It has been years since a Latin American President addressed the issue so comprehensively, directly and realistically. When Gustavo Petro took office, he stopped repeating the tired – and useless – “war on drugs” speech and put his finger on the problem, saying what needed to be said: “The time has come to change anti-drug policies in the world. ” He insisted that the current policy should be changed “so that it allows life and does not produce death”.
Because he addressed several other very important issues in his inaugural message, the drug problem did not attract attention. Others have done it, very relevant and urgent. Among them the opening of a path of dialogue with the ELN, as well as another path of “reception” with criminal organizations such as the Clan del Golfo, so that the violence in the country stops. In the message, he also highlighted what relates to the key economic and tax issues, proposed proposals for better redistribution of national income, and presented his legal project on the review of tax regulations to Congress the next day (first day of government).
When he brought up the drug problem, Petro did so directly, but that was somewhat sidelined. It continues with what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had already proposed at the time: a policy review based on the so-called “war on drugs”. As Petro emphasized, this “strengthened the mafia and weakened the states”. undeniable truth. In the course of five decades of such “war” there are many deaths, more drug addicts, the affected environment and many other natural and social disasters. And in the case of countries in the region involved in the production and export of coca/cocaine, there are several dramatic signs of this failure.
It is very good that you are raising the issue. However, it must be said that it is still very unfortunate that this firm and clear request from the President has not found an official echo, not even in the governments of other coca/cocaine producing countries, in those of transit countries and in particular in the consumers in North America and Europe. In a context where the global problem has only worsened in recent decades.
Beginning – in the logical line – with the effects on the societies of the so-called “producing countries”. The reality is that between Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, more coca leaves are now being produced than in the past. Either because the areas have increased or because productivity has improved. All this at the cost of severe environmental impacts, violence in the dispossession of indigenous lands, and corruption in the police, prison and judiciary.
On the other hand, diversification of transit and marketing channels is a factor that has been rampantly enforced. With this, the branches and impact of organized crime activities have been expanded, as illustrated by the critical situation that affects Ecuador today, as a key area for transit to US markets. And that as this series of oil spills extended to very powerful, ubiquitous, and violent Mexican cartels, it left a reality in which a few cartels, like that in Medellín, led by the then ubiquitous Pablo Escobar, served as a concentrated export channel.
And the end use of cocaine hydrochloride. Not only has it not decreased – some say in favor of synthetic drugs – but it has increased and spread. For example in countries like Brazil, which occupied a completely marginal place in global consumption. So the advent of synthetic drugs has not replaced coca/cocaine.
The so-called “opioid crisis” has already added – and far surpassed – illicit drugs in a country like the United States. The $650 million funding education and prevention program sanction imposed this week by an Ohio judge on drug chains Walmart, CVS and Walgreens for their role in opioid abuse demonstrates the magnitude of this problem and an intelligent response thereupon last! Overdose deaths were the highest in history at 100,000 people in 2021, according to the US CDC.
Public health implications aside, what’s left? A reality in which environmental problems, violence and corruption have intensified. And from which have emerged Dantesque spaces like collapsed prison systems full of small retailers, many of them women. In Peru’s women’s prisons, most are humble rural women who are held there because of drug problems, the lion’s share of which is taken on by others.
And as far as our countries are concerned, more cocaine is being produced than in 2021. Last year, in its annual report on the subject, the White House noted a record increase in Colombia, almost 15%, the highest in the last decade. Likewise, an annual increase of no less than 88,200 hectares in Peru. According to this US report, there would have been a slight decline in Bolivia. But the UN report on the matter suggests something entirely different, which is that Bolivia would have seen a significant increase in harvests and production during the pandemic.
An interesting finding is that although there are differences between the White House report and the UN report, both documents agree that cocaine production has increased. The UN report notes that the pandemic triggered the global market and that an estimated 275 million people used drugs worldwide in 2020, a 22% increase from 2010.
The current global policy of oppression of the last decades has therefore failed miserably and has only served to generate more violence and corruption. But to be honest, creating an alternative policy to the failed policy would require the active and thoughtful involvement of the “international community”. Starting with the producer countries, by the way, where the Petro government push could generate regional momentum to break out of inertia.
In this perspective, fortunately, there are very valuable and solid efforts that have been taking place in the world for years, beyond the steps – or paralysis – of governments. These could – should they? – Gain greater vitality and chances of repercussion at this point. Chief among them is the Global Drug Policy Commission, which could, should, be a fundamental driving force in this urgent and urgent review process.
The Global Commission on Drug Policies was founded in 2011 by former leaders of America and Europe with the aim of opening an honest and realistic debate on drugs. Currently chaired by Helen Clark, former Labor Prime Minister of New Zealand, it was previously chaired by Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, and previously by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil. It brings together twenty-six leaders from around the world working to inspire better global drug policies based on science and human rights. Its main goal is a thorough reform of the drug control system in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.
From this perspective, at least four basic conceptual tools stand out that should come to the fore at the Latin American and global levels.
First, a drug policy that puts people’s health and safety first and reduces the harm caused by drug use. The Biden administration has rightly proposed treating addiction and overdose as public health priorities in their country, rather than as subjects of criminal and police prosecution.
Second, a strategy to bring drug markets under the legal and strict control of the state, along with a serious public health information policy. Third, local economic development, greater government presence and citizen security. Fourth, reforming policies and criteria within the United Nations multilateral system, taking into account the Common Position established therein in 2018.
A set of issues and challenges that could and should require Latin American regional coordination that do not exist today.
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