Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Uruguay Takes on International Critics of Marijuana Regulation

The government of Uruguay is once again engaged in a dispute with United Nations officials over recent criticism of its marijuana regulation initiative, insisting that the law is a well-reasoned approach to dealing with illicit demand for the drug.

On Monday, the UN anti-drugs chief indicated disagreement with Uruguay’s law and marijuana legalization in general. In remarks to the press in Vienna, UN Office on Drugs and Crime Director Yury Fedotov said that while UN member states have the prerogative to make their own policies, legalization “is not a solution to the drug problem.” On Uruguay’s marijuana measure, the UNODC head remarked that it was “very hard to say that this law is fully in line with legal provisions of the drug control conventions.”

As EFE reports, these remarks come just as the UNODC is set to present a report this week recommending decriminalizing drug consumption as an effective way to address prison overcrowding and reallocate resources  to drug treatment and rehabilitation.

The irony of this was not lost on Uruguay’s National Drug Secretary, Julio Calzada, who criticized Fedotov in a Reuters interview published yesterday. “They are looking at the supply chain and [want to] leave it all prohibited but decriminalize consumption,” Calzada said. “This is going in a positive direction but we have advanced a little more, as we’ve already done this.” Marijuana use has been effectively decriminalized in Uruguay since 1974, when the military dictatorship passed a law allowing judges to use their discretion in cases where individuals possessed small amounts of drugs intended for personal use. But because marijuana sales and cultivation remained illegal, the recently-passed law was billed as a solution to this decades-old legal “contradiction.”

This exchange is only the latest in a series of confrontations between the Uruguayan government and UN drug policy officials. The most publicized of these came immediately after the law’s passage in December, when President Jose Mujica responded to International Narcotics Control Board head Raymond Yans’ lamentations that Uruguayan officials would not meet with him by saying: “Tell that guy to stop lying. Anyone can meet me in the street. He should come to Uruguay and come meet me anytime.”

More recently, Mujica again clashed with the INCB, remarking to a gathering of regional human rights lawyers last week that the treaty-monitoring body “has no idea” about the reality of drugs in his country, as El Pais reports.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that Mujica has continued to frame the law -- which will begin to go into effect in less than a month, on April 9th -- as an experiment, insisting that the government will not hesitate to back away from it should the law fail. According to the president:
"Humanity has given us a lot (...) and we have an obligation to try to do an experiment with all the levelheadedness and devotion of the creative spirit to try to find different ways to combat this scourge. If we achieve something it will be for the benefit of humanity, and if we are wrong we will have the political courage to say: ‘we were wrong.’”

News Briefs
  • With the recount still underway, electoral officials in El Salvador have yet to declare a winner in Sunday’s second round presidential election. The recount is set to be completed by Thursday at the latest but the head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Eugenio Chicas, has already said that FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren’s narrow win is “irreversible.”  Sanchez Ceren, meanwhile, has called on his ARENA counterparts to sit with him and dialogue to “build a national agenda” together, El Faro reports.
  • The violence in Venezuela has claimed its first foreign fatality, a 47 year-old Chilean woman who had been studying in the city of Merida. El Mostrador has a profile of the victim, who was a Chavista supporter and reportedly killed by members of the opposition after attempting to dismantle a barricade. As the AP reports, Monday night saw another death in the western city of San Cristobal. According to local press, opposition student leader Daniel Tinoco was shot in the wake of clashes between students and the National Guard, who were reportedly joined by Chavista colectivos.
  • Ina column published in today’s New York Times, journalist Rafael Osio Cabrices argues that the recent protests have no potential to produce anything resembling a “Venezuelan Spring,” and instead have been used by officials to justify more repressive measures against the opposition and further deterioration of democratic norms.
  • The Washington Post looks at a rising star of Venezuela’s opposition student movement: Juan Requensens. The 24-year-old has become a central figure in the recent unrest, with both the government and establishment opposition leaders looking to him as the main speaker for the protesting students. So far he has refused invitations to attend peace talks hosted by the government, insisting that officials free political prisoners first.  
  • Chile’s Michelle Bachelet takes office today after holding two dozen private meetings with visiting foreign ministers and heads of state yesterday, La Tercera reports. While Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had initially been slated to attend her inauguration, he allegedly backed out at the last minute, and the Venezuelan delegation will instead be headed by Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.
  • Outgoing Chilean President Sebastian Piñera sparked controversy this week after El Mostrador reported that he issued a presidential decree in January which altered regulations on access to information, in effect authorizing officials in his administration to delete internal emails. When the news was made public yesterday, Piñera responded by saying that only “personal” emails had been deleted, and that official communications would be kept on record.
  • The heads of the Caribbean Community regional bloc have unanimously agreed to a plan to seek reparations from European countries for the slave trade and its lingering effects. The AP has the details of the plan, which seeks debt forgiveness and development aid as well as funding for a “repatriation program” for practitioners of Rastafarianism who wish to resettle in Africa in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. However, in remarks to The Guardian, reparations task force head Sir Hilary Beckles told the paper that the press has focused too much on the material aspect of the plan, while overlooking one of its most important provisions: an unconditional apology for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
  • Despite several cabinet shakeups, as well as the appointment of the fifth prime minister of his administration, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating continues to plummet. According to El Comercio, a new survey released by pollster Datum Internacional puts his approval rating at 24 percent, its lowest point since he took office in 2011.
  • The L.A. Times has a detailed profile of recently-killed Mexican drug kingpin Nazario Moreno of the Knights Templar, who built a cult-like following as the cartel’s “spiritual leader.” Apparently the Mexican government was only recently tipped off to the possibility that a 2010 report of his death was false, following the arrest of an individual who claimed to work directly with him last month. President Enrique Peña Nieto, meanwhile, is pointing to Moreno’s death and the capture of “El Chapo” Guzman as proof of increased coordination among the various branches of his government.
  • Signs of tension are emerging between the so-called “self-defense” or autodefensa groups in Mexico’s troubled Michoacan state. As El Proceso reports, one of the most visible autodefensa leaders in the state, HIpotlito Mora has been flown in to Mexico City in an official helicopter following a clash with a rival vigilante group in the town of La Ruana. According to Animal Politico, both groups have asserted control over the town, and Mora’s rivals have restored the local mayor who had been removed from office by the vigilante chief.