Like the United States, the nation of Colombia has been fighting —and losing — the Drug War. And, like the US, Colombia is changing its approach to the issue.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said last week that his country must rethink the “war on drugs” and focus on a health-based approach to fixing the problem. In a report in the Toronto-based Globe and Mail, Santos said:
“We’re like a static bicycle – pedaling, pedaling and you’re left in the same position – so something is wrong with this war on drugs: It’s not working. We need a less punitive, more health[-based] approach.”
In September, the Trump administration “seriously considered” adding Colombia to its blacklist of countries that the US believes is not doing its share to fight narcotic production and trafficking. But Santos was having none of it.
“Colombia is the country that has made the largest sacrifice in the last 40 years [in the ‘war on drugs’]: We lost our best journalists, best judges, best policemen, it was a very high cost,” Mr. Santos told The Globe and Mail.
According to Santos, President Trump recently sent a letter recognizing Colombia’s commitment. “I trust that your efforts will help improve the problem,” Trump wrote. In Colombia, officials viewed the letter as a signal that the U.S. is backing of the September threat.
Santos was pleased with the official communication. “President Trump sent me a very positive, friendly letter of support. He confirms Colombia’s help and the wish of the US to work together with us in the fight against drug trafficking, and thanks us for all we have done,” Santos said in late October at a press conference.
For years, the US Drug Enforcement Agency has focused a lot of its resources and manpower battling the cocaine trafficking coming out of Colombia. But over the past seven years, Santos has made it one of his administration’s goals to address the issue. Just last year, he struck a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the guerrilla group considered a linchpin in the cocaine trafficking business. That deal, which ended decades-long conflict, earned Santos the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2016 the illegal coca crops in Colombia reached a record area of 464,000 acres (188,000 hectares), with a potential cocaine production of 710 metric tons, according to US estimates.