An international showdown between the US and Bolivia has officially begun. The matter under dispute: whether or not an international ban on coca-leaf chewing should be pulled from the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. In a letter which has now been filed with the United Nations, the United States has made official its opposition to the Bolivia-backed proposal that would end international prohibition of the coca-leaf. US officials say the Bolivian amendment would, in the AP’s words, “weaken the integrity” of a decades old convention. The Guardian says US counternarcotics officials also believe that ending the ban on coca-chewing would “undermine the ‘war on drugs.’” As reported this morning, the US now says it hopes other countries will follow its lead by filing their own objections to the Bolivian proposal.
Filing remains open until January 31. If there had been no formal objections, Bolivia’s amendment would have been approved automatically.
For its part, the Bolivian government has gone on the offensive to counter US-led objections. BBC reports that foreign minister David Choquehuanca is traveling across Europe this week to rally support for the Bolivian initiative. The British news service says Spain has already said it backs the government of Evo Morales, even offering to “mediate with other European countries thought to be considering an objection.”
Interestingly, two countries which had previously objected to the Bolivian amendment – Colombia and Macedonia – decided in recent days to remove their objections, just as the US prepared to file its own.
Back in Bolivia meanwhile, the BBC says Bolivians officially launched the latest product aimed at “industrializing” the coca leaf and “providing a market for growers so their crops do not end up being made into illegal cocaine.” Coming to grocery stores around Bolivia shortly: Coca Brynco – a “fizzy soft drink” made with coca leaf extract and produced by a Bolivian company. On this matter, CNN adds that should Bolivia’s amendment be accepted, it would not only be of historic cultural significance, but so too could be economically significant as more coca products enter regional and world markets – among them energy drinks, flour and even toothpaste produced from coca leaves.
More support for the Bolivian amendment from drug policy reform advocates at the Washington Office on Latin America and the Transnational Institute. WOLA senior fellow Coletta Youngers, who writes on the subject at Foreign Policy in Focus, says, “Countries opposing the elimination of the international ban on coca chewing will surely strain their relations with Bolivia.” Opposition may even threaten relations with Latin America more broadly. As WOLA and TNI note, UNASUR expressed its support for the Bolivian proposal in the Presidential Declaration of Quito signed in August 2009.
Kathryn Ledebur of the Cochabamba-based Andean Information Network with the final word on the Bolivian amendment, and US opposition to it. Both bakers and residents of the United States’ most populous state should be concerned:
“If the UN maintains the ban, poppies should be prohibited next. ‘Scientific’ data similar to arguments used to ban the coca leaf highlight the dangers of the California state flower.”
As Ledebur rightly points out, that "data" comes from the “Wicked Witch of the West” who declared the following, I believe for the first time in 1939:
“[No]w, my beauties, something with poison in it, I think. With poison in it, but attractive to the eye, and soothing to the smell. [cackles]: Poppies... Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleeeeep. Now they'll sleeeeep!”
To other stories:
· Updating the Baby Doc saga in Haiti which enters its today enters day four. We begin with the LA Times which notes there has still been no formal explanation for the former dictator’s surprise return to the Haitian capital Sunday night. Is the 59-year-old sick and back home to spend his final weeks? Is he seeking to recover his pilfered riches, which according to the paper, could be returned to the Haitian government from Switzerland on Feb. 1? Or might he be in town to in some way influence a lingering electoral crisis? While there’s been no word from Jean-Claude Duvalier himself on any of this speculation, there are reports this morning that JCD’s lawyer says the former leader retains presidential ambitions. Speaking to Al-Jazeera Tuesday, Reynold Georges alleges that his client remains a “political man” and that “every political man has political ambition.” When pressed further by Al-Jazeera’s Seb Walker about whether that meant returning to power, Georges’s response: “That is right,” followed by talk of how the Haitian constitution would allow the once “president-for-life” to serve a second term in office. [The constitution allows two terms in office and Georges says his first 15 year reign constituted “one term”]. AFP continues the reporting, writing that Duvalier confidant and former Haitian ambassador to France, Henry Robert Sterlin said Tuesday that Nov. 28 elections must be annulled and new elections which allow Duvalier to run must soon thereafter occur. Sterlin’s concluding, shiver-inducing words: After that “Bingo, Duvalier would be re-elected.” As Reuters and the Miami Herald report, official criminal complaints against JCD were filed by at least three victims of Baby Doc’s reign of terror on Wednesday. The accusations include charges of “crimes against humanity” and torture.
· The other major news from Haiti Wednesday, a new public statement from longtime Duvalier opponent and former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, still in exile in South Africa. The AP: “Haitians adjusting to the sudden return of one exiled ex-president could soon have another on their hands,” although the reasons for Aristide’s possible return were yet unclear – as is the question of how Aristide would return without a passport, something the Preval government has refused to re-issue to his ex-ally. Aristide, in his own words:
“The purpose is very clear: To contribute to serving my Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.”
He also says his health requires him to leave South Africa before the South African winter begins. Aristide:
“The return is indispensable, too, for medical reasons: It is strongly recommended that I not spend the coming winter in South Africa’s because in 6 years I have undergone 6 eye surgeries. The surgeons are excellent and very well skilled, but the unbearable pain experienced in the winter must be avoided in order to reduce any risk of further complications and blindness.”
· TIME interviews former Mexican President Vicente Fox who reiterates his desire for what the magazine calls “full-on legalization of production, transit and selling of prohibited drugs.” He’s most explicit about marijuana, according to TIME’s Ioan Grillo, but now argues the legalization principle should be expanded to all illegal drugs. Fox on his newfound libertarianism:
“Prohibition didn't work in the Garden of Eden. Adam ate the apple. We have to take all the production chain out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of producers — so there are farmers that produce marijuana and manufacturers that process it and distributors that distribute it, and shops that sell it... I don't want to say that legalizing means that drugs are good. They are not good but bad for your health and you shouldn't take them. But ultimately, this responsibility is with citizen.”
· Demonstrating the failures of the “war on drugs/war on drug cartels” model, Reuters with a long report on the Sinaloa cartel – the drug “empire” which, according to the piece has become the Americas “most powerful crime gang,” despite a “multi-billion dollar US-Mexico crackdown.”
· AFP with more on regional migration talks between Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador. According to the news agency, the three Central American countries have strongly rejected statements from Mexico’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Ruben Beltran Guerrero who said last week that crimes against migrants have their “origins in Central America.”
· The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released a new statement criticizing both the special decree powers granted to President Hugo Chavez and the “Law for Defense of Political Sovereignty and National Self-Determination” passed by the outgoing Assembly in late December. While calling President Chavez’s recent statement about reducing the mandate of the “Enabling Law” from eighteen to five months a “positive step,” the DC-based rights organization criticizes the terms of the law which remain in “very broad terms” and extend “beyond the problems created by [December] flooding.” Somewhat interestingly, WOLA’s conclusion is for civil society and international governments to learn from the lessons of the United States’ failed Cuba policy. WOLA:
“The international community should be mindful of the lessons of the U.S. government's failed policy towards Cuba: unilateral policies of total non-engagement do nothing to improve human rights or to promote democratization. Instead, they can make the situation worse, intensifying an already polarized climate.”
· On Cuba-Venezuela relations, the AP on the official beginning to the project of laying a fiber-optic cable along the ocean floor between the two countries, dramatically improving internet and telephone services on the island.
· The Wall Street Journal says deaths caused by devastating floods in Brazil could top 1000.
· Bolivia’s El Deber reports that Luis Arce Gomez, ex-Interior Minister to dictator Luis Garcia Meza in 1980, says the country’s military archives hold all the information about persons disappeared under Garcia Meza’s watch.
· Haiti/Duvalier analysis and opinions from the New York Times, Elizabeth Abbot, author of Haiti: the Duvaliers and Their Legacy, at Foreign Policy, and Kim Ives on Democracy Now and at Haiti Liberte.
· And finally, the release of a major survey on public opinion Honduras, one year after the President Porfirio Lobo assumed office. The full poll, conducted by the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Publica (IUDOP) at the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeon Canhas, should be available via Google Docs here (if not accessible, please let me know). Two highlights of which there are many more: 2/3 of Honduras today view the expulsion of Manuel Zelaya as a “coup d’etat” and a majority of Hondurans now support holding a national constituent assembly.