JFP 10/16: NYT Budget Numbers in Context? Bogus Bibi Claim on Iran ICBM

Just Foreign Policy News, October 16, 2013
NYT Should Put Budget Numbers in Context; Bogus Bibi Claim on Iran ICBM Based on US Threat Inflation

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I) Actions and Featured Articles
**Action: New York Times: Put Budget Numbers in Context

A key reason Members of Congress have been able to get away with holding our government hostage is that they've been able to trick many Americans into thinking that federal government spending on domestic priorities is out of control, while these same Members of Congress have diverted public attention from the bloated Pentagon budget. Mainstream media have enabled these Members of Congress by failing to put budget numbers in context. If the New York Times tells you that we’re spending $15 billion on foreign aid or $400 million on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which funds PBS and NPR) without putting those numbers in context, you might think that's a lot of money. But in the context of the Pentagon's half a trillion dollar annual budget, these numbers are chump change.

Prominent progressive economist (and JFP board member) Dean Baker has launched a campaign to get the New York Times to fix its reporting on budget issues. Just Foreign Policy is working to promote Dean's campaign. Can you lend a hand by signing and sharing our petition at MoveOn?

U.S./Top News (you can use this link to go straight to the articles and skip this summary)
1) Only the issue of immunity for US troops from prosecution under Afghan law remains to be resolved for a US-Afghan agreement on keeping US troops there after 2014, the New York Times said. That issue is going to go before a loya jirga and the Afghan parliament. But the sense among Afghan and American officials was that the views of the loya jirga would reflect whatever Karzai wanted, and that he would not go to the trouble of organizing it only to see the pact with the US rejected, the Times says.

2) According to a Human Rights Watch report, at least 67 people killed by Syrian rebels in a recent attack in Latakia appeared to have been shot or stabbed while unarmed or fleeing, including 48 women and 11 children, the New York Times reported. The disclosures cast further doubt on the effectiveness of Western efforts to isolate foreign fighters and other extremists within the rebellion, and they seem bound to bolster the government’s strategy of convincing Syrians and world leaders that the alternative to its rule is chaos and extremism, the Times says.

3) Pressure intensified on Syrian rebels to permit access to chemical weapons sites in areas under their control, the New York Times reported. A Western diplomat said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, the international community "also expects full cooperation from the opposition."

4) Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for speaking out in support of the right of girls to go to school, said she raised concerns with President Obama about the administration's use of drones, saying they are "fueling terrorism," the Washington Post reported. "I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees," Yousafzai said. "I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."

5) José Bustani, who was director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, says the Bush Administration orchestrated his ouster as head of OPCW to prevent Iraq from acceding to the chemical weapons treaty prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the New York Times reported. Bustani and some senior officials in Brazil and the United States, say the US acted because it believed that the organization under Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration’s plans to invade Iraq. "In 2002, the U.S. was determined to oppose Iraq joining the convention against the weapons, which it did not even have," Bustani said. "This time, joining the convention and having the inspectors present is part of the Syrian peace plan. It is such a fundamental shift."

6) Amnesty International called on Egypt’s government to launch a full and impartial investigation into the use of live ammunition by police to disperse protesters last week, AP reported. Amnesty said police used excessive and deadly force against supporters of the ousted Islamist president and that, in a number of cases, bystanders or non-violent protesters were caught up in the violence. The Health Ministry said at least 50 people, mostly in Cairo, were killed in the Oct. 6 protests.

7) To provoke opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has returned to exploiting an old claim that Iran is building ICBMs that could hit the US, noted Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. Independent specialists on the issue say that no evidence supports Netanyahu’s claim. Porter notes that the bogus claim originated with Pentagon threat inflation to justify expenditures for "missile defense."

8) Israel froze shipments of building materials to Gaza after discovering an alleged "terror tunnel" entering its borders from Gaza, AFP reported. Last month Israel permitted delivery of cement and steel for use by the private sector into Gaza for the first time since 2007.

9) Mexico City legislators plan to file bills at the end of this month to legalize and regulate marijuana consumption, Time Magazine reported. Lawmakers say the measures would free up police to focus on serious crime and take a step toward ending the country’s catastrophic drug war, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the past six years. The Mexico City bills are part of a wave of marijuana proposals across the Americas in the wake of the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington voting to legalize cannabis last November. "We look foolish trying to be champions of prohibition, when the United States is legalizing," a Mexico City lawmaker said.

U.S./Top News

1) Talks Clear Path for U.S.-Afghan Deal on Troops
Matthew Rosenberg, The New York Times, October 12, 2013

Kabul, Afghanistan - After more than a week of hard-line posturing by Afghan and American officials, Secretary of State John Kerry and President Hamid Karzai defied expectations and agreed on key elements of a deal that, if completed, would keep American troops in Afghanistan beyond next year.

Making the announcement on Saturday evening after nearly 24 hours of talks and meetings, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Karzai said one major issue remained: legal jurisdiction, or immunity from prosecution under Afghan law, for American troops who remain in Afghanistan after 2014.

Immunity is a deal-breaking issue for the United States. The Iraqi government’s refusal to grant the same immunity was what forced American troops to withdraw from Iraq two years ago. Mr. Karzai suggested on Saturday that he, too, was uncomfortable with it, saying he and Mr. Kerry "don’t have a single view of judicial immunity for foreign forces."

The matter, though, was ultimately beyond the authority of the government to decide, he said, and instead must be decided by "the Afghan people." By that, he meant a loya jirga - a traditional gathering of elders and other powerful people - that the Afghan government is organizing in the coming weeks to approve the entire deal, known as a bilateral security agreement. It would then go before Parliament, Mr. Karzai said.

Those steps are not insignificant, and American officials carefully avoided saying they had secured a deal.

Rather, Mr. Kerry said at the joint news conference that it was now a matter of letting the Afghan political process play out.
But the sense among Afghan and American officials was that the views of the loya jirga would reflect whatever Mr. Karzai wanted, and that he would not go to the trouble of organizing it only to see the pact with the United States rejected. The potential problem might be if Mr. Karzai, fearful that his legacy could come to be seen as having sold out the Afghan people, had second thoughts on the deal and ended up trying to make changes the United States would not accept.

2) Syrian Civilians Bore Brunt of Rebels’ Fury, Report Says
Anne Barnard, New York Times, October 11, 2013

Latakia, Syria - Before dawn on Aug. 4, Raed Shakouhi, an olive and walnut farmer in a government-held hilltop village near the Syrian coast, just across a valley from rebel territory, was woken by gunshots and cries of "God is great."

Mr. Shakouhi, 42, hid among nearby trees with his wife and four young children. The next day, he emerged to find his uncle shot dead, his family’s possessions stolen or destroyed, and the streets littered with bloodstains and the carcasses of farm animals, he recalled last month in an interview in the state-run shelter where he now lives. Many of his neighbors here in Latakia and in the surrounding villages, mostly members of Syria’s minority Alawite sect, fared even worse.

In a coordinated attack, numerous rebel groups fought off a small garrison of government troops and swept into the villages, killing 190 people, according to a Human Rights Watch report to be released on Friday. At least 67 of the dead appeared to have been shot or stabbed while unarmed or fleeing, including 48 women and 11 children, the report said. More than 200 civilians are still being held hostage.

"This is the first time that we have documented opposition forces actually systematically targeting civilians," said Lama Fakih, the group’s deputy director in Beirut, Lebanon, who last month visited five of the villages, which the government had recaptured by Aug. 19. She also reviewed medical records and interviewed 19 witnesses as well as doctors, military officials and opposition members for the 113-page report.
The disclosures in the latest report cast further doubt on the effectiveness of Western efforts to isolate foreign fighters and other extremists within the rebellion and foster a command-and-control structure for the fractured opposition forces. And they seem bound to bolster the government’s strategy of convincing Syrians and world leaders that the alternative to its rule is chaos and extremism.

The groups accused of leading the Latakia operation and committing the bulk of the atrocities include the extremist, foreign-led Islamic State of Iraq and Syria - which is also engaged in armed conflict with rival rebel groups - along with the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and two other Islamist groups that include foreign fighters.

None of those cited as primary participants appear to be under the control of the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, which has struggled to show it can retake the initiative on the ground from extremists. But at least 20 groups took part in the fighting, the report says, including some affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose-knit collection of mainly Syrian rebel forces the council is trying to organize.

And in a video filmed nearby during the operation, Gen. Salim Idris, who leads the military council, is seen insisting that his forces played a leading role, in statements responding to criticism from Islamist groups that his fighters were hanging back. The report said it was unclear whether forces linked to General Idris took part in the initial Aug. 4 attack, when forensic evidence suggests most of the civilians were killed. But it also said that anyone continuing to coordinate with such groups could be complicit in war crimes.

The Human Rights Watch report accuses the five leading fighting groups of crimes against humanity; names several private donors in Kuwait and other Persian Gulf countries as financiers of the operation; blames Turkey for allowing the fighters to use its territory; and calls for an arms embargo against the five groups, adding to its previous calls for such an embargo against the Syrian government.

3) Syrian Rebels Urged to Let Inspectors See Arms Sites
Alan Cowell and Anne Barnard, New York Times, October 14, 2013

London - Pressure intensified on Syrian rebels on Monday to permit access to chemical weapons sites in areas under their control, as officials said the rapidly shifting lines in the civil war made it difficult for inspectors to reach some locations and called for all parties to ease the process of dismantling Syria’s toxic arms.

A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.

"The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition," the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate issue. "However divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition."

The inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group in charge of implementing the agreement along with the United Nations, has not publicly cited any specific instance of opposition fighters’ impeding access to chemical weapons sites. As with agencies that deliver relief aid, the inspectors face a complicated and uncertain process that requires cease-fires with multiple parties among fluid lines of combat.

4) Malala Yousafzai meets with the Obamas in the Oval Office
Philip Rucker, Washington Post, October 11

Malala Yousafzai may not have won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, but she enjoyed a private Oval Office audience with President Obama and the first family.

Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani student who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for speaking out in support of the right of girls to go to school, met Friday with Obama and his wife, Michelle. A photograph issued by the White House shows the Obamas' 15-year-old daughter, Malia, also present during the visit.
Yousafzai said she was honored to meet Obama and that she raised concerns with him about the administration's use of drones, saying they are "fueling terrorism."

"I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees," Yousafzai said in a statement published by the Associated Press. "I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact."

5) To Ousted Boss, Arms Watchdog Was Seen as an Obstacle in Iraq
Marlise Simons, New York Times, October 13, 2013

Paris - More than a decade before the international agency that monitors chemical weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize, John R. Bolton marched into the office of its boss to inform him that he would be fired. "He told me I had 24 hours to resign," said José Bustani, who was director general of the agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. "And if I didn’t I would have to face the consequences."

Mr. Bolton, then an under secretary of state and later the American ambassador to the United Nations, told Mr. Bustani that the Bush administration was unhappy with his management style. But Mr. Bustani, 68, who had been re-elected unanimously just 11 months earlier, refused, and weeks later, on April 22, 2002, he was ousted in a special session of the 145-nation chemical weapons watchdog.

The story behind his ouster has been the subject of interpretation and speculation for years, and Mr. Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat, has kept a low profile since then. But with the agency thrust into the spotlight with news of the Nobel Prize last week, Mr. Bustani agreed to discuss what he said was the real reason: the Bush administration’s fear that chemical weapons inspections in Iraq would conflict with Washington’s rationale for invading it. Several officials involved in the events, some speaking publicly about them for the first time, confirmed his account.
As Mr. Bustani tells the story, the campaign against him began in late 2001, after Iraq and Libya had indicated that they wanted to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international treaty that the watchdog agency oversees. To join, countries have to provide a list of stockpiles and agree to the inspection and destruction of weapons, as Syria did last month after applying. Inspectors from the agency were making plans to visit Iraq in late January 2002, he said.

"We had a lot of discussions because we knew it would be difficult," Mr. Bustani, who is now Brazil’s ambassador to France, said Friday in his embassy office in Paris. The plans, which he had conveyed to a number of countries, "caused an uproar in Washington," he said. Soon, he was receiving warnings from American and other diplomats. "By the end of December 2001, it became evident that the Americans were serious about getting rid of me," he said. "People were telling me, ‘They want your head.’ "
But Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration’s plans to invade Iraq. As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war.

"Everybody knew there weren’t any," he said. "An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade."
On Friday, while fielding a flow of messages in his office, Mr. Bustani said he felt gratified about the Nobel Prize news and did not regret his days at the agency. "I had to start it from the beginning, create a code of conduct, a program of technical assistance," he said. "We almost doubled the membership."

He reflected on the contrast between Iraq and Syria. Inspectors from the agency are there now, cataloging the government’s stockpiles of chemical weapons as a step forward in Syria’s civil war, now in its third year.

"In 2002, the U.S. was determined to oppose Iraq joining the convention against the weapons, which it did not even have," he said. "This time, joining the convention and having the inspectors present is part of the Syrian peace plan. It is such a fundamental shift."

6) Amnesty urges Egypt to investigate use of live ammo against former president’s supporters
Associated Press, October 14

Cairo - Rights group Amnesty International called on Egypt’s government on Monday to launch a full and impartial investigation into the use of live ammunition by police to disperse protesters last week.

The London-based group said police used excessive and deadly force against supporters of the ousted Islamist president and that, in a number of cases, bystanders or non-violent protesters were caught up in the violence.

The Health Ministry said at least 50 people, mostly in Cairo, were killed in the Oct. 6 protests, the latest turmoil to hit Egypt since a popular uprising in 2011. Political violence has seen an uptick since a July 3 military coup overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, with well over 1,000 of his supporters killed and more than 2,000 jailed, including leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood group.

"Although some pro-Morsi protesters threw rocks, burned tires and used fireworks or other incendiaries against security forces and local residents, the security forces - once again - resorted to the use of lethal force when it was not strictly necessary," said Amnesty. "Excessive use of force seems to have become the ‘normal’ modus operandi of Egyptian security forces."

7) Israeli Claim of Iranian ICBM Exploits Biased U.S. Intel
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Oct 11 2013

Washington - In an effort to provoke any possible opposition in U.S. political circles to a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has returned to exploiting an old claim that Iran is building intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit the United States.

The Netanyahu claim takes advantage of the extreme position that has been taken on the issue by Pentagon and Air Force intelligence organizations but goes even further.

In an Oct. 1 interview with Bob Schieffer of CBS News, Netanyahu said Iranians are "building ICBMs to reach…the American mainland within a few years". And in an interview with Charlie Rose a week later, he said the Iranians "are developing ICBMs – not for us, but for you." Netanyahu added, "The American intelligence agency knows as well as we do that Iran is developing ICBMs."

Independent specialists on the issue say, however, that no evidence supports Netanyahu’s claim.

Michael Elleman of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the author of an authoritative study on Iran’s missile program, told IPS, "I’ve seen no evidence of Iranian ICBM development, let alone a capability." Elleman said Iran would need to test a missile at least a half dozen - and more likely a dozen times - before it would have an operational capability for an ICBM.

Thus far, however, Iran has not even displayed, much less tested, a larger version of its existing space launch vehicle that would be a necessary step toward an ICBM, according to David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Iran has only tested a space launch vehicle that can put a very small satellite into orbit, Wright told IPS. "The fact that it’s not happening suggests something is holding them back," said Wright. "Clearly we’re not seeing them moving very fast in that direction."

The highly politicized nature of U.S. intelligence assessments on the Iranian ballistic missile program has given Netanyahu the opportunity to make the claims of an incipient Iranian ICBM without fear of being called out. Pentagon and industry interests pushing the idea of an Iranian ICBM threat to get support for spending on a missile defense system have long had a deep impact on intelligence assessments of the issue.

Netanyahu actually began warning of Iranian ICBMs targeting the United States 15 years ago, after a commission on foreign ballistic missile threats led by Donald Rumsfeld had warned in mid-1998 that Iran and North Korea "could" threaten the United States with ICBMs within five years. The Rumsfeld Commission, which was organized to pressure the Bill Clinton administration to approve a national missile defense system, arrived at its five-year timeline by inviting the four major military contractors to suggest how Iran might conceivably succeed in testing an ICBM.

It also rejected the normal practice in threat assessment of distinguishing between what was theoretically possible and what was likely. Since 2001, the U.S. intelligence community has been saying that Iran "could" have the capability to test an ICBM by sometime between 2012 and 2015, if it was given enough foreign – meaning Russian – assistance.

But it was generally recognized that the Russian government was unlikely to assist Iran in building an ICBM. And as the report on the issue published by the National Intelligence Council in December 2001 explained, "We judge that countries are much less likely to test as early as the hypothetical ‘could’ dates than they are by our projected ‘likely’ dates."

In other words, "could" actually meant "is unlikely to". But that fact was never covered in news articles, so it remained unknown except among a few policy wonks.

By 2009, it had become obvious to most of the intelligence community that the 2015 date could no longer be defended, even with the misleading "could" formulation. A National Intelligence Estimate that year, which was never made public, reportedly said Iran couldn’t achieve such a capability until sometime between 2015 and 2020.

Intelligence organizations connected with the Pentagon and the Air Force, however, never gave up the 2015 date. The Air Force’s National Air and Space intelligence Centre and the Defense Intelligence Agency published a paper that repeated the mantra: "With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could probably develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015." In April 2010, the Pentagon quoted that statement word for word in a report to Congress.

When Netanyahu wanted to turn the heat up on the Iran nuclear issue in February 2012, his close allies cited that military estimate in support of an even more extreme claim. Strategic affairs minister Moshe Yaalon said Iran was developing a missile with a 6,000-mile range, which would allow it to reach the east coast of the United States.

Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz went even further. "We estimate," he said, "that in two or three years they will have the first ICBMs that can reach the east coast of America." Steinitz said the Israeli assessment was in line with the assessment of the Pentagon. But even the military estimate doesn’t say that Iran would have such an ICBM. It said only that Iran could test an ICBM, which would still leave Iran several years away from having an operational ICBM.

In July 2013, the Air Force National Air and Space intelligence Centre, DIA and Office of Naval Intelligence issued a new report on "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" that states flatly, "Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

That language omitted any reference to foreign assistance, which had always been a key element in the formula that had been adopted to satisfy missile defense interests. But those interests were obviously pressing for even stronger language. Missile defense advocates have been pressing Congress to approve a missile defense site on the East Coast, making an Iranian ICBM threat even more important politically.

Iran, meanwhile, has said it is not interested in ICBMs at all. Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said in April 2010 that Iran "has no plans to build such a missile".

And Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Aerospace Division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has guided Iran’s missile program for decades, said in 2011 that Iran had no intention of producing missile with ranges beyond 2,000 km. Iran was only interested in missiles that targeted U.S. bases in the region, Hajizadeh said.

Iran had a good strategic reason for its disinterest in an ICBM, according to a team of U.S. and Russian specialists who analyzed the Iranian missile program in May 2009. Iran would have to use rocket motor clusters, the U.S.-Russian team observed, and longer-range missiles based on that technology would have to be launched from above ground. It would take days to prepare for launch and hours to fuel – all of which would be clearly visible to spy satellites, according to the team.

8) Israel cuts off all civilian building supplies to Gaza
AFP/Maan News, 13/10/2013; (updated) 15/10/2013 11:59

Jerusalem - Israel on Sunday froze shipments of building materials to the Gaza Strip after discovering an alleged "terror tunnel" entering its borders from the adjoining territory, a defense official said. "Due to security reasons, (the army) decided to stop for now the transfer of building materials into Gaza," Guy Inbar told AFP.

Inbar, spokesman for the Israeli defense ministry unit responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, did not say how long the ban would remain in force.

Last month Israel permitted delivery of cement and steel for use by the private sector into the Gaza Strip for the first time since 2007, when Israel banned their transfer as part of a larger economic blockade imposed on the Strip at the time.

9) North America’s Largest City Moves to Legalize Pot
Ioan Grillo, Time, October 14, 2013

Mexico City - Though deprived of sunlight and breathing the smog-ridden air of Mexico’s mountain capital, the marijuana plants, from a strain known as purple kush, reach 0.9 m in a brick home at a middle-class suburb. They are alimented with electric lights and kept behind closed curtains by the owner, who says he grows them to smoke himself. If police found them, he could be nailed for drug production and face a hefty prison sentence under laws designed to tackle the country’s ultraviolent cartels.

But that situation could change with a series of bills that Mexico City legislators plan to file at the end of this month to legalize and regulate marijuana consumption. Proposals include the setting up of cannabis clubs to grow herb for their members and tolerance of anyone carrying up to 30 g, or just over an ounce, of marijuana. Leftist lawmakers say the measures would free up police to focus on serious crime and take a step toward ending the country’s catastrophic drug war, which has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the past six years. "The war against drugs is a failure. We are not going to win it," says assemblyman Vidal Llerenas, who is working on the legislation. "We cannot hope for a drug-free world. But we can hope to limit the damage and take the profits away from organized crime."

The Mexico City bills are part of a wave of marijuana proposals across the Americas in the wake of the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington voting to legalize cannabis last November. The Uruguayan lower house has passed a legalization law, which the Senate is expected to vote on this month, and advocates are looking at measures from Brazil to Argentina to Canada. While the U.S. was long a world leader in drug prohibition, U.S. legalization has now become an influential force outside its borders. Alison Holcomb, the chief architect of the Washington State law, has spoken across the continent this year, including at a recent forum in Mexico. "I have seen a sea change in thinking. People are no longer asking if it can be done, but how it can be done," says Holcomb, who is the drug-policy director for the ACLU in Washington State. If the Mexican capital, which is the largest city on the continent, were to legalize marijuana, it would add even more momentum to the prolegalization wave, possibly paving the way for similar measures in other Mexican states and in neighboring Central American nations like Guatemala.

Like in Washington State, Mexico City aims to take advantage of a federal system to forge a drug policy independent of the rest of the country. The Mexican capital’s assembly, dominated by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, has the same power as state legislature. In recent years, it has carried out a wave of socially liberal reforms, including the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage. To supporters, this makes the capital a progressive beacon of hope in a conservative, Catholic country; to critics, it is a den of sin. Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera, who took power last year, has spoken positively about marijuana reform, and some speculate he could use the issue to make his mark during his six-year term.

A 2009 Mexico federal law decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs, including up to 5 g, or about a sixth of an ounce, of marijuana. However, police are still arresting many people with a little over this amount, filling police stations and prisons with relatively harmless criminals, Llerenas said. The assemblyman is looking at legislation for anything up to 30 grams of cannabis to be taken out of the hands of prosecutors and handled by "dissuasion committees," who would advise people to go to treatment if caught repeatedly.

Meanwhile, the idea of cannabis clubs aims to circumvent federal laws against selling marijuana as members would be simply paying to grow for their own use. Lawmakers are considering the idea of associations with up to 100 members, who would pay a subscription and receive about 50 grams or 1.76 ounces of marijuana per month. The Mexican drug policy reform group Cuphid, which has done extensive research into the issue, believes such clubs could comprise 70 percent of the Mexico City marijuana market, which it estimates is now worth about $30 million a year. "With clubs, marijuana can be regulated without profits, and give the users control," says Cuphid director Jorge Hernandez. "They can open a space to show that regulation is better than denial and failed prohibition." Mexico City could be used as a laboratory for policy makers across the country—and, indeed, the continent—to observe and learn from, Hernandez says.

However, such clubs could still be open to challenges from Mexico’s federal government over violation of drug production laws. President Enrique Pena Nieto has said he is personally opposed to marijuana legalization but in favor of a new debate on the issue. The U.S. federal government call to not intervene in Colorado and Washington could have an influence on decisions south of the border. "We look foolish trying to be champions of prohibition, when the United States in legalizing," the lawmaker Llerenas says.


Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just 'Foreign Policy News is here:



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