A Colombian senator is calling for an urgent debate on alternatives to drug prohibition, and he isn't just any senator. Sen. Juan Manuel Galán, of the opposition Liberal Party, is the son of Luis Carlos Galán, who was weeks away from winning the Colombian presidency when he was gunned down by assassins from Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel in 1990.
Drug possession is already legal in Colombia under a Colombian Supreme Court ruling, but the growing of drug crops -- coca, opium poppies, and marijuana -- is illegal, as is the drug trade. The country has received more than $4 billion is US aid -- most of it military -- to defeat the drug trade, without making a significant impact on it. Despite a massive aerial herbicide spraying campaign aimed at eradicating the crop, the US government admits that the amount of land dedicated to the coca crop grew 26% this year.
While other Colombian politicians have broached the topic before, Galán possesses a particular stature on the issue because of the high esteem in which Colombians hold his father. A foe of the cartels, Luis Carlos Galán was killed as part of a campaign by Escobar to terrorize the Colombian political establishment into blocking his extradition to the US. Escobar himself was killed in 1993, but by then, dozens of political figures, judges, police, and journalists had been killed by cartel assassins.
Galán senior would approve of his son's position, Juan Manuel Galán said. "I think after two decades, seeing the violent impact of drug trafficking, he would not be closed to new ideas about how to deliver a final deathblow to the drug traffickers." While the United States is likely to oppose the discussion, Galán said, "Colombia has the moral authority to lead this debate at the international level. Two decades into the drug war we continue having illegal mafias that spread violence across the country, we continue having guerrillas, we continue having paramilitaries," said Galán. "And despite it all there's no real solution in sight to the problem."
But President Alvaro Uribe's Conservative government is unalterably opposed to legalization, and Galán's own Liberal Party has so far failed to back his call for a congressional debate.