In a report released September 11, the United Nations Development Program called Colombia's war on the drug trade a "failure" and suggested that the government of President Alvaro Uribe develop new strategies that include neither the fumigation of crops nor the legalization of the trade. The report called on Colombia to shift away from repressing users and small producers and instead concentrate on major players.
Thousands of people are killed each year in political violence linked to the drug trade and its repression, with hundreds of thousands made internal refugees. The effort to defeat the drug trade is closely tied to the Uribe government's effort to defeat the long-standing insurgency of leftist guerrillas and violence of paramilitaries on the right linked to major drug traffickers. The US government has supported, even been the head cheerleader and chief underwriter, for the Colombian war on drugs cum war on rebels cum war on terrorism.
"It is necessary to overcome the prejudices -- puritanism, cynicism, underestimation of the damage drugs cause -- and advance toward a rational solution to the problem, based on a harm reduction focus," the report urged. "Repressive policies must concentrate on the middle links of the chain, such as the supply of chemicals and precursors, the management of routes, wholesale distribution, and money laundering, where it is most efficient," the report concluded.
Drug consumers and small producers should not face the brunt of enforcement, the report said. Colombia should "reduce punitive actions against drug use, accentuate preventive programs, and see the user more as a sick person than as a criminal," the report stated. While drug use is legal under the Colombian constitution, in practice Colombian users are typically arrested on public disorder charges, while foreign users are extorted. The Uribe government attempted to put recriminalization of drug use on a referendum earlier this year, but was blocked by the courts. Nor should the government spray pesticides on coca fields, the report said. "Harm reduction means more manual eradication and less aerial fumigation."
Similarly, the UN report looked at the tangled connections between the insurgency and the drug trade, warning against simplistic interpretations. "Although 40% of the FARC guerrillas' finances comes from the drug traffic and in the case of the paramilitaries the amount is 80%, that is not to say that these organizations exist to make money," the report said. "Both groups have political projects and exercise power in localities under their control. It is simplistic to think that doing away with the drug trade will have as an immediate consequence an end to the conflict. There exist additional engines of the conflict that have to be deactivated by the state."
Read the report, "National Human Development Report 2003: Understanding to Change the Local Roots of the Conflict," available in Spanish only, at http://indh.pnud.org.co/informe2003_.plx?f=1063906366.