President Juan Manuel Santos expressed more support for the legalization of illicit drugs while speaking at a panel at the Cartagena Hay Festival of Literature and Arts. As Semana reports, his remarks followed a comment by another panelist, Nicaraguan writer Sergio Ramirez, who stated, “I know this cannot be an opinion of the state and the president of a republic cannot express this, but as an ordinary citizen, I can. The solution is decriminalizing drugs.”
Santos responded: ¨And I say it as president of a republic: this solution would be acceptable to Colombia, if the rest of the world goes along.”
Colombia Reports has a video of the remarks.
Santos has emerged as one of the most explicit supporters of drug legalization in the region. This is partly possible because, as the former defense minister and as a president who has continued Colombia’s tough military campaign against drug-trafficking groups the FARC and the so-called “bandas criminales” (criminal bands - BACRIMs), it would be hard to accuse him of being “soft” in the drug war. As Semana notes, Santos made reference to this experience while speaking at the Cartagena panel:
“He said that while in the Defense Department, he learned that the DEA’s measure of success, in the US, was measuring the price of cocaine in the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, in New York. ‘So if the price of cocaine went up in these cities, we could all give ourselves a little pat on the back,’ he said.”
Referring to such experience appears to be a key part of Santos’ strategy when discussing drug legalization in such explicit terms. He is able to present himself as a drug war insider who has seen all the rules of the game, and knows what does and does not work. “[The drug war] is like a stationary bike. You look up and around and you’re in the same place. The scenary’s changed but the problem persists.”
But while Santos has spoken in favor of drug legalization many times over the years, in terms of actual policy, his approach is not that radical. Other top figures in the Santos administration, including the prosecutor general and the Minister of the Interior, have also said the issue deserves to be debated. But the administration has not pushed to legalize drugs inside Colombia, nor has Colombia done much to raise the issue at international bodies like the United Nations. As Colombia Reports points out:
“The Colombian President has promoted a discussion on a possible revision of the war on drugs on several occasions, but has always reiterated that Colombia does not want to take the initiative to avoid being stigmatized. According to Santos, the debate should be started by drug consuming nations rather than the drug producing nations.”
One sign that Colombia truly intends to promote more debate on a liberalized drug policy would be if the country expressed more explicit support for Bolivia’s campaign to decriminalize the coca leaf. This is probably the best example of a Latin American country pushing for a more liberalized global drug policy in terms of actual policy, instead of
The Pan American Post has more analysis on Santos’ rhetoric on drug legalization from November 2011, when the president told a British newspaper he would “welcome” a more open policy.
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