Thursday, August 22, 2013

Paraguay’s New Drug Czar Off to a Pessimistic Start

While the new Paraguayan drug czar’s recent criticism of Uruguay’s marijuana regulation bill was not widely reported, his remarks have some interesting implications for drug policy in Paraguay under the new administration of President Horacio Cartes.

In an interview published yesterday by Spanish news agency EFE, the top anti-drug official in the Cartes administration, Luis Rojas, was highly critical of the bill to regulate marijuana in nearby Uruguay. “The situation will not change,” he said. “The Uruguayan market will receive the marijuana they produce and will not stop getting the marijuana produced in Paraguay. I think it really is a utopia, but well, we'll be analyzing it.”

Rojas is not the first official in the Southern Cone to comment on how marijuana regulation in Uruguay may affect its regional neighbors. Earlier this month Brazilian drug czar Vitore Maximiano raised concerns about the potential for cross-border spillover of the drug, and conservative Chilean presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei expressed support for the measure, saying it was an issue that “should be discussed.”

However, the Paraguayan official’s statement stands out because -- as I have noted for InSight Crime -- his country is responsible for producing as much as 80 percent of the marijuana consumed in Uruguay. What’s more, Paraguay is the leading marijuana producer in South America, and the second in the world behind Mexico, according to the latest UNODC World Drug Report. It is the main provider of cannabis to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile in addition to Uruguay.

It would be one thing for Rojas to simply criticize drug legalization initiatives, as Cartes has done, but by taking this a step further he is acknowledging that his country is unable to effectively curb its illicit marijuana cultivation problem. Regardless of the policies put in place, he asserts that “the situation will not change” and Uruguay will continue to receive Paraguayan marijuana. Essentially, Rojas is admitting defeat in his first week on the job.

This is significant, because beyond Paraguay’s ability to crack down on illicit drug trafficking, there are questions over the Cartes administration’s political will to do so. It is widely known that the DEA targeted the president in 2010 for alleged involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering and smuggling. Cartes has dismissed this as a political attack, and promised to take on corruption and organized crime in the country.

But the allegations against him have been hard to shake, and will likely prove even more so now that it has been revealed that Cartes’ uncle, pilot Juan Domingo “Papacho” Viveros Cartes, was arrested last month in a large-scale drug bust in Uruguay. The president has said that he supports a full investigation into the matter, and Rojas claims Cartes instructed him to be “relentless” in pursuing Viveros, who is also wanted on drug charges in Paraguay.

News Briefs
  • Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has emerged as a potential facilitator of Colombia’s peace talks. Semana reports that Mujica, himself a former guerrilla, has expressed an interest in contributing to the peace process multiple times in the past. Foreign Minister Luis Almagro has echoed the president’s position, saying that the government is willing to “humbly” serve as an intermediary between FARC rebels and the Colombian government. So far neither party has publicly endorsed the offer, though Mujica did meet with the FARC’s negotiating team in a visit to Havana last month.
  • Mexico’s El Universal reports that Jesus Zambrano, head of the opposition PRD party, publicly admonished party legislators who voted in commission to support a bill to reform the country’s highly-regarded freedom of information institute. Zambrano said the legislators made “a decision that was not adequate,” and that his party, along with the support of the PAN, will not support the proposed changes to the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI), which pro-transparency advocacy group Fundar has criticized as a “serious setback in transparency and accountability.”
  • Guatemala’s elPeriodico reports that the country’s judiciary branch has launched a new Indigenous Interpretation and Translation Center, meant to facilitate court proceedings for the millions of indigenous Guatemalans who speak Spanish as a second language. The new center has hired 89 employees, but the paper claims the staff is only capable of providing service in 13 of the 22 nationally-recognized Mayan languages.
  • In the wake of revelations that the NSA conducts widespread surveillance of digital communications throughout the region, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has caused a stir by announcing that his government has found evidence of yet another massive espionage operation in Latin America. El Espectador reports that in a Tuesday interview, Correa said officials had uncovered proof that internal communications of the governments of Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina had been intercepted.  Correa failed to give specifics on the operation, however, and claimed officials were still working to determine who was behind it.
  • The Supreme Court of Chile has approved an extradition request for a former Argentine judge who fled the country to avoid charges of crimes against humanity in 2011. The judge, Otilio Romano, will stand trial in Argentina for allegations that he committed a laundry list of abuses while working as a prosecutor during the country's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
  • Exactly ten years after Argentina’s Law of Due Obedience was annulled, allowing cases of crimes against humanity to be re-opened, Pagina12 reports that “the scenario is completely different.” The paper features an interesting interview with Gaston Chillier of the Center for Legal Studies (CELS), who notes that that 415 individuals have been convicted of crimes against humanity since then, and some 400 trials are still underway.
  • Retired Chilean General Juan Emilio Cheyre, who earlier this week admitted to putting a child whose activist parents were killed in the country’s Dirty War up for adoption, has stepped down from his position as head of Chile’s electoral commission. According to La Nacion, Cheyre claimed that his resignation was necessary in order to prevent distractions to the work of the election body.
  • The Economist looks at the ongoing nationwide strike in Colombia, which has brought agricultural workers of various stripes together to call for greater subsidies and more investment in rural areas. Demonstrators have blocked a dozen major highways in at least four provinces, and police have arrested at least 61 protestors.
  • On Wednesday, some 1,000 coffee growers clashed with police in Peru’s central Chanchamayo Province, demanding more government support to help them recover from the toll that a fungus has had on their crop, RPP radio reported.  Reuters notes that the government has estimated that the fungus will cause a 30 percent drop in coffee production this year, and La Republica reports that coffee farmers are demanding $200 thousand in subsidies to offset their losses.