The turn in drug policy

By: León Valencia, for @infobae

Translation by: María Victoria Ramírez


President Gustavo Petro announced a shift in anti-drug policy. It's not a surprise. It is what he had said in his campaign. What is surprising is the attitude of the United States. The declarations of Dr. Rahul Gupta, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director, generated the hope that the turn will be concerted and without major traumatisms for relations with the North American government.


Dr. Gupta said at the end of the meeting with the Colombian government: “I think it is important that there is an opportunity for both nations to discuss what the plan is. We know that with the agreement with the FARC there were limitations that were addressed with mutual respect. This gives us an opportunity to have conversations again. It's important to make sure the Justice Department and other entities are included."


The twist is not negligible. Petro talks about limiting extradition; abolish aerial spraying with glyphosate; revive the Comprehensive National Program for the Substitution of Crops for Illicit Use (PNIS) with its policy of voluntary substitution and concerted with the peasants; and generate an ambitious agrarian development program for coca leaf growers with real social solutions to the anguish of the farmers.


The underlying argument is that the persecution of drugs, as conceived and accomplished by the United States with the open collaboration of successive Colombian governments for forty years, has failed. A clear demonstration are the results of the government of Iván Duque. Despite Duque's high-sounding proclamations against drugs, the production and export of cocaine took a leap in his government.


Duque went on a rampage against Juan Manuel Santos and told him that the Peace Agreement with the FARC had fostered the growth of coca crops and cocaine production. Point by point he attacked the Havana agreements that contained several of the ideas that Petro is now outlining. He went to Washington and, without being asked, offered to throw out the agreement with the guerrillas.


It was to throw a stone in the air so that it fell on his head. Cocaine grew, despite the fact that coca crops decreased slightly due to a brutal persecution of coca farmers. The White House hit the slap in the face in June 2021 with the announcement that the export of cocaine from Colombia to the United States had grown by 15%.


The idea of ​​offering a policy of submission or shelter to justice for drug trafficking mafias with judicial incentives that include non-extradition for those who turn themselves in and truly stop participating in illicit business is a good idea and it is even more if it is done in concert with the United States.


But Gustavo Petro and his government know that this generous measure is not enough. It is mandatory to complement this policy with two strategies: relentless persecution of drug traffickers who stay in business, including those who take the bulk of the profits in North American territory by disseminating drugs in the cities of that country; and a frontal attack on the relationship of the mafias with politicians, businessmen and sectors of the Public Force.

And there begin the enormous difficulties in the fight against the mafias. The US authorities are not very efficient in persecuting their own nationals who participate in the final links of the drug trafficking chain. And powerful forces in our country always get in the way of the struggle to undo the links between upstart members of the national elites and the mafias.


Former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, to defend the parapoliticians, including his cousin Mario Uribe, unleashed an unprecedented persecution against the courts and the silence that accompanies the recurrent pacts between generals and colonels with powerful drug traffickers or the pressures that arise when an entrepreneur is discovered in dealings with illegals.

In any case, while a path is found for the legalization of drugs through an international pact that includes the powerful consumer countries, the policy of stopping the advance of drug trafficking by resorting to submission to justice and an ambitious program of crop substitution, is a wonderful idea.