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.
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