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Largest Cocaine Producer Rethinks War on Drugs

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Minutes after taking office last month, the leftist president, Gustavo Petro, called for a new approach, saying in his inaugural speech that the policies followed by Bogotá and Washington have fueled violence without reducing consumption. Every week more details emerge about the change of course.

This is what we know so far:

1. What is the new government doing differently?

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The peasants who grow coca, the bush whose leaves are the raw material for the production of cocaine, are mostly very poor. Petro says the government will target people further up the chain. His preferred alternative is substitution programs, whereby farmers are given incentives to grow legal crops. But the president warned that the authorities are not giving peasants the green light to plant coca, and will continue to forcibly eradicate crops in areas where there is no agreement to do so voluntarily.

2. Is Colombia going to legalize cocaine?

No. Contrary to some speculation, Petro Justice Minister Néstor Osuna said that cocaine will remain illegal in Colombia and that authorities will continue to try to stop exports of the drug. He also said that the authorities are going to attack the mafias that export the final refined product, as well as the people who help them launder the profits.

In practice, if Colombia unilaterally legalized the drug, it would violate international agreements and cause a rupture with the US and other countries, according to Pedro Arenas, a former congressman from a coca-producing region who founded the NGO Viso Mutop to promote development. sustainable. This pariah status would likely harm the nation’s ability to trade and access the global financial system.

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Anti-narcotics police spray glyphosate as they destroy a coca field during an operation in Tumaco, Nariño department, Colombia, Tuesday, May 8, 2019. The production of coca, the raw material for making cocaine, has more than tripled in Colombia during the last five years, fueling violence in large parts of the country. Photo: Bloomberg

3. What is the US involvement?

Colombia has long been Washington’s closest ally in Latin America, receiving more than $10 billion in US aid since President Bill Clinton oversaw the launch of the program known as Plan Colombia in the late 1990s. This sum exceeds what any other country outside the Middle East and Asia has received. The plan helped strengthen the Colombian Armed Forces, giving them the upper hand in their fight against Marxist guerrillas.

The amount of land planted with coca fell about 70% between 2000 and 2012, but then shot up again, reaching a record high in 2017. In addition to being the largest provider of foreign aid and military assistance, the United States is also the world’s largest market for cocaine.

Despite opposing Washington’s drug war and its policies toward Venezuela and Cuba, Petro thus far appears to have cordial relations with the administration of President Joe Biden, and has met with several of its senior officials. Republicans in Congress could be more reluctant to approve funding if coca production rises under Petro.

4. Wasn’t the peace process supposed to eradicate coca?

The 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was meant to herald the start of large-scale crop substitution programs. But the organization of the program and the funds were insufficient, even under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos, who promoted it. Then, after the 2018-2022 government of President Iván Duque, he was almost dead, according to Arenas. Duque had been skeptical of the entire peace deal and campaigned against it. Amid the delays, illegal armies working for drug traffickers quickly occupied areas abandoned by the FARC and often sabotaged programs by threatening and killing local populations who cooperated with them.

An anti-narcotics police officer stands as a police helicopter flies over a coca field during an operation in Tumaco, Nariño department, Colombia, Tuesday, May 8, 2019. The production of coca, the raw material for making cocaine , has more than tripled.  in Colombia for the past five years, fueling violence in large areas of the country.  Photographer: Nicolo Filippo Rosso/Bloomberg
An anti-narcotics police officer stands as a police helicopter flies over a coca field during an operation in Tumaco, Nariño department, Colombia, Tuesday, May 8, 2019. The production of coca, the raw material for making cocaine , has more than tripled. in Colombia for the past five years, fueling violence in large areas of the country. Photographer: Nicolo Filippo Rosso/Bloomberg

5. What does the ‘forced eradication’ of illicit crops imply?

So-called manual eradication involves sending in teams of farm workers to dig up the bushes by hand, often leading to them and their police escorts being attacked by guerrillas and cartels with snipers and landmines. Colombia already stopped spraying coca with fumigators in 2015, which was often done by US pilots, over concerns that the herbicide used was carcinogenic. Colombia has been spraying illegal crops with the herbicide paraquat since 1978, according to Arenas.

6. Petro seeks ‘total peace’. What does that mean?

The FARC are gone, but the Colombian countryside continues to be invaded by illegal armed groups financed by drug traffickers. These include dozens of groups of so-called “dissident” guerrillas from the FARC, who have become disillusioned with the peace process. Petro wants to approach these organizations with a view to starting peace talks, especially with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the country’s largest guerrilla force.

To try to get things going, the government suspended arrest warrants against senior leaders of the group. With drug cartels like the so-called Clan del Golfo, Petro’s plan is to offer not to extradite those who cooperate with the government to the United States, in addition to granting them reduced sentences. The search for “complete peace” goes hand in hand with Petro’s crop substitution plans, which is very difficult to organize if armed groups try to undermine it.

Source: Gestion

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