Juan Manual Santos has inherited what some Colombian analysts call a “captured state” and those forces remain at the center of his own base of political support. As a result, many assume that a Santos administration means continuity – more of the same but perhaps with a gentler face. However, there are other, incipient positive signs of change.
On 17 June, the second round of presidential elections for the 2018-2022 period will be held in Colombia. After the first round, the candidates still in the race are Gustavo Petro, representing Colombia Humana, a coalition of democratic and progressive forces, and Iván Duque for the Centro Democrático, an extreme right-wing party led by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
In Colombia, most of the people incarcerated for drug-related crime are merely small-scale participants in the drug trafficking networks, reveals the study Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America published by the Transnational Institute (TNI) and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
According to UNODC figures as of December 31, 2019, 154,000 ha of coca were detected in Colombia, which means a reduction of 15,000 ha, that is, 9% less compared to the 169,000 ha detected in 2018. President Duque’s government set a goal of eradicating 130,000 hectares of coca leaf crops during 2020, 62.5 percent more than 2019, when the goal was set at 80,000 ha.
In June 1998, Juan Manuel Santos signed a letter delivered to Kofi Annan, then the Secretary General of the United Nations, calling for “a frank and honest evaluation of global drug control efforts"….as “we believe that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse itself." Now that Santos is President of Colombia, he has the power to implement – in his own country – the letter's proposals for meaningful debate and an evidence based-approach to drug policy.
During the 20th century, drug policies in Colombia were increasingly repressive, largely ineffective, and heavily influenced by the international legal framework that was put in place. In effect, in just a few years Colombia went from having a scattered set of regulations, with an emphasis on prevention and medical-administrative treatment, to having legislation abundant in definitions of criminal conduct and sanctions that included the full drug cycle, from production through marketing and trafficking to consumption.
There is considerable debate on whether Alternative Development is successful from the point of view of experts and politicians, but what do Colombian farmers targeted by these programmes think and what are the implications for their daily lives?
Colombia's Supreme Court ruled against harsh punishments for small-time drug offenders, in a move towards easing up Colombia's zero-tolerance drug laws, which have achieved little in the fight against organized crime.