Why Brazil Is Not Cool With Uruguay's Legalization Of Marijuana

Dude! Smoking marijuana in front of Parliament in Montevideo
Dude! Smoking marijuana in front of Parliament in Montevideo
Natuza Nery, Fernanda Odilla, Matheus Leitão and Johanna Nublat

BRASILIA — The Brazilian government doesn't like to talk about it publicly, but top officials are worried about the impact that Uruguay's decision to legalize the production and sale of marijuana — the first nation to do so — will have on its larger neighbor to the north.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff talked about it privately with her Uruguayan counterpart José Mujica on his visit last month to Brasília. Specifically, she told him that while she understood and respected the domestic debate, she also expressed her fear that the effects could drift over the border into Brazil.

Mujica explained that Uruguay wouldn't become a new Amsterdam, the world's best-known destination for so-called "drug tourism," and assured her that all necessary controls would be set up to prevent the law — which bans non-residents from buying cannabis — from being abused.

Still, despite Mujica's promises, Brazil is preparing to step up its controls of people and luggage, should the predictions come true of a rising numbers of passengers travelling to and from Uruguay.

Tougher sentencing

Brazil's federal police will file charges of international drug trafficking against anybody who tries to enter the country with any quantity of marijuana. The usual sentence for narcotics traffic — between three and 10 years in jail — will be boosted by a maximum of six years in any case where the "transnationality of the crime" is proven.

In the meantime, nobody foresees exactly how the new law in Uruguay will change how the trafficking flows. Paraguay is expected to remain the main producer of marijuana in Latin America, with federal police estimates citing as much as 95% of the cannabis that enters Brazil coming from its western neighbor.

When asked whether "the trend would spread" of legalization, Brazilian Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said that "each country must follow the path that it believes is fair, according to its own reality."

Meanwhile Health Minister Alexandre Padilha insisted that the Uruguayan decision shouldn't have any impact on Brazil public health. "Brazilian law doesn't criminalize users anymore. The challenge we're facing now is to establish a safety net for people who are victims of drug abuse, especially crack," he explained.

Experts note that Uruguay's marijuana decision is only one of many measures taken in an attempt to fight against rising violence in the country. "Instead of replying with armored vehicles, riot police and robocops, they chose to focus on prevention and to take a progressive approach to tackle the issue," sociologist Cláudio Beato said. "The legalization of the production and sale of marijuana is merely one part of this strategy."

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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