With the aim of contributing to this roundtable, which convenes civil society and its organizations to reflect on the subject of illicit crops, I wish to refer specifically to the issue of international co-responsibility within the current context and juncture —which has been brought on by recent events related to anti-drug policies— and to the fact that these events signal a unique opportunity for Colombia to open the debate on the world's anti-drug policies.
In the first place, the lack of coherence of the government's anti-drug strategies leaves some margin for effecting true-to-fact and punctual criticism of the policy itself. The way the Plan Colombia is conceived seems to depend on which government spokesman is expounding it and thus the emphasis fluctuates from its military component to its illicit-crop eradication strategy, which in turn is divided into the social pacts and fumigation. Not to mention, the lack of coordination which reigns —as shown recently by the Defensoría (Ombudsman) [12-02]— in the implementation of the Plan itself and which provokes undesired effects such as the fumigation of areas where crop-substitution programs are being carried out and where social pacts for voluntary eradication had previously been signed.
Secondly, an interesting discussion is arising in the United States regarding the effectiveness of the policy itself paradoxically, partly due to Hollywood as of the effect of the film Traffic on the general public. Slowly but surely, this has given rise to a significant argument which questions the efficacy —in terms of economic costs— of policies geared towards domestic criminalization and offer-reduction from producing countries. According to this argument, the figures clearly point to the failure of the War on Drugs. Thus, from 1980 to 2001, the US federal budget for War on Drugs expenditures rose from US$2 billion to US$ 20 billion. Of the almost 2 million prisoners in the United States, a quarter of these people —that is, 500.000 individuals— have been arrested on drug-violating charges, mainly for drug possession. This situation has increased jailing expenses by 30%, to the detriment of investment in education, which declined by 18.7%, between 1987 and 1998. Meanwhile, on the streets, drugs are much cheaper and purer than 10 years ago. Consequently, US taxpayers have started questioning the usefulness of the money spent on the War on Drugs and are wondering whether it would not be better to gear domestic policies towards public health measures.
In this sense, although changes in the United States' domestic policies do not necessarily ensue in changes in international strategies, the current juncture opens the way for demand-reduction policies and posits offer-reduction strategies in terms of financial costs vs. effectiveness. Accordingly, it would be important to assess whether a more effective means of reducing the offer, would not be to invest —the monies spent on forced drug eradication— in manual-eradication programs and the development of licit productive processes.
It is therefore important for Colombian civil society and its representatives to grasp this opportunity and begin to act at an international level, seeking out in particular those private and public communities in the United States who are willing to listen and debate the hazards and limitations of current policies as well as the possibility of reorienting the Plan Colombia, scenario on which the government and its diplomatic corps have kept silent regarding our own criticism to anti-drug policies and the role we are to play in defining an issue which is of transcendental importance to Colombia's peace process and future.
Rafael Orduz Medina, Senator of the Republic of Colombia, April 2001
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