Reporting slider War on Drugs — 14 November 2013

Thumbnail photo:  Equino Xio

The FARC guerrillas and the government of Colombia have made genuine progress in their peace talks in Havana, Cuba.  The first two issues on their short, albeit difficult, list have been resolved.  These are (1) agrarian reform and (2) political reform to let the FARC form a political party and run for election in the congress.  Agrarian land reform is one of the goals of the FARC revolution.  They want to give back small farmers lands that have been lost in the 60 year old war.  Regarding political representation, the FARC and Colombian negotiators have agreed that the FARC can gain representation in the legislature once they lay down their arms and sign a peace treaty.

Taken together these are genuine solutions to an otherwise intractable problem of how to end the war in Colombia.  Regarding the deal for representation in the congress, the same thing happened in the 1980s.  Then it was a trick.  When the FARC legislators  showed up to work in the congress, they were all murdered by the paramilitaries.  Much has changed since the 1980s including many of the paramilitaries having turned in their weapons.

The next obstacle to peace is a big one, not just from the point of view of Colombia, but for the rest of the world.  This is the question of what to do about the drug trade.

Without a solution to the drug problem, there can be no peace in Colombia.  The FARC derive much of their money by levying fees on drug traffickers.  They also keep the peace between the cartels, to an extent, by regulating the trade.  If the FARC army stands down, fighting will flair up as mafias wrestle for control of the drug business.

Yesterday the FARC proposed that the solution to drug violence is to legalize farming any drug which is also a plant.  That, of course, would include coca, marijuana, and heroin.  President Santos has for years been saying the same thing, although he has said Colombia cannot act alone, it needs buy in from other nations.

This news could radically change what is going on here in Latin America.  If the FARC and Colombia do agree to legalize farming coca, poppies, and marijuana then that could impact policies in Peru and Bolivia, where coca production is legal as the plant is used by the people as a mild stimulant.  It could also impact policies in Paraguay, which is the largest supplier of marijuana in the region.

One would expect howls of protest to come raining down from the USA, but not this time.  President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said that marijuana possession is usually the first brush with the law for black Americans, an event whose criminal record ruins their lives.  They have also said that the federal government will not interfere with states in the USA that wish to legalize growing and consuming marijuana.

No politician has stuck his neck out to address the thorny issue of cocaine, which is Colombia’s biggest problem.  President Santos is weak in the polls there and faces reelection next year.  Further, the previous President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, who remains popular, does not support making peace with the FARC at all.

One issue not addressed in the FARC announcement is what to do about processing and exporting drugs.  The coca plant is not worth much; turn it into cocaine and it is worth a fortune.  If cultivation is legal but production not will mafias fight over who controls trafficking?  Will Colombia propose letting companies manufacturer heroin and cocaine?

So far, I see no comments from Colombian politicians on the FARC proposal, at least comments that one can read here in Chile.  But if Colombia were to propose making legal the farming of marijuana, heroin, and cocaine that will make international headlines in both English and Spanish.  Properly implemented it could do much to reduce violence not only in Colombia but in all the countries affected by the War on Drugs.  The thorny issue of what to do about manufacturing and exporting drugs remains as does the difficulty of getting the FARC peace proposal completed before the next presidential election.



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