According to reports in the Bogota newspapers El Tiempo and El Espectador, as well as the Associated Press, Colombian President Andres Pastrana Thursday used a press conference at the presidential palace in Bogota to call for a global conference to evaluate the "errors and successes" of current global drug policies and urged US President Bush to convene such a summit.
While by no means a call to put legalization of the drug trade on the global agenda -- a demand increasingly heard from Colombian political figures -- Pastrana's comments suggest that even he is finding the US drug war being played out in his country to be increasingly intolerable and politically untenable as currently waged.
"The hour to analyze the errors and blunders of anti-drug policy in the region has arrived," said Pastrana, adding that a follow-up to the Cartagena and Houston anti-drug summits of the 1990s is desperately needed. "Drugs continue to be the first or second largest business in the world," he said, "worth about $500 billion world-wide, and it is urgent to continue emphasizing actions to combat drug traffic and drug use."
But maybe not by fumigating Colombian crops, he suggested. "I believe that where we can truly strike blows at the heart of the drug trade is through interdiction and not simply fumigation," he said. Pastrana is recognizing domestic political reality in attempting to distance himself from the US-conceived program of spraying pesticides on drug crops. The program has generated intense and extensive opposition across the Colombian political spectrum, as well as within international environmental and human rights circles.
The drug-consuming nations of North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union have not done their share, he insisted, and they, too, should attend a global summit. They have not sufficiently reduced consumption or confronted money-laundering and precursor chemical exports, he said. "That must also be evaluated," said Pastrana, "not just the war policy of fumigation and that of interdiction.
"Many things in the realm of combating the drug traffic have changed and new elements now appear, such as fumigation and interdiction, points on which the different governments can make great advances," he said.
But even as he implicitly criticized US anti-drug policy in Colombia, Pastrana was careful to polish his drug war credentials. Saying that the suspension of intelligence sharing about suspicious drug flights since the April shoot-down of a plane full of American missionaries over the Peruvian Amazon "has allowed a lot of drugs to pass through our territory without any control of our air space," Pastrana asked the US to reinstate the program.
Pastrana's comments came a week before Secretary of State Powell arrives in Bogota for talks with the Colombian leader.