A leading candidate in Columbia’s upcoming presidential election, Gustavo Petro, is calling for an end on the infamous War on Drugs which has utterly failed to prevent the trade in global illegal drugs over the last four decades.
Gustavo Petro believes the War on Drugs has harmed Columbia and that it only continues to show his countries subservience to US counter-narcotic interests. Petro founded Columbia’s Progresistas movement. Petro is also a former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia’s capital city.
Columbia has waged a military-style campaign against drug trafficking for many decades, and in that time very little progress has been made in preventing powerful drug cartels from proliferating.
Petro compares the current situation in Columbia to the Balkan Peninsula in Europe during the 19th and 20th Century where the region was fragmented into waring areas.
Petro recommends Columbia abandons its militaristic approach to drugs and instead adopt ‘social policies in the regions where drugs are cultivated [and] help people escape the mafia’.
Columbia is once again the world’s biggest producer of the raw ingredient that’s used to produce cocaine, coca. The growth in coca product has gone from strength to strength despite the ongoing ‘War on Drugs’. Clearly, this war is not working. The Columbian state has hatched many plans to halt the production of coca, but all of these initiatives have failed.
For instance, the Columbian Government set up an initiative to reward farmers for substituting coca for a different crop such as cacao or coffee. This is known as a ‘crop substitution’ scheme. However, this initiative failed because the financial reward on offer was substantially less than what farmers can earn by growing coca. The initiative has also failed because farmers are often threatened by criminal gangs for joining the Government’s substitution programme.
Until 2015, the Columbian Government implemented an initiative of forced aerial eradication of coca crops. However, this initiative was abandoned because the herbicide used for this purpose was found to cause cancer. Despite this, the Trump administration is believed to be pressurising the Columbian Government to resume aerial eradication despite carcinogenic properties of chemicals used for this purpose.
Petro has stated his unwillingness to cooperate with the US authorities when it comes to pursuing militarised drug policies. However, Petro is still committed to policies seeking to reduce coca production.
In a statement he gave to Newsweek, Petro said ‘The war on drugs is a failure, and that is recognised in Colombia and in the U.S., and it has opened a floodgate of violence across the Americas, from Baltimore to Brazil. I propose an agrarian policy I call land substitution and the democratization of fertile land. Coca leaves do not grow on fertile land, and if farmers can be taken to arable fields, they will produce basic agrarian goods that are more profitable’.
Petro also wishes to decriminalise drug possession. He believes drug users require treatment clinics rather than prison cells. Thousands of people in Columbia are prosecuted for simple possession. 24,000 people were imprisoned for such changes in 2016 alone. Petro also advocates social and economic welfare reforms because he feels the inequality in Columbian society is one of the main causes of drug trafficking.