Thursday, August 1, 2013

Uruguay's Lower House Approves Marijuana Regulation Bill

Uruguay is now one step closer to becoming the first country in the world to regulate the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana.

Despite the last minute uncertainty, lawmakers in Uruguay’s lower house voted 50 to 46 to approve the bill last night. It will now go to the Senate, where the ruling Frente Amplio (FA) coalition’s majority is expected to have an easier time of approving it. Because the Senate is anticipated to make minor changes and pass it back to the lower house, the bill will likely be signed into law in September or October.

Throughout the lead up to the 11:00pm vote, both opposition and FA lawmakers took the floor to give their opinions on the bill. From the discourse of the Frente legislators, it was clear that they see themselves as the vanguard of drug policy in the hemisphere. Frente Amplio Congressman Nicolas Perreira, for instance, called the bill “historic,” adding that “Latin America is moving towards a more profound debate, that dares to look for alternatives.” FA Congressman Jorge Orrico also stressed that the bill could serve as an alternative for other countries in the region, because of the “failure” of the current model. “Ten years ago Mexico was convinced they needed to launch a war on drugs, and all they achieved was corruption of state institutions,” said Oricco.

For more choice quotes and pictures from the debate, see my Twitter feed. I was observing the vote from the antechamber of the lower house, and managed to capture a good deal of yesterday’s drama. ProDerechos, a Uruguayan human rights group which supports the bill, also did an outstanding job of documenting the vote.

At around 6:30pm, Dario Perez, the one FA holdout who has been reticent to support the measure, took the floor. It was the first time he spoke publicly on the matter since asking for more time to reflect on it in early July. El Pais has a decent overview of his statement, in which he expressed doubts about its potential to effectively reduce the black market for the drug.  Ultimately, however, he said he would support the measure, because “with or without the law, the phenomenon will continue.”

Perez also claimed he was supporting it because, as a “man of the party,” he would follow “the rules of the game” of the Frente Amplio. This was a nod to the May resolution passed by the coalition’s internal plenary which called for the bill to be approved “in the shortest time frame possible.” As noted yesterday, youth wings and base organizations of the FA coalition were fundamental in pushing for this measure.

In today’s U.S. press, the vote has received a good deal of positive coverage. Perhaps the best comes from the New York Times’ Simon Romero, who called the bill “one of Latin America’s most ambitious nationwide endeavors in overhauling drug policy.” Manuel Rueda of ABC/Univision also has a good outline of the vote, and mentions its potential to improve citizen insecurity in the country, which I wrote about recently for InSight Crime. Today’s Wall Street Journal notes that the vote is a victory for President Jose Mujica’s progressive social agenda, along with the recent decriminalization of abortion and passage of a marriage equality law. The Associated Press has a decent overview of the specifics of the bill, as well as quotes from a variety of drug reform advocates both in Uruguay and the United States.

News Briefs
  • Mexico’s official statistics institute, INEGI, released a report on Tuesday on violence in the country. The institute found that, in 2012, Mexico’s homicide rate fell for the first time in six years. According to INEGI, there were 26,037 homicides last year, down 27,213 in 2011. This lowered the homicide rate 24 to 22 homicides per 100,000. Animal Politico points out, however, that this number is still alarmingly high. As security analyst Alejandro Hope told the news site, the figure represents a major increase compared to 2007, when the homicide rate was just 9 per 100,000.
  • Guatemala’s Plaza Publica features an interview with Judge Yasmin Barrios, who oversaw the trial against General Efrain Rios Montt, charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. According to the judge, although the annulment of Rios Montt’s conviction allowed testimony up to April 19, many of the victims will have to present their testimony again if and when a new trial is begun.
  • On Wednesday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced that she would set aside $1.3 billion to improve public transit in São Paulo, where discontent over a rise in bus fares helped spark the wave of protests which swept the country in June. Reuters reports that the funds for this were already included in a stimulus package her administration had prepared to foster economic growth.
  • After an anti-government march brought ome 700 people together in the city of Rio de Janeiro last night to protest the administration of Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral, some 50 demonstrators briefly occupied the city council building there before being removed by police. The AP has some powerful images of the protest, and the clashes that resulted after the occupation.
  • Although so far the Salvadoran government has claimed that its role in the country’s gang truce has been limited to facilitating the ceasefire, El Faro’s Sala Negra reports that high level officials in El Salvador may have even met directly with gang leaders. According to  the news site, former deputy minister Douglas Moreno held a meeting with gang leaders in the Ministry of Justice, which was previously approved by Security Minister David Munguia Payes.
  • Foreign Policy looks at the latest revelations by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, which focus on a controversial digital surveillance program known as “XKeyscore.” According to the information released by Snowden, the data collection servers the program managed were located in countries throughout Latin America, including Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil.
  • The Economist delves into the reasons behind the Catholic Church’s loss of influence in the region, which is due mostly to the rise of Protestant Christian faiths, which are making major inroads in Brazil and Mexico.
  • Yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto underwent surgery at a military hospital in Mexico City to remove a benign nodule on his thyroid gland. Reuters reports that the operation was a success, and that he is expected to take several days to recover.
  • At Venezuela Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde has conducted an interesting interview with Venezuelan Professor Anitza Freitez on the access that policy researchers in the country have to good information.  According to Freitez, Venezuela’s National Statistics Institute has increasingly restricted access to data, making it difficult for researchers to conduct significant analysis of demographic trends in the country.

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