebels, the difficulty of imposing a ceasefire and the involvement of civil society in land reform efforts.
  • El Periodico has an interview with Claudia Paz y Paz, the ambitious Guatemalan attorney general who has made a name for herself as being unafraid to take on organized crime and human rights abusers in the country. Paz y Paz, who has reached the mid-point of her four-year term, says that her office’s decision last year to emphasize targeting criminal networks rather than individual cases has been immensely successful.
  • Haiti marked the third anniversary since an earthquake devastated the country’s economy and infrastructure on Saturday, and the BBC reports that President Michel Martelly delivered somber speech to mark the occasion in which he called for NGOs in the country to work more closely with the government, noting that most of the aid given in the wake of the disaster went towards emergency relief, not key infrastructure projects.
  • Camila Vallejo, former president of Chile’s main student federation and voice of the student movement in the country, will run for office as a representative in the Chilean legislature in the upcoming November elections. Vallejo plans to run as a Communist Party (PC) candidate for the Santiago district of La Florida, where she has lived since she was a child, according to PC president Guillermo Teillier. 

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