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EL ESPECTADOR

Colombia: The Cost Of 50 Years Of Failed Drug Policies

Colombia, not the United States, has been the chief victim of drug trafficking and failed anti-narcotics policies. It has a right, if not a duty, to seek other ways of curbing a chain of actions that have corrupted its society.

Workers and teachers unions protesting against former president Ivan duque in Bogota, Colombia in November 2020
Workers and teachers unions protesting against former president Ivan duque in Bogota, Colombia in November 2020
Juan Manuel Ospina

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Historically, Colombia has not been indifferent to the reality of that disastrous enterprise called the war on drugs. It was a hypocritical and, as we can see now, utterly useless endeavor launched by U.S. President Richard Nixon. More than 50 years later, it's a universal example of political stupidity and clumsiness. The only thing Colombia has observed is that drugs have advanced unchecked and diversified in terms of products and customers. The marijuana dear to hippies is often hailed today as a miracle remedy. Magic mushrooms, already used in traditional cultures, gave way to a "line" of coke and heroin for executive types and partygoers, and more recently to chemical products made in the main consumer markets, which are the industrialized countries.

It has been a half century of growth, both in consumption and in the violence striking the weakest links in the production chain: coca cultivators and small-time vendors. Meanwhile, the multi-billion dollar business run by global criminal organizations continues, benefiting a few sectors in this world from deregulation in movements of money, goods and even people.

Instead of ending the business, it fertilizes and stimulates it with higher profit margins

Simple economic logic shows that the profitability of this business is directly proportional to the intensity of repressive actions undertaken in this so-called war. Clearly, instead of ending the business, it fertilizes and stimulates it with higher profit margins. An absurd scenario has been conjured up: of a phoney war waged in producing countries, and financed directly by the governments and indirectly by users in consumer countries, especially the United States. The narrative concocted to justify this is based on a warped and false understanding of wicked Hispanics preying on innocent Americans. While President Donald Trump took this narrative to its ridiculous extreme, it is an underlying theme of U.S. and even global policies.

Brazilian police stand guard over 20 tonnes of confiscated drugs that were set to be incinerated — Photo: Ernesto Carriuso/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Undoubtedly, the violence and corruption that have harmed the fabric of Colombian society and distorted its economy into a merciless, predatory form of capitalism may be sourced mainly in drugs. Narcotics have become a significant though not the only obstacle to Colombians living together in a democracy, in a country battered by decades of violence and its inevitable companion, corruption. The worst of it is that we're no longer just world champions in production as drug use increases inside the country, threatening public health and fueling a spike in urban crime.

Despite being one of its chief victims, a change in drug policy does not depend on Colombia. But we have a duty to denounce the "war on drugs' and back international initiatives to change current policies. Colombia not only has the right but an ethical obligation to do this. Authorities should view the rise in internal consumption, especially among young people, as a threat to public health and promote campaigns to educate youth on what drug taking means for society, and crime, violence and corruption in Colombia. It is about the type of country we want to leave behind, for nobody else will do it for us.

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