Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mexican Artists, Intellectuals Call for Marijuana Decriminalization

A number of famous Mexicans, including actors, artists, businessmen, former politicians and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist have signed a petition advocating  the decriminalization of marijuana, calling it “a step in the right direction” towards addressing the country’s citizen security crisis. As a justification for marijuana decriminalization, the statement lays out six main arguments:
1.       Current Mexican law allows for the use of all illicit drugs, but only authorizes possession of impractically small amounts.
2.       Problematic marijuana use has a far lower incidence rate than problematic use of legal drugs like alcohol or tobacco.
3.       Criminalization increases the price of drugs, providing drug traffickers with massive profits.
4.       International norms regarding marijuana use are changing.
5.        Possession of small amounts of marijuana is a matter of individual liberty that should not be infringed upon.
6.       Decriminalization would help refocus law enforcement efforts on more violent criminal activity.
The petition was hosted by www.despenalizacion.mx, a project of the Miguel Aleman Foundation. It was signed by more than 60 influential Mexicans, including former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, as well as the 1995 Nobel laureate for chemistry, Mario Molina.

It is no coincidence that this petition comes as lawmakers of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) are preparing a bill to loosen marijuana laws in Mexico City. So far a concrete version of the bill has not been presented, though there were rumors that it could be submitted by the end of this month.

The statement by influential Mexicans bears some similarity to the marijuana campaign in Uruguay, in which political and cultural elites have also played a key part. Regulacion Responsable, the coalition of civil society groups that supports the marijuana regulation bill currently under debate in the Uruguayan Senate, was launched in May as a platform of some 50 individuals. The initial adherents were a mix of leading intellectuals, pop culture figures and artists, including well-known local actor Petru Valensky and popular writer Mario Delgado Aparain.

In some ways, what is happening in Uruguay and Mexico is the inverse of the processes in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado, where marijuana legalization initiatives passed by majority vote. By contrast, citizens of the two Latin American countries are largely against marijuana legalization, and its main supporters appear to be politicians and opinion leaders.

However, there is evidence to suggest this could change. Polls in Uruguay show that support for the marijuana regulation bill is slowly increasing, especially among supporters of the ruling Frente Amplio coalition.  In Mexico there seems to be flexibility in public opinion on the issue as well. While a July poll showed that only one in three Mexicans are in favor of marijuana legalization, an August survey by Parametria showed wider support for legalizing medicinal use of the drug. According to the pollster, over 60 percent of the country is in favor of legally permitting medical marijuana.


News Briefs
  • The marijuana debate in the hemisphere isn’t limited to the U.S. and Latin America. On Tuesday, Jamaican lawmakers debated the merits of decriminalizing marijuana for personal use. While there was no bill proposed and no vote scheduled, there is a growing interest in relaxing marijuana laws on the island. The AP notes that while previous attempts to decriminalize the drug were stalled due to resistance from the U.S., the Washington and Colorado laws have emboldened marijuana activists in the Caribbean country.
  • Yesterday, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in New York City, in a meeting that El Pais reports lasted over an hour. The two reportedly discussed bilateral economic ties, international peacekeeping operations as well as Mujica’s concerns about NSA surveillance abroad. The meeting is also perhaps the clearest sign yet that Uruguay’s marijuana regulation bill will not strain its relationship to the United States.
  • ProPublica takes an in-depth look at a trial underway in Southern California against a retired Guatemalan military officer accused of having a lead role in the in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, one of the most brutal mass killings of the country’s civil war. Jorge Vinicio Sosa Orantes, a former army lieutenant, is being charged with lying about his military past in his application for residency and citizenship in the U.S., and faces a 10-year sentence if convicted.
  • After claiming he was reevaluating whether to go to the UN General Assembly in New York this week due to allegations that the U.S. had denied a visa to his chief of staff, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has officially decided not to attend.  El Nacional reports that the president chalked up his decision to “provocations” by the United States and an alleged plot against him. The AP notes that while he mentioned two former U.S. officials he frequently credits with attempting to undermine him (Roger Noriega and Otto Reich), he did not go into detail about the supposed plot.
  • The Colombian prosecutor’s office has opened up an investigation into the younger brother of former President Alvaro Uribe, who has been accused of links to paramilitary groups in Antioquia province. The charges against Santiago Uribe were first leveled by former police major Juan Carlos Meneses, who El Espectador reports has gone missing and is also sought for allegations of wrongdoing.  
  • On Wednesday, Chile’s Supreme Court confirmed the suspension of Barrick Gold’s controversial Pascua-Lama mining project on the border with Argentina, reinforcing an earlier ruling that sided with local indigenous groups who accuse the project of contaminating their water supply. The court did not annul the company’s environmental permit, however, which was a key demand of local communities.
  • In a talk about the ongoing negotiations with FARC rebels at an academic event in Harvard yesterday, current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos praised the contributions of Cuba and Venezuela in the peace process. According to Santos, the two countries have been instrumental in encouraging the guerrilla group to lay down its weapons. “Venezuela and Cuba are helping us, they are saying, 'Get rid of warfare; today it's an anachronism,’” Santos told the audience.  
  • According to La Republica, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and his Chilean counterpart Sebastian Piñera have agreed to abide by the decision of the International Court of Justice over a long-running maritime dispute. The agreement eases tensions between the two countries, and reestablishes the weight of The Hague in settling border disputes in the region after Colombia flatly refused to abide by a court ruling in favor of Nicaragua earlier this month.
  • Officials in the Brazilian state of Amazonas have come up with unorthodox future plans for a stadium being built for the World Cup: using it as a prisoner processing center after the big event next year. Local judicial officials told the Associated Press that they were considering a proposal to convert the stadium into a temporary detention center, a suggestion which local World Cup organizers and residents strongly oppose.
  • The New York Times profiles the work of recently-deceased Cuban economist and diplomat Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who was one of the most vocal advocates of economic reform in the country. Espinosa Chepe lost his job at the National Bank in 1996 after calling for the restoration of limited property rights in Cuba, reforms which were eventually put in place recently under President Raul Castro.