War on Drugs in Latin America
The “War on Drugs” is an international focus that began in 1961 when the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs recommended countries adopt punitive measures for drug charges. Prohibitionist efforts to eliminate illegal drug use intensified 10 years later when U.S. President Richard Nixon announced his war on illegal drugs, which he deemed “public enemy number one” on June 17, 1971.

After this, the U.S. took the lead in the war on drugs, leading international drug-control efforts such as halting the harvesting of the sacred Incan coca plant and criminalizing product consumption. These efforts mainly impacted Latin America, specifically Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, which are the main cocaine producers. Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean are the distributor countries that funnel drugs into Europe and the U.S. These Latin and Central American countries have experienced community and environmental damage, as well as an increase in violence and corruption because of the war on drugs. Even when levels of drug production in one country decrease, production moves to another country, a phenomenon called the “balloon effect.”

The war on drugs in Latin American countries weakened the economy, environment and overall safety and well-being of citizens. As new progressive leaders in Latin America gain power, Latin America begins the work of creating less punitive measures for drug offenses with the hope of ending the war on drugs.

The Need for Change

The “war on drugs” harms the national development of “narco-economies” and infringes on human rights, through forced labor and torture, the absence of fair trials and the right to a clean and healthy environment. Ending the war on drugs in Latin America is an important step because it frees up Latin American resources to focus on reparations for human rights violations.

Policies created during the war on drugs negatively impact marginalized communities. For example, women serve in prison for drug-related offenses at a higher rate than men, even though women with drug offenses are often non-violent and first-time offenders. These policies have also led to the use of harmful practices such as racial profiling. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention conducted a study released in 2021 on the “war on drugs,” which found that the war resulted in mass incarceration, disproportionate sentencing, abusive use of the death penalty and extensive human rights violations. The UN system Common Position on drug policy states that drug use and dependency are not to be treated as a criminal matter, but as a health issue that should be treated using public health education, mental health support and rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

New Leadership, New Policies

The main voice for ending the “war on drugs” in Latin America comes from the new Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a progressive leader of the state whose focus is peace in Latin America. Petro calls for a reversal of anti-narcotics efforts like ending the criminalization of coca growers and instead focusing on prosecuting the criminal organizations that profit off of drug trafficking.

Colombia, as well as Cuba, Norway, Venezuela and now Mexico, are all guarantor countries participating in the process of peace with the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN). The recruitment of countries to participate in ending the war on drugs in Latin America is a large focus for Petro, who joined a conference of leaders in Latin America at the National Palace in Mexico to announce reforming Latin American drug policy. After the conference, Petro announced on social media that “concrete agreements” were made in regard to development, sovereignty, migration and integration.

Looking Ahead

During Colombian President, Gustavo Petro’s appeal to the world to end the “hypocritical war on drugs” at the U.N. general assembly in 2022, he called out the world’s obsession with carbon, oil and money, which has led to deforestation and the destruction of Latin American stability and health. Petro announced a new time of peace in Latin America, because, in Petro’s own words, “without peace with the planet, there will be no peace among nations. Without social justice, there is no social peace.”

President Gustavo Petro represents a new age of progressive leaders whose focus is to repair the damage to the environment and citizens due to the war on drugs and the climate crisis. His efforts have gained the attention and support of the Puebla Group – made up of progressive Latin American leaders – and The Global Commission on Drug Policy, an organization of cultural and political leaders whose goal is to push reforms for international drug control by using responsible regulation.

With the support of these groups and leaders, economic, social and environmental justice will be at the forefront of future policy creation. Ending the war on drugs in Latin America is no easy task, as it involves creating a nurturing, supportive society for those addicted to and involved with drugs. However, it is a crucial step that must be taken to reverse the climate and humanitarian crisis created by the war on drugs.

Moving forward, the U.N. Human Rights Council requires drug policies to cohere with international human rights laws. Moreover, countries are to provide technical and financial assistance to drug policy to ensure that they protect fundamental freedoms and human rights. In addition, current drug policies are to be replaced with a restorative justice approach involving support rather than punishment for drug offenses. With these policy changes and the focus of dedicated world leaders like Colombian President Gustavo Petro, ending the war on drugs in Latin America is an achievable reality.

– Arden Schraff
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Reduction in Colombia
Colombia is a country located in Northwestern South America with a historically high poverty rate, exacerbated by the economic turmoil in the country during COVID-19. Inflation onset by the pandemic targeted Colombia’s primary industries, which included construction, mining and retail. These industries all fell by 27.7%, 15.7% and 15.1% respectively in 2020. Overall, the Colombian economy declined by a total of 6.8% in total as a result of the collective recession of major industries within the country. This resulted in Colombia’s GDP growth rate falling from 3.2% in 2019 to -7% in 2020.

With the apparent downturn in Colombia’s economy, issues such as unemployment and poverty became more prevalent in the country. This warranted concern as before the pandemic more than one-third of the population already lived below the poverty line in 2019 and Colombia ranked as one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of income. Recent changes and discussions in Colombia’s government, however, promise a future of poverty reduction in Colombia.

The 2022 Colombian Presidential Election

Colombia swore Gustavo Petro into the presidency on August 7, 2022. Regarded as one of the closest elections in Colombia’s political history, Petro outwon his running mate Rodolfo Hernández by a 50.48% majority and made history by becoming Colombia’s first left-wing president. He looks to the goal of closing all inequity gaps within Colombia, including the wealth gap. Petro is actively working toward achieving his goal of economic reform in Colombia to counter the issue within the country.

Petro’s New Legislation

Projections have indicated that Petro’s proposed legislation will raise more than $11.5 billion annually to combat poverty in Colombia through two key actions. Firstly, the plan involves taxing the top 2% of Colombia’s highest earners. Petro stated that Colombian society should not view this action “as a punishment or a sacrifice,” but rather, “a solidarity payment that someone fortunate makes to a society that has enabled them to generate wealth,” The Guardian reported.

Secondly, Petro plans to implement an additional levy on energy and mining exports, sectors that significantly contribute to Colombia’s financial revenue. He aims to “add a 10% tax on some of Colombia’s biggest exports — oil, coal and gold — after prices rise above a certain threshold,” The Guardian reported.

Petro believes that these two major changes are the key to overall poverty reduction in Colombia. The proposal has received mixed reactions. Petro’s supporters are hopeful as they are happy to see his campaign promises come to fruition, meanwhile, others are skeptical, believing that Petro is too altruistic and is targeting the wealthy.

Looking Ahead

In 2019, Colombia’s wealthiest 20% “earned more than half of all income made” in that year, says Colombia Reports. The president’s proposal of taxing the wealthy will help to reduce inequality in Colombia and ensure a more fair distribution of wealth. This proposal will not only aid Colombians living in poverty but will also significantly aid with post-pandemic economic recovery.

– Aarika Sharma
Photo: Unsplash

Colombian Presidential Candidate’s Plan
Gustavo Petro was a candidate in the 2022 Colombian presidential election and a founder and leader of the Colombia Humana (Humane Colombia) party, ultimately winning the presidency. As a former mayor of Bogotá and longtime congressman, Petro advocates against corruption and inequality. Petro ran against 77-year-old Rodolfo Hernández, an independent affiliated with the League of Anti-Corruption Rulers, who has gained notoriety by campaigning through TikTok. Hernández had ambitious plans of tackling governmental corruption in his country. The two went head to head in the final round of the election on Sunday, June 19, which led to Colombia electing Petro as its president. Here is some information about Gustavo Petro as well as the Colombian president’s plan to alleviate poverty in Colombia.

Gustavo Petro’s Career

Gustavo Petro is from the Cordobá region of northern Colombia. In his youth, Petro became a member of M-19 (Movimiento 19 de Abril/April 19 Movement), a now inactive guerilla group known for stealing Simón Bolívar’s sword and kidnapping drug traffickers. In 1981, during his time in M-19, Petro held elected posts. Petro was the Ombudsman of Zipaquira in 1981 and the city’s councilor in 1984. Petro ended up in prison due to his involvement in the group just one year later, although he never met violence and advocated for peace in the organization. In 1991, he ceased participation with the group and became a member of Colombia’s House of Representatives. Petro lost his seat three years later and left the country before returning in 2002.

Petro ran for president of Colombia for the first time in 2010, placing fourth. The candidate achieved electoral success in 2012 when Bogotá elected him their mayor. The candidate succeeded further in the presidential bid in 2018, making it to the second round and surviving an assassination attempt.

Poverty in Colombia

Colombia has had a rocky relationship with poverty levels. The country’s poverty rate lowered by 3.2% from 2020 to 2021, after a 7% increase from 2019 to 2020. Food deficiency and poverty interconnect; Colombia’s poor often has trouble finding nourishment. A lack of peace and job security also allows for poverty to increase.

Poverty in Colombia is typically caused by poor infrastructure and authority while demands for better living conditions are often left unanswered. Additionally, the war in Ukraine has led to inflation and more poverty in the South American nation.

The Colombian President’s Plan

Gustavo Petro has many ambitious plans for his country’s potential future. The Colombian president’s plan to alleviate poverty involves expanding social programs and guaranteeing work and a basic income. Petro believes Colombia can prosper without reliance on oil and have a production-based economic structure. He believes that raising taxes on Colombia’s wealthy and printing money can fund anti-poverty programs. Petro likely received political support from citizens who were dissatisfied with former president Iván Duque’s policies, in addition to poverty and the wealth gap.

Regardless of whether Petro comes out of the 2022 Colombian election victorious or not, he and other individuals with his poverty-combatting ideals have the potential to lead Colombia to a brighter future.

Sophie Buibas
Photo: Flickr