It’s not just Olympic athletes who live in fear of a drug test ruining their career. Chilean politicians are being threatened with the revival of a bill that would remove politicians from public office if caught using illegal drugs.
The legislative hype began last month when Chilean Senator Fulvio Rossi admitted in an interview with Chilean newspaper La Tercera that he smokes marijuana “two or three times a month”—a revelation that shocked his colleagues and delighted a nation of thousands of cannabis users.
In spite of the threat of this new law, Rossi, a Socialist Party politician, has chosen to stand by his personal admission. What’s more, Rossi has used his confession as a launching pad for a public debate about the legal status of the drug in Chile.
On the Chilean Sunday television program Tolerancia Cero (“Zero Tolerance”), Rossi called for an “intelligent” discussion about the drug—saying that legalizing the “auto-cultivation of marijuana breaks the business of drug-trafficking,” is less harmful to one’s health than either alcohol or tobacco, and is an individual human right.
“This is private behavior that occurs in the privacy of the home and doesn’t offend public morality or harm others,” Senator Rossi, who also has a degree in medicine, said on the show. “The state can’t interfere. This is guaranteed in the Chilean constitution and in international treaties that Chile has signed.”
While opposition politicians have branded Rossi as “seriously irresponsible” for publicly admitting his consumption, other Chileans like Sebastián Binfa, Director of Revista Cáñamo (Hemp Magazine) and owner of a café in Santiago that sells cannabis-seed smoothies and other marijuana merchandise, called the act “courageous” and applauded Rossi’s attempt to “normalize the issue.”
Senator Rossi has been keen to point out that Chile “must adapt its legislation to social reality,” and has introduced a bill of his own that would decriminalize the home cultivation of marijuana for personal or therapeutic use. The proposal also suggested legalizing the transportation of small, regulated quantities of the drug.
Today and tomorrow, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will host the foreign ministers of Chile and Venezuela, Alfredo Moreno Charme and Nicolas Maduro, and Cuban Foreign Affairs Vice Minister, Rogelio Sierra. The meeting marks the first official dialogue between representatives of the 33-member Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) and the South Asian country.
According to senior foreign ministry officials, the main objective of the summit is to strength the strategic and economic relationship between India and Latin American and the Caribbean, increasing contact points despite the great geographical and cultural distances. “A meeting with the external affairs minister in this format is indicative of interest (from both sides) in raising engagement between India and the CELAC,” said India foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
Over the past decade, relations between India and Latin America and the Caribbean have continued to grow, as professor Jorge Heine and ambassador R. Viswanathan showed in their article in the Spring 2011 issue of America Quarterly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Pratibha Patil visited several countries in the region over the past four years, and 10 Latin American presidential visits to India were made between 2001 and 2011. India’s trade with CELAC increased from $2 billion in 2000-2001 to $25 billion in 2011-2012. CELAC receives about $16 billion in Indian investment, which mainly revolves around the hydrocarbon sector, information technology, pharmaceuticals, and minerals. Investment in the energy sector totals $8 billion, but further investment is likely given India’s growing energy needs.
CELAC was created on February 23, 2010, at the Rio Group–Caribbean Community Unity Summit and formally established in July 2011 at a summit in Caracas, Venezuela. It includes 33 countries in the Americas, representing roughly 600 million people, with the notable exceptions of Canada and the United States.
After being stalled in Congress for seven years, a bill formally sanctioning discrimination became law in Chile yesterday. President Sebastián Piñera urged lawmakers to speed passage of the measure after the brutal killing of gay youth Daniel Zamudio earlier this year set off a national debate about hate crimes.
The Ley Antidiscriminación, also called Ley Zamudio, imposes penalties for acts of discrimination by race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, economic status, religion, or sexual orientation. Individuals may file anti-discrimination lawsuits and a judge must issue a ruling within 90 days. Penalties range from $370 to $3,660, but may be increased in the case of injury. The law also provides for criminal sanctions against violent crimes and requires the State to develop public policies to end discrimination.
Chile is one of the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. Divorce was only recently legalized in 2004, and abortion remains illegal in all circumstances. Conservative lawmakers had stalled on the anti-discrimination legislation, which was originally proposed by President Ricardo Lagos in 2005, on the grounds that it would open the way toward legalizing same-sex marriages. However, after 24-year-old Zamudio suffered fatal injuries from a brutal hate crime, the local and international community and President Piñera moved quickly to enact it. The bill was approved by a majority in both houses of Congress.
“Thanks to Daniel’s sacrifice, today we have a new law that…will enable us to confront, prevent and punish discriminatory acts that generate such pain,” said Piñera at the signing ceremony, where he was joined by representatives of the LGBT community; Jewish, Muslim and Indigenous groups; and Zamudio’s parents, among others.
When the Chilean government made its initial proposal early last month to increase the monthly minimum wage to 193,000 Chilean pesos ($390.53), it may have felt it was already conceding too much ground to the demands of Chile's workers union: the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (Central Workers’ Union—CUT). It signified an increase of 6 percent from the previous minimum wage of 182,000 Chilean pesos ($368.60).
It has been a series of back-and-forth negotiations that saw arrival at this figure, with an original initiative proposed by the government in congress on June 19 for a minimum wage of 191,000 Chilean pesos ($386.48). After further discussion in the House of Representatives, the figure was amended to 193,000.
Despite the significant jump, the new minimum wage resulted in significant backlash from the CUT and politicians concerned with the lower class. It underwent further discussion last Thursday, with the proposal passing a vote in the Senate to undergo further debate in the House of Representatives last Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Argentine Minister of Defense Arturo Puricelli and his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, signed a memorandum of understanding in which they agreed to cooperate in the area of defense. The agreement was signed during a visit by the Argentine minister to Beijing to strengthen a relationship developed and deepened since 2004, when President Hu Jintao visited Argentina following the visit of then-President Néstor Kirchner to China.
During a lecture at the National University of the Republic of China in Beijing, Minister Puricelli said, "We are making a fresh start toward building a true bilateral strategic partnership of cooperation in defense" with China. Under the terms of the agreement, the two countries plan to conduct joint military exercises, exchange of UN peacekeeping experiences, and collaboration in the fields of science, technology and industry for defense purposes. China and Argentina had previously signed a similar memorandum for the period 2007-2012, which expired last month. The new agreement has no end date.
Puricelli denied that negotiations for the purchase of weapons were conducted, but hinted such purchases are not "restricted." He noted that the interest of Argentina is in cooperation and technology transfer, especially because much of the technology currently used in Argentina comes from the United Kingdom, and the government wants to "replace the technology with that of friendly countries," he said. Argentina’s defense ministry said yesterday that Puricelli had visited China’s defense contractors, including providers of helicopters, guided weapons systems and anti-aircraft artillery, and Puricelli also pointed to the “unvarying support” of China with regard to Argentina’s claims to sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands.
Chile's proverbial education debate has this taken a new turn this week after a seven-month investigation revealed that a number of universities are illegally operating as profit-oriented businesses.
According to a report conducted by a special investigation committee, eight universities violated anti-profiteering laws amidst findings of increased salaries among executives, circulation of finances between companies under the same private ownership and outsourcing of services as means of generating revenue.
Among the universities accused are: Universidad de las Américas; Universidad Andrés Bello; Universidad Viña del Mar; AIEP-Andrés Bello; Universidad Santo Tomás; Universidad de Artes, Ciencias y Comunicación; Universidad del Desarrollo; and Universidad del Mar.
The findings of the investigation, which will be sent to the Ministry of Education for further action, exemplify the disparity between Chile's ever-growing student movement gunning for free, higher-quality postsecondary education and the perspective of Chile’s federal executive branch, led by billionaire President Sebastián Piñera.
Piñera's cabinet includes Ministers Cristián Larroulet and Joaquín Lavín who are both founders of Universidad del Desarollo. When questioned on the issue while in Mexico for the G-20 summit earlier this week, Piñera deflected attention to a youth uprising influenced by ideas that in his view are simply wrong: "Remember that the main leaders of this movement belong to the Communist Party and they have a vision of society that is very different to this president."
Despite transferring presidential power to democratically elected Patricio Aylwin in 1990, General Augusto Pinochet’s reign as military ruler and dictator (1973-1990) remains a controversial topic among the Chilean people. It then came as no surprise that the lead-up last week to Sunday’s screening of “Pinochet,” a sympathetic documentary paying homage to the army general, led to significant public backlash.
“Pinochet” aims to outline political context leading up the 1973 military coup and focus on the positive outcomes of the consequent 17-year rule. Over 1,000 people attended the screening at Santiago’s Teatro Caupolicán on Sunday, including politically conservative invitees from the United States, Spain, France, and Argentina. As the opening credits appeared on screen that bore the title of the dictator’s surname, the audience erupted into empathic applause.
Protest groups lobbied to have the screening banned, calling for the federal government to clamp down on what they see as implicit approval of the human rights violations that were committed across 17 years. More than 3,200 people were murdered or disappeared during Pinochet’s rule, while 37,000 cases of torture and illegal imprisonment have been documented.
“In Chile, state-sponsored terrorism existed, torture existed, forced disappearances and executions existed, along with the systematic violation of hundreds of Chileans for over 17 years. We can’t allow a tribute to this,” human rights activist Alejandra Arriaza decried last week.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s approval rating rose to 33 percent in May, according to a poll released on Monday by Santiago-based pollster Adimark Gfk. The boost is due to the Central Bank’s mid-May report that the Chilean economy grew 5.6 percent in the first quarter of 2012. Adimark reported that lower fuel prices and Piñera’s mea culpa on how the government dealt with social unrest in Aysén and Freirina during a speech last month were also factors.
Monday’s result was welcome news for the center-right president one month after his approval numbers dipped to all-time low of 26 percent in April—the lowest for a sitting president since the end of General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1990. But the boost may be short-lived. Despite solid economic growth, Chileans are wary of the widening income gap and many do not feel like they have benefited from the copper-fueled boom, according to the poll.
It is not clear whether low approval of the president will affect his coalition. Several of Piñera’s key ministers remain popular, including Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne, Defense Minister Andrés Allamand and Economy and Tourism Minister Pablo Longueira. Given Chile’s electoral law prohibiting immediate reelection, these ministers are favored to represent the Right in the 2013-2014 presidential election. "They have good chances in 2013” against the likely center-left opponent, Former President Michelle Bachelet, according to Patricio Navia, professor at the Universidad Diego Portales and New York University.
Top stories this week are likely to include: proposed OAS human rights commission reform; OAS meeting underway in Bolivia; Pacific Alliance meeting on Wednesday; Peru-Chile relations; and no end in sight to the anti-mining protests in Peru.
OAS Human Rights Reform Considered: Organization of American States (OAS) member states such as Ecuador and Venezuela are calling for reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights organ of the regional body. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called for changes such as cutting funding for the OAS special rapporteur on press freedom, warning that the OAS “will disappear” otherwise, which earned the endorsement of Venezuela. Insulza has further called for renegotiation of the IACHR’s statute and procedures including allowing governments to decide how the IACHR monitors them. Last Friday, the Washington Post editorial board responded to these proposals, writing, “It’s not surprising that Venezuela and its allies would push for noxious initiatives, or that Mr. Insulza would serve as their frontman […] Canada and the United States… and their democratic allies should work to ensure that the Insulza proposals are rejected—and that the OAS is perserved as an institution committed to democracy and human rights.”
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini concurs: “The reasoning behind the proposals that Insulza is bringing to the General Assembly is unclear. What is clear is that their effect would be to whittle away at much of the independent voice of the Commission—the most effective office in the OAS—and he’s doing it by making common cause with some suspect governments."
Developments at the OAS General Assembly: Representatives from the 35 OAS member states are in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from June 3 to 5 for the organization’s 42nd General Assembly. In addition to the IACHR reforms, other issues on the table include Bolivian President Evo Morales’ desire for forward movement in regard to his country’s lack of access to the Pacific Ocean, a longstanding dispute with Chile. Argentina’s leadership wishes to rally hemispheric consensus around its claim to the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza briefed the assembly that Latin America is still far from achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The UN has set 2015 as its target date for achievement of the MDGs. But expectations for concrete results are not high, notes Sabatini: "The OAS general assembly has become a theater for overreach and meaningless debate."
Recent acts of violence alongside pending legislation and international pressure have brought to light the pressing need for lawmaking in support of LGBT rights in Chile. Together with protests for reforms in the education system, the public seems to be increasingly impatient about what the government is doing to protect LGBT rights. These demands are important beyond the scope of gay rights, because they have brought attention to the need for Chile to recognize, accept and protect the human rights of an evolving, heterogeneous culture as a fundamental prerequisite for continued prosperity.
The passage of an antidiscrimination law, which remained unresolved for over seven years, by a close 58-56 vote in the Chamber of Deputies this month was a basic necessity for the country. The Chilean Movement for Sexual Minorities (MOVILH) notes that in 2011 gay, lesbian and transgender Chileans were increasingly outspoken in reporting abuse and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, this recently passed antidiscrimination law does not deal with hate crimes per se, but rather defines illegal discrimination. Furthermore, certain passages have yet to be finalized in a mixed commission of Senators and Deputies on May 2. The recent death of gay youth Daniel Zamudio points to precisely why legislating solely on discrimination does not suffice in this case, serving as an exceptionally violent example as to why hate crimes require specific punishment under the law.
Zamudio received not only the public’s sympathy, but also worldwide attention including a briefing note from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ spokesman, Rupert Colville, urging Chile to enact hate crime legislation. In this regard, the MOVILH also argues that Chilean society is not opposed to legislating on issues of gay rights and antidiscrimination in its entirety, but there is a lack of bravery and willingness within Congress to approach these pending issues. The recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ overturning of a Chilean court ruling against lesbian Judge Karen Atala, who lost custody of her children because of her same-sex relationship, is further international pressure for Chile to meet requirements stipulated by international agreements it has signed onto.
Chile’s gay rights deficit is worrying as the country continues to be viewed as an example for continued economic growth despite global market volatility. President Sebastian Piñera’s administration is cautious about giving into all public demands, as Chile’s Minister of Finance Felipe Larraín recently said: “If we surrender to the temptation of appeasing demands by giving in to all of them, we will never get to our final goal [development].” However, most gay rights issues rely merely on political willingness rather than investment for social welfare. Furthermore, acting on gay rights is not the investment equivalent of reforming a public education system.