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U.S. Should Stop Blaming Colombia For Its Drug Problems

Colombian army operation to destroy cocaine lab
Colombian army operation to destroy cocaine lab
Daniel García-Peña

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — After more than half-a-century of fighting, Colombia's FARC guerillas have surrendered their weapons and officially transformed themselves into a formal political party. But still, the U.S. government apparently isn't satisfied.

"The FARC hasn't followed through on the issue of drugs," the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, said matter-of-factly in a recent interview with the Colombian daily El Tiempo.

Speaking like some kind of colonial-era viceroy, and forgetting that it's not his place to make such declarations, Whitaker also gave the impression that he's never even read the Colombian government's Final Accord with the FARC. Under the terms of the deal, the former rebels are expected to "effectively contribute, with maximum determination, by different means and through practical actions, to a definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs, and terminate within an end-of-conflict scenario, any and all ties that may have presented themselves, as part of the rebellion, with this phenomenon." Nowhere does it state, as Whitaker has requested, that the FARC needs to "provide information on drug trafficking for investigation."

Whether it's a misinterpretation or simply ill-will of the part of the U.S. government, the declarations demonstrate that Washington's outlook on drug trafficking has not only not evolved, but has gotten worse in the era of President Donald Trump. The obsession with illegal cultivations is nothing new. And yet, more so than at any point in the past two decades, it seems like America's anti-drugs policy is being measured only by the number of hectares under drug cultivation.

That number appears to have risen, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). But Washington is wrong to insinuate that the peace process is to blame. The UNODC, for its part, cites multiple causes, including the relative failure of substitution programs, the Colombian peso's fall against the U.S. dollar and the state's absence in areas where the FARC were formerly present or in charge.

Still, the biggest problem with the ambassador's remarks is that he chides the FARC but says nothing about the state's failure to honor its half of the bargain. Henry Acosta, the Colombian government's top go-between with the FARC, has issued an anxious message on the "failure to totally implement the Final Accord." He warned that there hasn't yet been a collective reintegration of guerrillas, that authorities have whittled planned political reforms down to a minimum, that Colombia's highest court is still debating whether the FARC can even engage in politics, and that special transitional conditions to facilitate peace are in a precarious state. Amnestied prisoners, furthermore, remain in jail and, worst of all, social and labor activists are still being killed throughout the country.

No market without demand

Returning to the subject of drugs, what's clear is that Trump, from the moment he launched his campaign, has pushed the idea that crime and insecurity in the U.S. are the result of drugs carried there by illegal migrants. It's repressive prohibitionism all over again, only this time it's also mixed with racism.

The U.S. is extremely important for Colombia. But it's not vital. The approximately $390 million in "aid" money Colombia receives from the U.S. is substantial. And yet it only represents a small fraction of Colombia's GDP. Most of the money poured into Plan Colombia and the war on drugs and crime, more generally, comes from Colombian taxpayers, not Uncle Sam.

At the end of the day, it's the U.S. — the world's main narcotics consumer — that hasn't done its part in the so-called war on drugs. There is no market without demand, and the U.S. has long shown itself to be an insatiable, growing and increasingly diversified market. Cocaine consumption appears to have leveled off, but opioid use has risen and become a veritable plague in many parts of the nation.

If anyone is going to stand in judgment here, it should be Colombia, taking the U.S. to task for its total failure to curb consumption.

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