Time to Listen: Reevaluating Drug Prohibition in Colombia

Time to Listen
U.S. Security Assistance Report. Published September 2013.

On September 18, the report “Time to Listen: Trends in U.S. Security Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean” was published by the Center for International Policy, Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and Washington Office on Latin America. The report analyzes and evaluates U.S. policy in Latin America, recommending to policy makers changes that are imperative for positive relations and development in the region.

Among these recommendations is to “open a serious dialogue on U.S. counternarcotics policies in Latin America.” Despite its status as the “model” partner in the U.S.’ continued zero-tolerance policy towards drugs, Colombia is beginning to rethink their drug policy. Colombian leaders have begun take a “public health-oriented approach” and have considered allowing illicit crops to be grown if regulated and grown for legal purposes. This shift in policy focuses on eliminating drug production and abuse by focusing on prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation.

In Colombia, the war on drugs has had devastating consequences. Aerial fumigation is used to destroy illegal crops, but frequently destroys legal crops. These crops, both licit and illicit, are the only source of income for some Colombian farmers. Colombia has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world. This destruction of livelihood as a part of counternarcotic policies has contributed to the size of that displaced population. The report states that legal crops have also been targeted in fumigation raids, with “no visible coca.” This abuse and destruction of farmers’ legal crops is a clear sign that the war on drugs is not meeting its goals and needs to be re-evaluated.

As Colombian President Santos said, these current policies, “are not working adequately.” Santos was one of several Latin American presidents to call for a UN debate about the world drug problem. The UN General Assembly plans to have the debate in 2016.

The public-health oriented approach and open discussion between civil society and governments about the drug issue was outlined in the “Declaration of Antigua.” This Declaration  was issued at the June 2013 OAS meeting. Latin American countries are leading the way for advocating a new, world-wide debate on the drug problem. The drug related violence and destruction in these countries, and a continued high demand for drugs in the U.S. and elsewhere, is clear evidence that the prohibition policy of the U.S. is not working. The report urges the U.S. to follow the lead of their Latin American neighbors and “open a serious dialogue on U.S. counternarcotics policies in Latin America” to find new ways to approach the drug problem.

Click here to view the full report.

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