By Yamid Amat, EL ESPECTADOR, January 9, 2022


(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)

Juan Manuel Santos is now a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. The former President proposes that policies different from prohibition need to be adopted.

This year begins with the expectation of several wars in different places in the world, but there is one that appears to be irremediably lost: the war on the production and consumption of drugs.

It’s evident that prohibition has failed and that the countries that are maintaining it are only provoking an increase in drug production, an incalculable enrichment of drug traffickers, and spreading corruption. And what’s worse, it generates an incredibly elevated and painful number of deaths, of victims, and of displaced people.

Former President Juan Manuel Santos is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which is made up of 25 political leaders and intellectuals from around the world, and was created five years ago to study, discuss, and propose solutions to this world problem.

In this interview, Santos reveals that the President of the Commission, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, is getting ready to release its most recent report, which will propose the legalization of drugs. “Legalization is the only way,” she stated.

You received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for having contributed to ending a half century of internal warfare in Colombia. At the beginning of this year, which ongoing conflicts in the whole world ought to be of concern to all of humanity?

There are too many. The war in Ethiopia that threatens to destabilize the horn of Africa and, eventually all of Africa; the Russian threats against Ukraine, China over Taiwan; the Middle East continues to be a powder keg, the failed world war on drugs is costing more lives every day, the pandemic and its variants, which are a tremendous challenge, and the most worrisome is the war on nature, climate change.

In spite of all the warnings, the world isn’t making the hard but necessary decisions needed to halt that, as we sadly saw in the COP 26 in Glasgow.

How is Latin America doing in the struggle against global warming?

Brazil is a disaster, México and the majority of the countries continue to promote the production of hydrocarbons, and some of them, such as Colombia, have scheduled increases in production of coal and thermoelectric technology, not to mention the subsidies to dirty energy or fracking. They say one thing and do another. Look at the Leticia Agreement and what is going on in Amazonas.

Two countries that now have serious plans for a transition to clean energy are Chile and Costa Rica. The whole region has a big responsibility in all this. Colombia, with its special characteristics and its importance in this matter, ought to be taking the lead.

One of the conflicts is the one in Ethiopia. The United Nations and the government of the United States supported the mediation that you carried out there. Why did this effort fail?

I didn’t go there to mediate and I didn’t go with the support of the United Nations or of the United States, of any country. I was simply invited there as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to share our experience in Colombia with the Prime Minister and the administration.

Also, because we started to have a good chemistry in a visit I made two years ago, with a group from The Elders. The group was created by Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who, unfortunately, because he was someone for the whole world to look up to, has just died. Tutu told the Ethiopians the same thing I told them: a military victory does not bring peace. Peace has to be negotiated.

The one who was trying to mediate in the name of the African Union was former President Obasanjo of Nigeria, whom I met also, but he told me that the only conditions of the parties were a cease fire, which, sadly, was unrealistic.

There is a curious coincidence. You received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, and three years later, in 2019, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Ably Ahmed, received it for the reconciliation between his country and the separatists in Eritrea, now an independent state. But in both of the countries there are new wars. In Colombia because of the drug traffickers and in Ethiopia because of the boundary identification and tribal history . . .

The two situations are totally distinct. Our battle against drug trafficking is nothing new; it’s worldwide, for many decades. Drug trafficking, or at least the violence that it generates, will end when we adopt a policy different from prohibition and repression. The important thing is that the war against the FARC is over, and the FARC have ceased to exist. That was a monumental step.

In Ethiopia there is a new civil war by the government against people in the Tigray region, who lost power in the last elections. It’s a very complex conflict, which has ethnic, territorial, religious and political components, but which, like every conflict, has a solution, if the parties have the will. Some think, mistakenly, that there can be peace only if the enemy is eliminated.

In Colombia, many regions are suffering with a high presence of drug trafficking. This phenomenon has moved to México and both nations are registering dozens of killings originating in the illegal drug trade . . .

Not just to México, to the whole world. Syria is a narco-state right now, and many African countries the same. What do you say about Haití or Afghanistan? The United States has a crisis of deaths by overdose.

In Colombia, when this administration came to power there were 170,000 hectares planted in coca, according to the United Nations. The administration says that it has eradicated more than 100,000 hectares every year and that it has seized an unprecedented volume of cocaine.  We said the same thing; Uribe said the same thing, and Pastrana said the same thing. We’ve been at this for 50 years. If the mathematics are exact, there shouldn’t exist one single field of coca in this country, but, unfortunately, the reality is that today we are no better than when we were worse. We’re swimming in coca.

After three years, Duque can no longer blame the previous administration. And it keeps on that way, like a stationary bicycle, with the future administrations, while prohibition and the repression are the policies for combatting drugs in Colombia and in the world. Because of that, more and more countries are thinking of legalization, or putting it into practice, without stopping their battle against organized crime.

Look at the new administration in Germany (they legalized marijuana) or the 19 states in the United States, or look at the evidence published by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. It’s the way to take their power and their money away from the mafias. A hundred years ago, the United States was able to eliminate the prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages.

You say that we ought to adopt policies that are different from prohibition? Which ones?

Treating the consumers as sick people and not like criminals. Have a human rights focus. The overcrowding of the prisons in the world is, in good part, because of the prisoners whose crimes were not violent but were related to drug trafficking.

In Colombia, it’s pathetic. The campesinos that plant coca are victims, and we have to offer them an alternative so that they don’t re-plant, like what is established in the Peace Agreement. Voluntary substitution does not produce re-planting. That has been proven.

Should Colombia think about legalization?

Yes. I know it’s difficult because, politically, it’s easier and more popular, or populist, to keep on offering the “iron fist”, but after having tried all of that for half a century without success, legalizing is the way.

The solution might be to regulate the market, as was proposed by former President Zedillo of Mexico, former President Gaviria of Colombia, and former President Cardoso of Brazil?

That’s the way. All of us at the Global Commission on Drug Policy, together with many other former heads of State; that’s what we’re proposing.  Now the chair, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, will soon publish our latest report, which asks that prohibition be eliminated.

There is more and more evidence that that way is the only way. Even the famous Mounted Police in Canada agree. And regulate means legalize.

With regard to our countries, what do you think about the way things are going in Venezuela?

Bad. The negotiations in México are not progressing. Now Maduro has suspended them, in spite of Norway’s efforts. The opposition continues to be very divided. The solution continues to be involving Russia, China, United States, Europe, Cuba, for a peaceful and negotiated transition.

There are those that say that the “Guaido Option” is a failure. What’s your opinion?

The so-called “Guaido Option” failed at its birth. That was one of the stupidest pieces of diplomacy in recent times. Unfortunately, Colombia was one of its most enthusiastic promoters. Maduro is bolted in tighter than before.

And speaking of Latin America, is there any hope for democracy in Nicaragua?

Lamentably, not for now. It’s a shameful regime and, as Sergio Ramírez points out, it’s hard to understand, for example, how the multilateral financial institutions keep on giving it such benevolent treatment.

On Nicaragua, and relations with Venezuela, do you think that, in some Latin American countries, international relations have stopped being state policy?

Unfortunately, yes. In Latin America and in many countries, including the United States. Colombia is no exception.

In Ecuador a center-left candidate won, and in Chile, another from the center-left. How do you see Guillermo Lasso in Ecuador?

He has good intentions, but he’s facing governability problems, as are the majority of countries, because of the polarization and political fragmentation.

And what do you think about the triumph of leftist Gabriel Boric in Chile?

Piñera’s enormous loss of prestige and the results of the constitution process predicted a big political shift. If he’s able to put a majoritarian coalition together in the Congress, with more moderate sectors, and names a good Treasury Minister, it might work out very well.

Does Latin America go toward the center-right, toward center-left, or toward the center?

For the center-left, because of the increasing inequality and poverty. The most recent was Honduras, and Chile. The next ones, Colombia and Brazil, are already on that side with Argentina, Perú, Bolivia, México, Panamá, not to mention Venezuela, Cuba, or Nicaragua.

None are left on the right except Uruguay, Ecuador, and El Salvador. It’s the inexorable law of the pendulum. What’s serious is the weakening and disrespect for democracy in the whole region.

This year there will be elections in Brazil and Colombia . . .

In Colombia we are like in Chile: with an administration that’s very much discredited and a public that’s very indignant and disappointed. That’s the reality. The people want change.

Does Luiz Inácio Lula have any electoral future in Brazil?

Undoubtedly. He’s ahead of Bolsonaro by 30 points.

Does Gustavo Petro have any electoral future in Colombia?

He’s leading in the polls, but at this stage that doesn’t guarantee anything.

In Chile, the candidate of the right, José Antonio Kast won the primary, but the leftist Gabriel Boric won the runoff. Do you think the same thing could happen in Colombia? A candidate could win the primary and still lose in the general election?

It depends. If he makes it into the runoff, the candidate of the Coalition for Hope will doubtless, I repeat, doubtless, be the President. If Petro and an Uribista make it, there is a high probability that the balance would incline toward Petro’s side. But, change the subject. I’m not going to talk about the elections in Colombia.

What’s been the best thing that President Biden has done in the first year of his administration?

He removed many of Trump’s policies.

And his worst failing?

He hasn’t removed all of them.

What do you think about his policies toward Latin America?

Latin America hoped for much more from Biden. I hope he looks toward the South more often in the three remaining years of his administration. The region, which is in a shambles, needs him.

What’s your opinion about the increase in commodity prices for countries like Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, related to coffee, petroleum, coal, copper, and gold?

Well, luckily, that has helped economic recovery after the pandemic quite a bit. Colombia was very lucky with its coffee and petroleum bonanzas, both at the same time, and that largely explains the higher economic growth in Colombia and in the other countries.

The force of the so-called “rebound effect”. The bad part is that in all of the countries, those increased resources were spent and not saved, which has increased budget deficits and current accounts, so public debt has increased in nearly all of the countries.

When the lean cattle return, the problems are going to be very, I mean very, very serious, because there will be no margin for manipulation, and there will have to be drastic reforms. And the exchange rate is starting to predict the storms that are coming.

All of the questions in this interview were placed to the person who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and all of them were placed from an international point of view in order to respect his decision not to talk about internal politics, but I will pose a question that breaks with this framework. In an interview a week ago with President Duque here in EL TIEMPO, he called you “a poker player”. What do you think?

I don’t think about it. It’s not worth the trouble. I’d rather wish him a Happy New Year and say thanks, because I take it as a compliment. Maybe Duque doesn’t know that Roosevelt once said that poker is much like life and the art of governing. In order to win, you have to be very familiar with the rules of the game, know how to measure how much gas your adversaries have, be aware of your own limitations, be humble, be good at evaluating risks, know when to “fold ‘em”, and, of course be lucky. Truman said that, in those times, when he was President, when he played poker, he understood the reality that many of his subordinates were keeping from him, or that the pride of power had kept him from seeing.

You, as a former President, have been a professor at Harvard, Oxford, and now Columbia University in New York. Is it true that you are going to be a professor here at the National University?

What do you think about that? Well, yes, I will have the immense honor of being a professor at the National University. It was one of my dreams.

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