Tag: latin america

Reefer Madness Here and Abroad

In the New York Times, Ethan Nadelmann takes aim at the “reefer madness” of the Obama administration, which despite promises and expectations has stepped up the war on marijuana:

But over the past year, federal authorities appear to have done everything in their power to undermine state and local regulation of medical marijuana and to create uncertainty, fear and confusion among those in the industry. The president needs to reassert himself to ensure that his original policy is implemented.

The Treasury Department has forced banks to close accounts of medical marijuana businesses operating legally under state law. The Internal Revenue Service has required dispensary owners to pay punitive taxes required of no other businesses. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives recently ruled that state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients can not purchase firearms.

United States attorneys have also sent letters to local officials, coinciding with the adoption or implementation of state medical marijuana regulatory legislation, stressing their authority to prosecute all marijuana offenses. Prosecutors have threatened to seize the property of landlords and put them behind bars for renting to marijuana dispensaries. The United States attorney in San Diego, Laura E. Duffy, has promised to start targeting media outlets that run dispensaries’ ads.

President Obama has not publicly announced a shift in his views on medical marijuana, but his administration seems to be declaring one by fiat.

As bad as the drug war is in the United States, it’s wreaking far more havoc in Mexico and Latin America. That’s why the Cato Institute is holding an all-day conference next week, “Ending the War on Drugs,” featuring:

  • the former president of Brazil
  • the former drug czar of India
  • the former foreign minister of Mexico
  • the author of Cato’s study on decriminalization in Portugal
  • the Speaker of the House in Uruguay
  • plus video presentations by former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Check it out. And be there November 15.

Rafael Correa’s Flat in Belgium

It is traditional for a Latin American nationalist to criticize people who take their money out of their country and invest it somewhere else. President Rafael Correa has done it several times. In 2009 he forced private banks to repatriate part of their assets.

What is unusual is finding evidence that he who preaches does not necessarily practice what he preaches. Last week, Ecuadorians were surprised to hear the news—with our tax authority (Servicio de Rentas Internas–SRI) and then the presidency as a source—that Correa had transferred $330,000 to his bank account in Germany. The President then clarified (“…don’t be stupid, the money was sent to Belgium not Germany”) [in Spanish] that the money was transferred to pay for an apartment for his family in Belgium, given that his children may pursue studies in that country.

But the story did not end there. Earlier this week, the director of the SRI, Carlos Marx Carrasco, announced [in Spanish] that he will publish a list of all citizens that have taken money out of the country with the amount they have paid in taxes for doing so (currently there is a 2% tax on all transactions that imply taking money out of Ecuador). Marx Carrasco said that this has to be done “so that the citizens can see (the behavior) of those who represent El Universo, Diario Hoy, El Comercio and all media, who with human misery have allowed themselves to question (what the president has done)”.

This is how, those who concentrate political power in Ecuador, use information collected for the purpose of charging taxes to take reprisals.

Obama’s Latin America Trip

President Obama’s trip to Latin America is likely to focus on economic topics, but two security issues deserve scrutiny during his stops in Brazil and El Salvador. 

Washington’s diplomatic relationship with Brazil has become somewhat frosty, especially over the past year.  U.S. leaders did not appreciate Brazil’s joint effort with Turkey to craft a compromise policy toward Iran’s nuclear program.  The Obama administration regarded that diplomatic initiative as unhelpful freelancing.  And when Brazil joined Turkey in voting against a UN Security Council resolution imposing stronger sanctions on Tehran, the administration’s resentment deepened.  Obama should not only try to soothe tensions, he should shift Washington’s policy, express appreciation for Brazil’s innovative efforts to end the impasse on the Iranian nuclear issue, and consider whether the milder approach that the Turkish and Brazilian governments advocate has merit.

In El Salvador, worries about Mexico’s spreading drug-related violence into Central America are likely to come up.  El Salvador and other Central American countries are seeking a bigger slice of Washington’s anti-drug aid in the multi-billion-dollar, multiyear Merida Initiative.  President Obama should not only resist such blandishments, he should use the visit to announce a policy shift away from a strict prohibitionist strategy that has filled the coffers of the Mexican drug cartels and sowed so much violence in Mexico, and now increasingly in Central America as well.  Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol and it’s not working any better with currently illegal drugs.

Brazil’s Drug Czar: Let’s Look at Portugal’s Experience with Decriminalization

In yesterday’s Brazilian daily, O Globo, Pedro Abramovay, the drug czar of the new Brazilian administration, said that Portugal’s experience with drug decriminalization should be considered as an alternative to Brazil’s current anti-narcotics policy. This comes on top of Rio Governor Sergio Cabral’s call for drug legalization and of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s criticism, along with other prominent Latin Americans, of drug prohibition. By officially weighing in on the side of harm reduction, Latin America’s giant can have a significant effect on the debate over this hemisphere’s drug war.

Let’s Open a Wireless Window to Cuba

Three of the world’s largest companies involved in wireless telecommunications—Nokia, AT&T, and Verizon—this week asked the Obama administration to further loosen the U.S. embargo against Cuba. According to a Bloomberg News story this morning:

Nokia, the world’s biggest mobile-phone maker, is urging the U.S. to ease its 47-year-old trade embargo so it can sell handsets to Cuba. AT&T and Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless providers, urged regulators to make it easier for U.S. companies to directly connect calls to and from Cuba.

The almost half-century-old embargo no longer serves any legitimate national security purpose, as I’ve argued before. The remaining restrictions on providing wireless communication services only demonstrate how the embargo actually undermines our stated goal of bringing more freedom to the long-suffering people of Cuba.

To President Obama’s credit, he has done more than most presidents to ease the embargo, including modest steps such as easing travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans and authorizing telecommunications firms to offer limited service in Cuba. In practice, however, President Obama’s efforts have had little effect, and they have not gone far enough.

If the basis of current U.S. policy toward Cuba is democratic empowerment of its people, then removing telecommunications restrictions would be a logical and healthy next step. According to the Bloomberg story, Cuba still has the lowest mobile-phone penetration rate in Latin America. What better way to empower nearly eleven and a half million people than by easing restrictions on their communications with free residents of the democratic United States?

President Obama himself argued in a White House statement in April 2009 that two of the best ways to promote Cuban democratization were by “facilitating greater contact between separated family members in the United States and Cuba” and “increasing the flow of … information to the Cuban people.”

Here is an opportunity to translate those sound words into action.

‘Border Enforcement’ Bill Driven by Election-Year Politics

A $600-million bill to enhance border enforcement has hit a temporary snag in the Senate, but it is almost inevitable, with an election only a few months away, that Congress and the president will spend yet more money trying to enforce our unworkable immigration laws.

“Getting control of the border” is the buzz phrase of the day for politicians in both parties, from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. Never mind that apprehensions are down sharply along our Southwest border with Mexico, mostly I suspect because of the lack of robust job creation in the unstimulated Obama economy.

Meanwhile, since the early 1990s, spending on border enforcement has increased more than 700 percent, and the number of agents along the border has increased five-fold, from 3,500 to more than 17.000. (See pages 3-4 of a January 2010 report from the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center.) Yet the population of illegal immigrants in America tripled during that period. If this were a federal education program, conservatives would rightly accuse the big spenders of merely throwing more money at a problem without result.

To pay for this politically driven expenditure, Congress plans to nearly double fees charged for H1-B and L visas used by foreign high-tech firms to staff their operations in the United States. The increased visa tax will fall especially hard on companies such as the Indian high-tech leaders Wipro, Infosys, and Tata.

This all has the ring of election-year populism. Congress pretends to move us closer to solving the problem of illegal immigrants entering from Latin America by raising barriers to skilled professionals coming to the United States from India and elsewhere to help us maintain our edge in competitive global technology markets.

Argentina Sets an Example of Equality Before the Law for Latin America

Nowadays, it’s hard to find an instance where Argentina sets a positive example for the rest of Latin America. However, last night’s vote in that country’s Senate that legalizes same-sex marriages must be praised as that. Argentina has now become the first country in Latin America to recognize marriage equality for all couples.

The fight for marriage equality is just beginning in Latin America. Outside of Argentina, only Mexico City grants gay couples the right to marriage. Uruguay has granted civil union rights to same-sex couples since 2008, and last year in Colombia the Constitutional Court ruled that same-sex couples can be recognized as de facto unions, which enjoy all the rights of marriage. In December, Costa Rica might hold a referendum on this issue. While the referendum is promoted by opponents of gay civil unions, the vote could end up in a big upset victory for the gay community.

Latin America, with its deep-seated conservative Catholic tradition, is not fertile soil for the cause of gay equality. That is one more reason to applaud last night’s brave vote in Buenos Aires.