Archive for the ‘Drugs and the Drug Trade in the Americas’ Category

Around Latin America

December 4, 2013 Comments off

-Peru has launched its biggest exhumation ever, as it tries to find victims from the violence between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state between 1980 and 2000.

-Peru is not the only country exhuming victims of violence. In an attempt to find two missing police officers, forensic scientists in Mexico got more than they expected when their search led to the discovery of 64 bodies buried in mass graves in Jalisco and Michoacán, with the bodies showing signs of torture and indicating they are the victims of ongoing violence between cartels. In spite of the discovery, the two police officers remain missing.

-In the wake of a close election and allegations of electoral fraud, Honduras will hold a recount after thousands took to the streets in support of Xiomara Castro, who allegedly lost the election to conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez (who got 37% of the total vote)  and whose husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was removed from office in a coup d’etat in 2009. The recount comes amidst outsiders’ observations allegations of chicanery and after Honduras’s electoral council was very slow to issue the data from the November 24 election, adding to suspicions of fraud.

-Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral announced that he will leave office 9 months early after seeing his popularity plummet in the midst and wake of protests last June, when millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest a number of causes, including political elites’ disconnect and corruption. Cabral himself became a particular target of that anger in Rio de Janeiro.

-The bad news for governors is not limited to Brazil. In Mexico, former governor of Tamaulipas Tomás Yarrington faces charges in the US of having ties to the drug cartels while he was in office during his 1999-2004 governorship.

-Costa Rica closed a probe into the 1984 bombing that killed 7 journalists and Nicaraguan Contras and wounded 20 more people, after forensics revealed that the attacker died in the late-1980s.

-Mexico’s Senate has approved electoral reform that would allow reelection and would strengthen Congressional power in the face of executive power even while approving President Enrique Peña’s efforts to increasingly privatize the state-run PEMEX oil company in Mexico.

-Francisco Flores, the former president of El Salvador for the conservative ARENA party, is under investigation for the misuse of upwards of $10 million that Taiwan donated to El Salvador during his presidency, money that apparently never made it to its intended institutional destinations.

-Finally, in Brazil, Guaraní indigenous leader Ambrosio Vilhava, whose struggle to help protect Guaraní land was documented in the 2008 film Birdwatchers, was found stabbed to death after his father-in-law allegedly killed him. While the circumstances around his death remain unclear, the fact remains that his death marks the loss of an important activist and leader in Brazilian indigenous mobilization.

Around Latin America

May 30, 2013 Comments off

-Two former executives from Ford in Argentina have been charged (among other things) with having ties to the abduction of 24 workers for Ford during the military regime of 1976-1983.

-El Salvador’s presidential election is shaping up to be a close three-way race, according to new polls.

-Mexico’s government says it will release a report that finds the number of disappeared in Mexico is “much lower” than an initial report that claimed that tens of thousands have been disappeared as part of the violence that has defined part of the drug trade in Mexico. Nonetheless, Mexico’s government has created a special unit to investigate and try to track down the fates of the tens of thousands of “disappeared” caught up in the drug trade and violence in Mexico.

-In what is perhaps curious timing, even while Efraín Ríos Montt’s conviction for genocide has been annulled, former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo was extradited to the US, where he will face charges of corruption and money laundering. As Mike Allison points out, the trial in the US provides another reminder that, although Guatemala’s courts are not as corrupt as they once were, they still have a long way to go, a fact that the recent decision on Ríos Montt all too tragically demonstrated.

-Speaking of institutional failures and undoing justice, a Brazilian court has overturned the 2010 conviction of landowner Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura for his role in the murder of land activist Dorothy Stang in 2005. It is the second time a conviction of Bastos de Moura has been overturned, though he will remain in jail while a third trial takes place. Meanwhile, three other, poorer men hired to murder Stang remain in prison without having access to multiple trials and a court system favorable to their cause the way it is to the wealthier and more powerful Bastos de Moura.

-Chile has fined Canadian mining company Barrick Gold and suspended all operations at the Pascua-Lama mine after environmental degradation, water contamination, and other environmental issues. Though seemingly large, the fine represents only %0.1 of the cost of operating the mine.

-Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes is facing criticism for his inability to deal with criticisms after he punched a man in the face while out to dinner last Saturday.

-Following the footsteps of gangs in El Salvador, the MS-13 and Calle 18 gangs in Honduras have agreed to a truce that may reduce (but won’t eliminate) all gang violence and rivalries.

-Ten years since the rise of “Kirchnerism” in Argentina, poverty has declined, though to what degree and by what metrics are apparently up for debate.

-Efforts to reforest and aid the environment in Latin America have slowed to a crawl, caught in bureaucratic red tape, political fear of social movements, and a slowness (or unwillingness) of governments to help environmental causes in the region.

-Digital currency business owner Arthur Budovsky, whose company, Liberty Reserve, operates in Costa Rica, was arrested in Spain this week on charges of money laundering.

Colombian Smugglers Caught [Insert Bad Pun about “Habits” Here]

May 8, 2013 Comments off

It seems probable that, as a security agent at an airport, you’re used to seeing all kinds of outfits, including some that you see regularly – businessmen, troops deploying, religious figures, to the point where you could spot a fake outfit from a real one. Which is probably why this news is not terribly surprising:

Three women dressed like nuns have been arrested at a Colombian airport allegedly smuggling drugs.

Police said the women, aged 20, 32 and 37 had two kilos (4.4lb) of cocaine each strapped to their bodies.

Officers said they became suspicious because the women “didn’t look like nuns” and their habits “didn’t look right”.

Though the story comes off as a rather light tale for something revolving around drug trade (and the very serious impact on the women arrested), it masks the tragic realities behind the drug trade. All three women said they’d turned to smuggling due to “financial hardship,” and now face probable prison sentences. Of course, the fact that they were traveling to a popular island resort is a reminder that the demand among the wealthy for drugs contributes to the drug trade even while it ensnares those who face financial hardship. And though these three women were caught, it probably has barely put a dint in the availability of drugs on the island itself, so that the tourists will be able to turn to recreational drug use while these women go to jail. Behind the seemingly-mildly amusing story is yet another tragic reminder on the ways in which the drug trade both reflects and reinforces broader socioeconomic inequalities in Latin America.

Security In Latin America

January 28, 2013 Comments off

Just the Facts has an excellent breakdown on security in Latin America in a variety of areas. Among the numbers:

  • Only one in every 300 guns circulating in Mexico is legal and documented.
  • Bolivia is spending $35-40 million US dollars on anti-drug programs this year, providing a reminder that coca legalization and anti-drug measurements are separate matters.
  • Landmines killed 13 children in Colombia last year.
  • Cuba has 90 political prisoners, up from 45 just 9 months ago.
  • 168 explosive devices have detonated since 2005.

As they say, read the whole thing here.

Preemptively Predicting the Challenges Facing a Drug-Treatment Program

January 21, 2013 Comments off

Historians often are uncomfortable predicting future events; just because a familiarity with the past helps understand possible outcomes going forward does not mean we’re comfortable picking just one of those (usually many) possibilities. That said, I feel confident in suggesting that São Paulo city’s new efforts to force crack addicts into mandatory treatment is going to immediately run into problems. Why can I be so certain?

Because a city of 11+ million people facing a crack “epidemic” has only 700 spaces available for treatment in a country with an estimated 1.2 million crack users nationwide, with many of them in cities like São Paulo, where the use is so widespread that part of the city has become known as “Cracolandia” (“Crackland”). If the problem is widespread enough to prompt the government to conduct sweeps to gather up crack users (sweeps that left a 10-year-old dead two weeks ago), I suspect the 700 spaces for treatment will fill up long before addicts are off the streets (to say nothing of the limits of state power in these types of actions).

Around Latin America

January 15, 2013 Comments off

-In Mexico, families of some of the more than 20,000 people missing due to drug violence or other causes asked the federal government to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the issue.

-As the FARC announced that its ceasefire will end on January 20, Colombian negotiators have called on the FARC to speed up the process towards peace.

-Three years after the catastrophic Haitian earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and devastated the national capital of Port-Au-Prince, Haitian President Michel Martelly said only one-third of the international aid pledged to the country in the wake of the quake had actually arrived.

-A few stories of note on indigenous peoples throughout the hemisphere:

-New relaxed travel rules went into effect in Cuba yesterday. Among other things, the new regulations increase from 11 months to 24 months the time people are allowed to live outside of Cuba before losing their citizenship, allowing people to travel from Cuba longer and perhaps creating new networks of emigres with ties to their home country.

-Nearly one year into his term, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina shook up his cabinet, including closing down the National Peace Fund, saying the department, designed to aid the poor, had become inefficient and corrupt and announcing vague plans to create a new organization under the Ministry of Social Development.

-Nearly 700 Afro-Colombians caught in the middle of violence between paramilitary groups and alleged “gangs” in the Chocó region have been forced to relocate in order to avoid violence, joining the nearly 3.9 million other displaced persons, one of the highest rates in the world (ahead of places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and Syria).

-The United Nations has awarded the International José Martí Prize to Brazilian activist Frei Betto. Frei Betto, born Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo, has spent decades fighting for human rights, equality, and justice in Brazil, and who was an important figure in resisting military rule in Brazil during the regime of 1964-1985.

-Women in Costa Rica staged a breastfeeding sit-in protest in a mall after a woman shopping there had been asked to stop nursing her child earlier in the week.

Coca Leaves No Longer An Illegal Drug, Says UN

January 12, 2013 Comments off

Well, this is something:

Traditional uses of the coca leaf in Bolivia will no longer be considered illegal under a United Nations antidrug convention, the organization said Friday. Coca is the plant used to make cocaine, but many people in Bolivia, which has a majority indigenous population, chew it as a mild stimulant, a use that has continued since pre-Colombian times. Bolivians also use the plant as a tea, in medicines and in religious or social rituals.

Of course, the move was not without opposition:

The country’s condition for rejoining the convention met resistance from 15 countries, including the United States and the rest of the G8 group of industrial nations, according to UN spokeswoman Arancha Hinojal. But the objections received by the United Nations ahead of Thursday’s midnight deadline fell far short. In order to block Bolivia’s return to the convention a full third of its signatories – or 63 – needed to object.

This isn’t surprising, but is yet one more reminder of the myriad ways that the US’s (and other so-called “developed” countries’) attitudes towards the drug trade are absurdly simplistic and flawed, putting all the blame on the growth of a plant without considering the industrial processes needed to create a drug, the issues of demand in the US, the ties of drug lords to governments and presidents that received the US’s support, or the importance of treating addiction within its own borders, to say nothing of allowing large western banks make so much money laundering illegal drug money and face only small penalties for clearly aiding the drug trade just because they are allegedly “too big to jail.”

Quite simply, blaming the coca leaf for all the ills of the drug trade is counterproductive, and the UN’s decision to revoke its illegal status within the borders of Bolivia is an important, if small, step in dealing with the issue of coca and drugs in a more nuanced fashion. In its natural state, the coca leaf is about as dangerous as the coffee bean, and has very real historical, cultural, and religious significance to many people in the Andean highlands in Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina. It’s really hard to see how legalizing it in Bolivia is going to lead to some explosion in cocaine production – after all, Bolivia is far behind either Peru or Colombia in terms of cocaine production, and the coca leaf is illegal in those countries still. This is not to say legalizing the leaf (and the subsequent market in the leaf) in Bolivia will lead to a reduction in cocaine use in the world – there is the whole demand side of the equation in the US and Europe, after all – but given that declaring it is illegal in one country has done nothing to stop the cocaine trade or cocaine use even while it has impinged upon indigenous cultural and ceremonial practices in South America, it’s hard to see the UN’s move as some disaster.


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