Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guatemala to Assess Domestic Drug Policy Reforms

While he has become known as one of the main proponents of drug policy reform in the Americas, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has done relatively little to enact policy shifts in his own country. It looks like this may finally change, however, with the creation of a new advisory commission tasked with proposing alternative drug policies in Guatemala.

According to Prensa Libre, the commission will be chaired by Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera, who will appoint several policy experts to study the matter, as well as Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla. The paper reports that the group is in charge of coming up with policy proposals that are: “comprehensive, multidisciplinary, respectful of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as related to reducing the supply and demand of drugs, drug enforcement, money laundering, asset forfeiture, drug trafficking and associated criminal activities, institutional structure and legislation on drugs, foreign policy on drugs and gender.”

Former Foreign Minister Edgar Gutierrez, who serves as Guatemala’s special ambassador to the OAS on drug policy, told Prensa Libre that the commission’s main role will be to recommend changes in sentences for drug-related crimes. “The government has criticized excessive penalties for possession of cannabis for personal consumption, as this represents an excessive prison population. Reducing or eliminating penalties with the aim of easing such pressure, as well as providing alternatives to poppy growers are some of the actions under consideration,” said Gutierrez.

Perez announced the commission’s creation in his speech before the UN General Assembly last week, the same address in which he praised marijuana legalization initiatives in Uruguay, Colorado and Washington. Perez also met with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica in New York, signing an agreement to exchange information related to the design and implementation of drug policies.

Depending on how much weight is given to the commission’s recommendations, this could be an important first step for drug policy reform in the country. While Perez has advocated decriminalizing marijuana, and spoken at length in international forums on the issue (see his remarks at the World Economic Forum in January, for example), he has made no major push to enact reforms in his own country. Part of this doubtlessly has to do with the fact that his government receives considerable support for counternarcotics operations from the United States. With no other governments in the region considering relaxing drug laws, Guatemala risks standing out as a rogue state in Central America, potentially putting its U.S. ant-drug aid in jeopardy.  

But Perez’s lack of initiative is likely based on domestic political factors as well. As it is in Mexico and Uruguay, public opinion on the drug policy reform is divided in Guatemala. According to an April 2012 Prodatos poll, roughly half of all Guatemalans surveyed are against decriminalizing drugs.

News Briefs
  • The Miami Herald reports that human rights groups in the Dominican Republic have announced plans to protest last week’s court ruling which effectively stripped thousands of individuals of Haitian descent of Dominican citizenship. In a press conference yesterday members of the group, which advocates for the rights of Haitian-descended Dominicans, said they would appeal the decision to international organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Meanwhile, Haiti has recalled its ambassador to the Dominican Republic for consultation over how to further respond to the ruling.
  •  A judge in Ecuador has initiated a trial against ten top police and military officials, accused of ordering the torture of members of an armed opposition movement in 1985. As the BBC and El Comercio report, it is the first case involving crimes against humanity to be initiated in Ecuador’s history.
  • After only a few hours of deliberation, a California jury yesterday convicted a former Guatemalan soldier of lying about his military past and alleged participation in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre  in order to obtain U.S. citizenship. He will be sentenced in December, and faces as many as 15 years in jail for the crime, as well as the loss of his citizenship. Authorities in Guatemala have expressed interest in his extradition, so he can be tried for his role in the Dos Erres killings.
  • Following Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s Monday announcement that three U.S. diplomats would be expelled from the country for allegedly encouraging economic “sabotage,” the Venezuelan government released a video yesterday which shows images of the diplomats meeting with opposition figures, set to ominous background music. In response to their expulsion, the U.S. ordered three Venezuelan diplomats, including Venezuelan charge d'affaires Calixto Ortega Rios, to leave the country in 48 hours. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas also published a statement vigorously denying that its representatives had committed any wrongdoing. The L.A. Times described the expulsion of the U.S. diplomats as “another sign of the increasingly dire problems Venezuela’s government faces and the extreme measures [Maduro] is taking to try to divert supporters’ attention from them.”
  • Today’s New York Times features a critical take on the Maduro administration, profiling dissatisfaction with the president in Venezuela among Chavistas who view him as a poor substitute for his deceased predecessor, with far less political acumen.
  • The list of criminal allegations against officials close to former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe keeps growing. On Monday, authorities arrested former security chief Flavio Buitrago, who has been charged with illicit enrichment. The AP notes that Buitrago is the second security chief of the Uribe administration to face criminal charges. The first is Mauricio Santoyo, who is currently imprisoned in the U.S. on drug charges and links to paramilitary groups.
  • Yesterday Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that his proposal to hold a national referendum on an eventual peace deal with FARC rebels would have to be negotiated with the guerrilla group, Caracol Radio reports. Previously the FARC have rejected a referendum, insisting that the peace process include a constituent assembly to alter the constitution instead.
  • Brazilian indigenous groups have begun a weeklong series of demonstrations demanding that the federal government respect their territorial claims, with close to a thousand participating in protests in Brasilia against a constitutional reform that would involve lawmakers in the demarcation of indigenous land.  According to a report released by the Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples (CIMI) cited by the AFP, violence against indigenous communities linked to land disputes increased last year, with 54 Indians killed in 2012.
  • Reuters reports on backlash to the Brazilian government’s announced plans to force tech companies to store data domestically in order to limit U.S. spying capabilities in the country. Industry analysts and executives say the real security benefits of such a move would be limited, and argue that it will only serve to dissuade investment in the technology sector in the long run.
  • The L.A. Times looks at the Mexican government’s scaled-back projections for economic growth this year, which have fallen from 3.5 to 1.8 percent. Officials blame the drop on sluggish economic recovery in the United States, and say that the recent storms have taken a further toll, damaging key infrastructure.
  • In keeping with his pro-market business background and campaign promises to shake up Paraguay’s government, newly-elected Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes is slashing government jobs in the country. Saying it lacks the necessary funds to pay all of its 258,000 public employees, the AP reports that his administration has fired 4,000 people and will eliminate another 15,000 government jobs by December.

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