Monday, February 17, 2014

Mexico City’s Marijuana Bill Hits Stumbling Block

Just after the bill to relax Mexico City’s marijuana laws was presented to the local legislature, its future seems dim. The Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) lawmakers who sponsored the initiative do not appear to have the full support of their party’s controlling majority, raising doubts about the ambitious legislation’s chances of passing.

On Friday, El Universal reported that 25 of the 34 PRD legislators in Mexico City’s Legislative Assembly made it known that they would not support the bill, including members of both of the party’s two currents, the New Left and the National Democratic Left (IDN). Ariadna Montiel, head of the IDN caucus of Mexico City legislators, told the paper she and her colleagues would refrain from supporting the measure out of concern that it would drive up consumption of the drug.

According to Reforma, 10 lawmakers of the New Left and three aligned with Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera signed a statement on Friday asserting that the bill was “not a priority for the assembly and much less for Mexico City,” pointing to other issues like employment, insecurity and public transportation.

This opposition to the bill may not have entirely cemented, however. Yesterday Esthela Damian, one of the bill’s sponsors, announced that the leader of the PRD’s New Left, Jesus Ortega, had endorsed the marijuana initiative and was urging members of his faction to do so as well.

A preliminary count conducted by El Universal last week suggests that it has the definite backing of 11 local lawmakers in the city. Even if Ortega’s support brings in the backing of the10 dissident New Left lawmakers, it is unclear whether the bill has the 34 votes it needs to pass.

News Briefs
  • Colombia’s Semana has dropped yet another bombshell related to shady elements within the country’s armed forces. On Sunday, the magazine published an investigation detailing a corruption ring led by senior members of the armed forces. According to hundreds of hours of recordings obtained by the report’s authors, military higher-ups skimmed money from defense contracts. In some cases, money was distributed to low-ranking soldiers imprisoned in connection to the “false positives” scandal, whose families received payment in exchange for their silence about involvement of their superiors. Semana maintains that it had access to conversations about the payment scheme between an imprisoned colonel and the head of Colombia's armed forces, Gen. Leonardo Barrero. As El Espectador reports, President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an investigation into the allegations, calling them “very serious.”
  • Last night, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the expulsion of three U.S. consular officials Caracas, accusing them of meeting with students involved in the recent wave of protests in the country. While Maduro did not identify the officials by name, he said they had been meeting with students in recent months to offer them visas, El Universal reports.  The president also said that he had received pressure from Washington not to arrest opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, or risk “negative consequences.”
  • Meanwhile, Lopez continues to evade authorities despite a warrant out for his arrest. On Saturday evening, Venezuelan police searched the home of Lopez’s parents to no avail, as Lopez continued to criticize the Maduro administration via his Twitter page. As El Nacional reports, Lopez has convened a march on government offices on Tuesday, in which he says he will participate and petition the government to investigate recent violence, crack down on the Chavista colectivos and free those arrested during the protests.
  • Moises Naim, a senior associate of the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has an interesting take on the Pacific Alliance for The Atlantic. The Alliance, Naim claims, is the most promising economic blog in the region, which he describes as “burdened by a heavy load of institutional debris accumulated over decades of speeches and summits.” He also points to three primary conditions which led to its emergence: Brazil’s efforts to solidify itself as a major geopolitical player, Venezuela's growing regional influence, and declining U.S. engagement in the region.
  • While Guatemalan President Otto Perez has pointed to a 10-year low in his country’s homicide rate as proof that his security policies have made an impact, an analysis by news site Plaza Publica questions this narrative. Official data shows that murders began falling dramatically in 2009 under the previous president, a trend which has actually slowed since Perez took office.
  • As Brazil faces its worse in decades, Folha de S. Paulo reported on Saturday that 142 cities in 11 states in the country had implemented water rationing. As the AP notes, São Paulo’s water utility has said that the city’s largest water supply system is facing a “critical” shortage, as the city registered the lowest amount rainfall in 84 years in December-January. Earlier this month, officials said it risked running dry in March if it did not rain.
  • Uruguayan magazine Voces has an interesting in-depth interview with Diego Canepa, chief of staff of President Jose Mujica and a rising political star in the country. Particularly interesting is Canepa’s assessment of Uruguay’s political spectrum, which he characterizes as marked by “conservatives on the left” who have opposed recent liberal reforms, like the legalization of gay marriage and marijuana regulation.
  • The New York Times profiles the economic success of Bolivia, noting that the administration President Evo Morales have been praised by some of the very international financial institutions that he has criticized in fiery speeches. As the NYT notes, both the IMF and World Bank have applauded his approach to macroeconomic policies as “prudent.” However, as Jeffery R. Webber detailed recently for Jacobin Magazine, these same policies have cost Morales and his party significant support among the country’s left-wing intelligentsia.
  • The International Drug Policy Consortium has released a policy paper on the practice of forced drug addiction treatment in Latin America. The briefing highlights criticism of both the ethics and efficiency of compulsory treatment, noting that in March 2012, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime joined 11 other UN institutions in condemning forced treatment, calling for the closure of drug detention centers “without delay.” Despite this, compulsory drug treatment remains popular in the region, with Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay and Mexico either implementing the practice or considering doing so.