GOP Fights Back on Obama’s Last Minute Moves to Solidify Relations with Cuba

By: Max Radwin - Oct 21, 2016, 11:43 am
Obama meets with Raúl Castro (White House)

As Barack Obama’s time in office comes to an end, his administration has set its sights on solidifying new policies that will increasingly open relations between Cuba and the United States for the first time in 55 years.

On Oct. 14, Obama announced new regulations between the two nations that “promotes transparency” and encourages “positive engagement” while also lifting restrictions on goods like rum and cigars, among other things.

Knowing that the Obama administration is making these moves to ensure policies that improve relations with Cuba will remain more or less permanent, the GOP and other critics have been fighting back in hopes of finding a new approach to starting anew with the island.

“The American people rightly have many questions regarding your continued circumvention of the congressionally-enacted embargo on Cuba,” the letter said.

United States Senator of Oklahoma James Lankford and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart sent a letter to the president this week stating their profound concern regarding the recent Presidential Policy Directive with the communist Castro regime in Cuba.

Earlier this year, Lankford challenged the President to reevaluate his decision to open diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba because of their poor human rights records. In 2015, Lankford also criticized the Obama administration for making a major policy shift without the input of the American people.

Political arrests in Cuba have reportedly intensified, Internet connectivity has dropped and religious freedom violations have increased tenfold since the United States began working with Cuba to normalize relations.

The on-island Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, documented 8,616 political arrests in 2015, and 8,505 political arrests through September of this year, the letter said.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition last year.

Lankford expressed concern that the island’s government has no intention of changing its ways, pointing out that it was caught smuggling 240 tons of military weapons to North Korea in 2013, which a U.N. panel of experts determined was the largest violation of sanctions against that country to date.

The letter mainly focused on the arguement that Obama’s directive is an overreach of Executive authority regarding congressionally-enacted sanctions with Cuba, and that it contradicts America’s commitment to human rights.

“You have made it clear that you oppose current U.S. law in regard to sanctions against the Castro regime,” the congressmen wrote. “However, absent further action by Congress, it is imperative that your administration act in a way that is consistent with the laws passed by the American people’s representatives in Congress and signed into law by a previous president.

“We encourage you and your administration, in the waning days of your presidency, to provide at least as much transparency and engagement with the U.S. Congress as you apparently have cultivated with the Castro dictatorship.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also said he wants to reverse Obama’s directive.

“The Castros continue to jail pro-democracy activists at a rate of hundreds per month, yet it is full steam ahead for the Obama administration’s efforts to appease this oppressive regime,” Ryan said in a statement released on his website.

“President Obama’s latest move will only help finance the Castros’ grip on power and jeopardize the intellectual property rights of American businesses,” he said. “As the past two years of normalizing relations have only emboldened the regime at the expense of the Cuban people, I fully intend to maintain our embargo on Cuba.”

Obama and his administration have thus not budged on their decisions.

“We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,” a White House statement said. “It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse. We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state.”

Max Radwin Max Radwin

Max is an editor with PanAm Post. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 2015 with a Major in English Literature and a minor in Spanish Language. He has written for Newsday, Al Jazeera and The Miami Herald, among others.

Marijuana Legalization in Uruguay: Progress and Challenges Three Years Later

By: Adam Dubove - @dubdam - Oct 21, 2016, 10:02 am
Marijuana legalization in Uruguay

By Angelo Flórez de Andrade In December 2013, the Uruguayan Chamber of Senators approved Law 19.172, through which the General Assembly regulated the production, marketing and possession of marijuana in Uruguay. According to the Scientific Advisory Committee for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Policy for the Regulation and Control of Marijuana in Uruguay, Law 19.172 decriminalizes users of recreational cannabis, and helps concentrate the country's institutional efforts in the promotion of drug prevention programs, as well as medical care for the potential affected users, while fighting drug trafficking. Nearly three years after the creation of this law, it is worth examining how its implementation is doing. Why did Uruguay Go First? Despite its small population (about 3,300,000), Uruguay has been a pioneer in Latin America in promoting laws that have allowed citizens to exercise individual liberties. In 1907, legislators enacted the Law 3245, which legalized divorce by mutual consent between the parties involved. In 1913, Uruguay legalized unilateral divorce for women. Countries such as Colombia did not legalize divorce until 1972, and Chile did the same in 2004. Read more: Drug Labs, Violence Continue Expansion across Northern Mexico The Oriental Republic approved women's suffrage in 1927, becoming the first in South America. It also decriminalized abortion in 1933, although in 1936 it was banned again. Uruguay was also one of the first Latin American countries to grant rights to the LGBTI community. In 2007, Uruguayans legalized unions between same-sex couples. Two years later, the Uruguayan General Assembly allowed adoption for same-sex couples. Finally, it approved marriage between same-sex couples in 2010. Therefore, it is not surprising that Uruguay was the first to regulate marijuana production. The Situation Before 2013 In 1998, Law 17.016 established a legal minimum dose of marijuana in Uruguay, partially decriminalizing its consumption. In 2012, the government of José Mujica proposed to develop a new law to regulate the production and use of cannabis. The purpose of the law was to change the country's anti-drug policy. For the promoters of Law 19.172, it was more important to fight against drug trafficking than against consumers. In 2013, and after the approval of both houses of the General Assembly, the government regulated the consumption and production of marijuana. Law 19.172: The Content Uruguay's legislation allows Uruguayan citizens and residents to acquire cannabis for recreational purposes by three means: self-supply, membership clubs and direct purchase in pharmacies. By September 2016, the country had implemented the registration of citizens interested in self-sufficiency, and membership clubs. Local pharmacies have not started selling marijuana yet. Read more: Mexico Issues Arrest Warrant for Veracruz Governor over Organized Crime Law 19.172 also regulates the production of non-recreational marijuana in the country. This includes medicinal use and industrial use of non-psychoactive hemp. Non-recreational Use of Marijuana in Uruguay and Law 19.172 Uruguayan authorities are looking to attract investment from pharmaceutical companies interested in research about the medicinal uses of cannabis. They have already opened courses on the medicinal use of marijuana in the country. Cannabis hemp can be used for the production of textiles, paper, oils and biofuels. In 2014, the Uruguayan government regulated the legal elements necessary for hemp producers in the country. Domestic Cultivation The law states that citizens and residents in Uruguayan territory may grow cannabis for self-supply. Citizens who have domestic crops can cultivate six plants and up to 480 grams per year. Those interested in marihuana cultivation for self-sufficiency must register at the Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA). There are two requirements for registration: submit the certificate of Uruguayan identity, and proof of residence. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1459522593195-0'); }); By September 2016, the IRCCA had approved 5,214 applications for domestic cultivation. Marijuana cultivation in Uruguay without registration is illegal, and unreported plants must be destroyed. Membership clubs The law also allowed the creation of membership clubs. These clubs are allowed to possess up to 99 cannabis plants. A membership club must be composed of 15 to 45 members. The legal requirements to create a club are much more complex than for self-cultivation. However, registration at the IRCCA has no cost. Until the end of September 2016, the IRCCA had approved 20 clubs. The cost of entering a Cannabic club ranges between US $20 and $1,800 per month. Marihuana in Pharmacies Uruguayan pharmacies are not yet selling cannabis for recreational use. Only legally established pharmacies may apply for registration at the IRCCA. According to official sources, about 50 pharmacies have signed up to sell marihuana. However, leaders of trade associations assert that only 10 pharmacies are willing to sell the plant in the country. The government expects at least 100 pharmacies of the 19 provincial capitals and cities with more than 10,000 inhabitants signing up to selling marijuana in Uruguay. Acquirers must report to the authorities its intention to buy cannabis. Buyers' data will be available for three institutions: the IRCCA, the Drug Board and the judiciary. Adult Uruguayans and residents may buy 10 grams per week, or 40 grams per month. Pharmacies must have a special device to analyze the fingerprint of those who purchase the product. The cannabis to be sold in Uruguayan pharmacies will be supervised by the government. Of the 22 companies that were interested in cultivating the cannabis that will be sold in pharmacies, only two were selected. These companies will produce 4,000 kilos a year. Each pharmacy will be allowed to have a reserve of two kilos. Moreover, the State shall regulate the prices of cannabis aiming to combat the illegal market. The companies selected to cultivate and produce the plant will sell the gram at $0.90. Pharmacies can earn up to 30 percent on the sale of the product. Delays in the Sale of Non-Medical Marijuana  Despite the achievements of this new policy against drug trafficking, critics note that the implementation of the sale of marijuana in pharmacies is taking too long. Back in May 2016, leaders of the Uruguayan government announced that the marketing of non-medical marijuana would begin in pharmacies in July 2016. However, this has not happened. One of the causes of delay has been the strike at the Uruguayan post offices, given that consumers must registrate in the offices of the state postal company. For some leaders of pharmaceutical associations in the country, the reason behind the delay in the sale of cannabis in pharmacies is the state control of prices. According to them, price controls prevent the product from being sufficiently profitable. A spokesman for President Tabaré Vazquez's adminstration said the delays in the marketing of marijuana have to do with the design and implementation of strategies aimed to prevent consumers from using the product. The law prohibits advertising the sale and consumption of cannabis in the country. Despite all the challenges and difficulties the Uruguayan government is facing to implement Law 19.172, especially for the sales in pharmacies, the country's change of focus in the policy against drug use, particularly against drug trafficking, is remarkable. While there are still no studies of the results of the law, one of its main achievements is that at least 5,000 Uruguayans — citizens authorized by the ICCRA for domestic cultivation — will not buy marijuana from drug traffickers. It is expected that when the government finally authorizes the sale in pharmacies, a few others will do the same.

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