Leftist Gustavo Petro was inaugurated as Colombia’s new president on August 7, ushering in what will likely be an unprecedented political swing for what is a perennially right-wing government. In his first address, Petro mentioned many important issues that face Colombia including climate change, poverty, education and, notably, the so-called ‘War on Drugs.’
“It’s time for a new international convention that accepts that the War on Drugs has resoundingly failed and that it has left one million Latin Americans murdered, most of them Colombians, during the last 40 years, and that kills 70,000 people in North America from overdoses annually with drugs, none of which are produced in Latin America,” he said.
Petro said that the war was not over. “has strengthened the mafias and weakened states,”Leading “states to commit crimes,” including the Colombian state. He called for a new paradigm that “allows life and doesn’t generate death”All the while, blaming America for not being able to implement global anti-drug legislation.
Petro has made a game-changing statement. Colombia is by far the US’s largest partner in their War on Drugs. Receiving the current status quo from Colombia would set off a tsunami through international relations and lead to multilateral negotiations on a different strategy, one that is not military-first.
Petro has a history with the War on Drugs, thanks to his connections to M-19, a left-wing paramilitary organisation. This war has been noted for its deep contradictions, namely the fact that US military aid and training to Colombia has focused more on anti-communism – that is, putting down groups like M-19 – than on combating the drug trade.
US military assistance has been sent to Colombian groups, which include the Colombian military. These have well-documented human right abuses. Because it considered such assistance crucial for US national security, the Clinton administration waived many of the conditions that are normally associated with aid to human rights. Washington is also focused on fighting left-wing Colombian groups while supporting right-wing Colombian groups.
As a notable example, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who received the US’ highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from former US President George Bush, was identified by US intelligence as tied to the country’s drug trade. He remains a powerful player in Colombian politics and was Washington’s main conduit in the region during his tenure from 2002-2010.
Petro rightly pointed out that there are many contradictions in Cold War politics. People are being killed every day because the domestic prohibition policy isn’t working. US life expectancy is declining due in no small part to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; however, endemic poverty and drugs are contributing the most to the total lost life years.
This topic is of special importance to me as I noted in the RT column at different points. Growing up in Northern Kentucky (a largely the epicenter for the US opiate epidemic), and being born in Cincinnati, Ohio, I know firsthand how devastating these drugs can be. I know families that have been ripped apart, I’ve seen the destitution of addiction and even lost around a dozen of my peers to overdoses, suicide or gang-related murder.
One thing I can say for sure is that the status quo isn’t working. If anything, it simply creates a feedback loop where recidivism and relapse are inevitable – all while private rehabilitation facilities and large pharmaceutical companies profit on the back end. The inevitable outcome, as is ever the case in the United States, is the criminalization of poverty – because low household income is perhaps the most important indicator of substance abuse.
It is important because this point shows how the War on Drugs intersects internationally and domestically. Namely, the war is an extension of the backward, neoliberal Washington regime and its quest to crush all social movements – whether those at home or abroad – that challenge the American dictatorship of the wealthy.
The empire proved to be not only morally inept to the people most affected by their proclivity for committing unspeakable crime, but unreliable and irresponsible. The US empire continues to slide down, and there will always be an opportunity for the world community to make changes. President Gustavo Petro’s call for a new international anti-drug paradigm is one such example.
These opinions, statements and thoughts are the sole opinion of the author. They do not necessarily reflect those made by RT.
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