War on drugs: Latin America changes course

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The Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs reached a common agreement last Friday on the fact that the war on drugs is a failure and must be rethought, without, however, consensus on the definition of a new model of drug regulation. drugs such as cocaine.

At the meeting held in the Colombian city of Cali, experts and government representatives – mainly Colombian and Mexican – proposed a road map for a new way of approaching the global drug problem that would aside, among other things, the persecution of the peasants.

“International leadership corresponds to our country and I believe that it is exercised responsibly,” assured Colombian Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna, during the first panel of the day.

And as part of that leadership, he added, Colombian President Gustavo Petro signaled to the international community, at various summits and countries, that prohibition was not the right policy.

New drug policy

The Colombian president himself presented, at the closing of the conference, the new drug policy, an initiative which aims to stop attacking the peasants who cultivate the coca leaf and to place emphasis on actions against drug trafficking networks.

This “change in narrative” is an important step, according to organizations that work with farmers and have great knowledge of drugs, but experts like María Alejandra Vélez, director of the Center for Studies on Security and Drugs (Cesed ) from the University of the Andes in Bogota, considers that Colombia is “shy” when it comes to its “international leadership”.

“I welcome the anti-drug policy, but I ask that we not be timid, at least in proposing what this model of regulated cocaine could be, because if we remain in defense of the producer farmer without proposing alternatives on the other side, with a market of 21 million cocaine users, what is fixed on one side will explode on the other,” underlined the expert.

The justice minister responded that he hoped that “we are moving towards a world without an illegal drug economy, with responsible and reasonable regulation of cocaine, heroin, opioids and cannabis”, but he stressed that it was currently difficult to achieve this with international laws.

This is why Colombia cannot act outside this international framework, declared the minister, but it will argue in international arenas “that we need a regulated market with reasonable use of cocaine, heroin, opioids, all these substances, and that prohibition and repression have not worked.

And the progression of alcohol, the consumption of which was persecuted a century ago, could serve as a guideline, just like that of tobacco, the consumption of which has decreased, not by “putting smokers in prison”, but through prevention and public health campaigns.

Ending repression

The conference also discussed ways to end the repression.

“It is an imagination that does not correspond to reality to think that the big drug barons are in prison, it is not true, the prisons are full of poor people,” declared the minister.

“Punitive approaches have limited results in all areas and thinking that criminal law or a punitive approach or prison can give results beyond the limits of criminal sanction is a common error in our contemporary societies, fueled by the punitive phenomenon,” he added.

But “there is no room for maneuver” to abandon the punitive approach, and the Colombian government believes that prosecution efforts should focus on those most responsible for drug trafficking and not on peasants. To eliminate the dependence of small farmers and regions, part of the solution would be to bring public goods and services there and create legal economic alternatives. Destruction operations will thus focus on large crops, or on those of small farmers who do not play the game and increase their production.

“What we are going to do is give priority to the punitive approach in the fight against cocaine, not against the coca leaf, not against the poor farmer who had no choice but to cultivate coca leaf,” Mr. Osuna said.

To reach the big players in trafficking, the text counts on the destruction of laboratories, the increase in seizures, the control of chemicals used to produce drugs, the fight against money laundering and corruption and provides for the strengthening of various enforcement bodies. police.

The plan is supposed to run until 2033.

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