AS/COA Online | LatAm in Focus: Alejandro Hope on Drug Policy and Mexico's Marijuana Laws

“This region has been at the forefront of the reform process.” That’s what Alejandro Hope had to say about shifts toward more progressive drug policies in the Americas in recent years. Hope, a drug policy analyst and security editor at the Mexico City-based news site El Daily Post, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about what the region’s policy changes mean on a global scale as the UN prepares to host a special summit, known as UNGASS 2016, on the worldwide drug problem from April 19 to 21.

The General Assembly last held a special session in 2009 and another one wasn’t slated until 2019. But, in 2012, the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico, tired of drug war violence, called to hold the summit sooner. But just because some countries are looking for a new path doesn’t mean UNGASS 2016 will produce major results: even if Latin American countries want more open policies, other parts of the world—such as Asia and Russia—take a more conservative stance.

Still, changes taking place on a national level have an impact on global policy. Hope notes that marijuana legalization by particular U.S. states weakens the ability to enforce drug control treaties, leaving “a gaping hole in the system.”

Shifting U.S. marijuana policy also has a direct effect on Mexico, where the illicit marijuana export market is showing signs it’s contracting as eradication and seizures decline. There’s a political effect as well: it’s harder for Mexico to maintain marijuana prohibition when the United States doesn’t, explains Hope. A Mexican Supreme Court decision in November, while limited in scope, opened the door to more progressive policies. “Marijuana legalization used to be a fringe concern,” he says. “It’s now part of the mainstream conversation.”

And Hope predicts court decisions will keep chipping away at prohibition as cases arise, saying: “I would argue that a large portion of the legislation that underpins marijuana prohibition in Mexico will be declared unconstitutional.”

What does this mean for Mexico’s next presidential election and security policy overall? Listen to find out.

AS/COA Online | Chart: Latin America's Ninis

AS/COA Online | Chart: Latin America's Ninis

When it comes to Latin America’s unemployed youth, there’s good news and bad news. Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.

A new World Bank study takes a look at Latin American youth ages 15 to 24 who neither work nor study, known asninis from the Spanish phrase ni estudia ni trabaja (neither studying nor working). The number of ninis in the region rose by 1.8 million from 1992 to reach over 18 million in 2010. The “nini problem” of generally unoccupied youth contributes to woes like inequality, violence, and a missed economic opportunity as the region’s aging population swells. Women join the nini population due to teen pregnancy and early marriage. Male ninis often drop out of high school to work, and the low-skill work they can get is vulnerable to economic shocks.

But not all the news is grim. While over a quarter of both Honduran and Salvadoran youth fall into the nini group, the figure stands at 10.9 percent in Peru. Moreover, the portion of Latin American youth categorized as ninis is on the decline—and lower than the global share.

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AS/COA Online | Website Relaunch

Led the Summer 2012 relaunch of AS/COA Online (, which unified the prior version of the site for sister organizations Americas Society/Council of the Americas into one cohesive identity. The refreshed site offers interactive guides to top Latin American issues, social media integration, simplified navigation, strong imagery, a new multimedia section, and improved ways to highlight media hits.

 Check out the before and after.

AS/COA Online - Ibero-American Summit Puts Democracy and Education Center Stage

Mar del Plata played host to the twentieth Ibero-American Summit over the weekend, where leaders took a stand to reject undemocratic power seizures. In a special declaration, the members agreed to expel any country that fails to follow democratic processes. “There is no Latin American forum in which you can be a member if you do not respect the democratic order,” commented Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman. Leaders in attendance signed on to a final document that focused on boosting education and social inclusion, as well as a series of releases touching on topics ranging from the Falkland Islands controversy to climate change. And, despite news reports wondering whether WikiLeaks about Latin America would cast a shadow over the summit, leaders carried on with business and inked deals on the sidelines.

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AS/COA Online - Latin America Looks to India

Latin America already has significant Chinese investments and trade agreements under its belt, but the region could set its sights on another resource-hungry Asian giant: India. A new report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) recognizes that, even though Latin America’s commercial ties with India have been on the upswing in recent years, more could be done to build up the South Asian country as a Latin American market. “The region and India are increasingly together at the table when major decisions are taken,” said IDB head Luis Alberto Moreno in comments about the report’s release. “We are starting to see greater integration among them and there is a tremendous opportunity for more trade and cooperation.”

His comments allude to India as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with GDP growth rates forecast to hit 8.5 percent for 2010, as well as areas for partnership with Latin America, such as with Brazil as a fellow BRIC member. India has fostered trade links with the region, including a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with the Mercosur bloc that went into effect in June 2009 and covers roughly 900 products. A PTA with Chile came into force three years ago. 

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AS/COA Online | Sec. Clinton Lays out U.S.-LatAm Policy in Andean Tour

Updated June 10 - With the 40th OAS General Assembly hosted by Peru this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Latin America and Caribbean for the seventh time since joining the Obama cabinet. The summit marked nearly a year since the overthrow of then-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya as well as continued disagreement between members over whether the Central American country should be brought back into the OAS fold. Clinton not only urged for Honduras’ readmission, but petitioned OAS members for support on sanctions against Iran over that country’s nuclear policy. In a trip that takes the secretary to Ecuador, Colombia, and Barbados, she delivered remarks in Quito outlining the shared U.S.-Latin American responsibility too reduce social inequality in the region.

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AS/COA Online | Latin America Springs Forward

Latin American economies appear to be waving goodbye to the global financial crisis and welcoming recovery. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) released reports this week predicting regional growth will hit at least 4 percent in 2010. With recovery occurring faster than previously predicted and emerging markets leading the charge, Latin America’s rebound ranks second only to Asia’s. Still, challenges remain, such as increased poverty rates stemming from the recent downturn and worries about future asset bubbles similar to those experienced in advanced economies.

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AS/COA Online - Exclusive Interview: General Fraser on Security in the Americas

“Our efforts are always focused on supporting the government, wherever the crisis happens.”

General Douglas M. Fraser, Commander of U.S. Southern Command, spoke with AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis about supporting relief efforts in Chile and Haiti, the fight against illicit trafficking, Iran’s growing ties with Latin America, and weapons modernization in the Andes.

AS/COA: The Americas obviously experienced two massive earthquakes since the beginning of the year, first in Haiti and now in Chile. In each case, what are the top challenges in terms of operational responses from a U.S. perspective?

Gen. Fraser: I think there are a couple things to keep in mind. One is that every situation is different and every situation is unique, so you have to understand the situation as it exists. And getting accurate information early—and comprehensive information—is always a challenge. Our efforts are always focused on supporting the government, wherever the crisis happens. So we look to support the government and work at what they need, when they say they need it. That’s very much what we see happening in Chile.

Read the full text of the interview.

AS/COA Online - Interview: Nouriel Roubini on Latin America's 2010 Outlook

"These countries have shown their own resilience. Their economic policies have been sound and they’ve been able to conduct countercyclical policies."

Chairman of Roubini Global Economic and New York University Professor of Economics Nouriel Roubini joined AS/COA Online's Carin Zissis for an exclusive interview regarding Latin America's economic outlook. Roubini forecasts and regional growth rate of 3.8 percent for 2010. He also offered his outlook for specific countries, including Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela.

AS/COA: In October you upgraded the growth outlook for Latin America for 2010 from 3 percent to 3.3 percent. Tonight you placed it at 3.8 percent.

Roubini: Yes, we’re doing our quarterly update to our global economic outlook and, as of now, we’re going to come out with it in early January, it’s probably going to be 3.8 percent for Latin America next year.

AS/COA: What is behind this increasingly positive outlook for Latin America?

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AS/COA Online - JPMorgan's Joyce Chang on Latin American Markets

Latin America is more insulated from a United States slowdown than at any time in recent history.”

Managing Director and Global Head of JPMorgan Chase’s Emerging Markets Research Group Joyce Chang talked with AS/COA Online Managing Editor Carin Zissis about Latin American markets and how they will face a U.S. economic downturn. JPMorgan predicts 5 percent or more growth for emerging market countries in 2008, says Chang, who notes that “the commodities rally continues to support terms of trade in Latin America." Chang says, “China is critical for emerging market economies given that it has been the key source of marginal demand for commodities in recent years.”

AS/COA: Debate has raged in recent months over how the U.S. recession will affect the global economy. How are Latin American emerging markets faring given the U.S. economic downturn?

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The Boston Globe - Finally, a Latino film festival here

Los Angeles, Miami, and San Diego have held Latino film festivals for years, attracting big-name stars as speakers. Even Providence celebrated its tenth in April, with Antonio Banderas in attendance at the festival's $125-per-person gala dinner. It takes a little longer for such high-powered events for Boston and Cambridge...

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