Thursday, August 8, 2013

Uruguay’s Ex- (and Likely Next) President Backs Marijuana Bill

Former Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, who will be the ruling Frente Amplio coalition’s candidate in the upcoming October 2014 elections, has endorsed current President Jose Mujica’s proposal to regulate marijuana in the country, giving a major boost to the initiative.

After months of silence on the issue, on Wednesday Vazquez told local newspaper El Observador that he supported the marijuana bill currently being considered in Uruguay’s Senate. “I agree with the proposed bill that lawmakers approved,” he said, a reference to the bill’s passage in the lower house last week.

Vazquez’s support is highly significant, as it changes the political climate around the bill considerably. In the past few months the former president has refrained from commenting on the matter, only briefly touching on it in September 2012 by saying: “There is no reason to smoke marijuana.” Lawmakers in Vazquez’s Socialist Party (one of the main parties in the Frente Amplio) said he had made it known privately that he opposed the measure, but would not openly challenge it as long as it was firmly in place when he takes office.

Vazquez is widely expected to win presidential elections in October 2014, with a recent poll suggesting that 43 percent of voters will support a Frente Amplio candidate, followed by 25 and 14 percent for the opposition National and Colorado parties. Yesterday, El Pais reported that Vazquez announced that he would accept the Frente’s nomination in the likely event that he is selected to run in next June’s primaries.

His backing is sure to be a great relief to advocates of marijuana regulation in Uruguay. It means there is less pressure to get the bill up and running before he takes office.

At the same time, however, it also sets up the marijuana bill to be a central issue in next year’s election campaign. Jorge Larrañaga, the National Party’s likely nominee, has come out strongly against the measure, and Congresswoman Veronica Alonso of his Alianza Politica sector has announced she would join Colorado Party Congressman Richard Sander in an effort to gather enough signatures to trigger a popular referendum on the bill.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled against opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski’s challenge to last April’s elections. The New York Times reports that the court also fined him $1,698 for insulting the government and questioning the legitimacy of the court, a fee which it claimed was the maximum allowed. As El Nacional notes, the court also requested that the Attorney General open a criminal investigation against him for slandering state institutions.
  • In response, Capriles announced he will take his claim to “international bodies” now that he has exhausted local remedies. Although he did not specify which this would be, the most likely bet is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
  • La Silla Vacia offers a helpful overview of the various proposals that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have presented at the negotiating table in Havana thus far, sorted according to their viability. While the rebels’ demand for a constitutional assembly is non-negotiable, other suggestions, like reparations for the decimated Patriotic Union party , are considered feasible.
  • El Periodico reports that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested that the government of Guatemala take precautionary measures to protect three judges who convicted former dictator Efrain Rios Montt of genocide earlier this year, in response to a petition filed by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). According to the AP,  Judge Yassmin Barrios said she and the others would receive protection.
  • A new study published by Yale University last month, called “Peacekeeping Without Accountability” (.pdf here) has found which links the devastating cholera outbreak in Haiti to the arrival of United Nations peacekeeping forces in 2010. The AP reports that the paper finds there is ample evidence to support this, and also asserts that the UN “violates obligations under international law by not providing a forum to address the grievances of cholera victims.”
  • The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo have announced that DNA tests have successfully determined the identity of the 109th person stolen at birth from their parents during the country’s “dirty war.” Telam reports that while the group did not identify the individual’s adoptive parents, they claimed the adopted father  was currently being held on charges of crimes against humanity.
  • The chair of the UN sanctions committee announced on Wednesday that the body will send a panel of experts to Panama next week for a three-day visit to investigate the recent discovery of Cuban arms en route to North Korea. It will present an initial report after the visit, and then make recommendations in a subsequent report.  
  • An independent commission has found that Chile’s 2012 census, which the administration of current president Sebastian Piñera claimed was the most comprehensive survey in the country’s history, is inaccurate and unreliable. Among other things, the commission criticized the fact that it failed to include 9 percent of the population, which it said was “three times higher than other censuses carried out recently in other regional countries.” It recommended that a new census be repeated in 2015, and La Nacion reports that census officials say they will consult with international experts on the next such project.

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