Although a solution has been negotiated to put an end to Colombia’s internal armed conflict, which suggests to many we will see the end of violence there, the truth is that to take the significant steps towards peace, it depends largely on finding a real solution to the problem of drug trafficking.
Reports from the High Commissioner of the United Nations for Refugees (UNHCR) show that the drugs trade is the main source of funding for various armed groups that have spread terror in the country consequently resulting in an increasing number of murders, disappearances and forced displacement.
The demobilization process of paramilitary groups during Alvaro Uribe Velez’s government which he himself described as a peace process, itself provides evidence that the production and export of narcotics is a lucrative business that has led many former rebels to re-arm in neo-military groups and groups of criminals have their main influence in areas used as smuggling routes. Today we are talking about a number of organizations known as los Urabeños, los Rastrojos y las Águilas Negras which are made up of over a thousand fighters per group.
The example of foreign countries without armed conflict, such as Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, show that high rates of violence stem from the drug war between enforcement, cartels and criminal organizations.
However, the major economies continue to insist on maintaining the war against illegal drugs, although experts say this policy has been a complete failure due to the increasing demand for cocaine on the international market.
“In their actions they are just worsening the situation, all it does is create a market which is quite attractive to those who are willing to bear the cost of breaking the law”, expressed Alfonso Aza Jácome, Colombian expert in drug policy.
Latin American leaders of countries that have a death toll higher than in the governments of former presidents César Gaviria of Colombia and Vicente Fox of Mexico have recently emerged with proposals on the need to change the policy regarding the fight against drugs.
Nor has any external help in providing care to victims, managed to compensate the country for the predicament created by the United States since Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, a situation that triggered both the production and consumption.
This is to say that on one hand the country does not have the resources necessary to provide people with security, and confront gangs and armed groups that profit from drug trafficking; and on the other hand, aid from international cooperation is scarce and only covers small pockets of the affected population.
Thus, while the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which is in charge of distributing the bulk of U.S. foreign non-military aid and one of the most consistent donors in Colombia, gives shelter to a displaced family another 20 have to flee their homes due to drug-related violence.
Faced with this problem international experts have suggested that the only solution to the violence generated by the drug trade is to opt for legalization.
According to Cesar Gaviria, cited in an interview in a Colombian newspaper, “The biggest problem facing U.S. drug policy is that after more than half a million consumers have been sent to jail, consumption levels have still remained.
A monstrous criminal organization has been built around that legal definition. That’s the first thing that needs to change.
This policy is largely responsible for the tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico, Central America, Colombia and the Andean region, and the terrible corruption inside our democratic institutions.”
Legalizing, in this sense does not mean that drugs are good or do not harm those who consume them, this is not the purpose, but to create a strategy to strike and break up the economic structure that allows gangs to generate huge trade profits that in turn serve to corrupt and increase their territories of influence.”
However, the issue has had little acceptance in most governments. For example, in the recent Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, 2012, the matter was introduced timidly, because President Barack Obama rejected the proposal, arguing that it was not the time to talk about it, and the position of the United States is shared by most UN members, who insist on criminalizing drug use.
This means the cessation or reduction of violence in Colombia together with repair programs for victims and implementing lasting solutions to the population affected by forced displacement will be far from being achieved so long as the same international policy to combat drugs is in place, a policy which does not respond at all to the special circumstances of the country where drug trafficking has become one of the main generators of violence.
With this view, a suggested conclusion is that peace, security and an end to the war in Colombia depend on the decisions taken by the international community in taking steps towards the legalization of drugs.
(Translated by Amanda Flanaghan – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)