De Greiff Makes Opening Argument
Grandfather of Drug Legalization Speaks of "Rational Answer"
By Sunny Angulo
Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar
February 14, 2003
MERIDA, YUCATAN, THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2003: The chairman of the Out from the Shadows conference does not look like the mainstream media’s stereotype of a drug policy reformist. It is difficult to villainize a man with such a dignified history – but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been done.
Gustavo de Greiff
Photo: D.R. Jeremy Bigwood 2003
Dr. Gustavo de Greiff has weathered it all, though, and his passion for his people has led him to this conference, to speak out against the repressive policies that are pitting his people against each other and against the land. Dr. de Greiff opened up today’s talks by once again tearing apart the arguments of drug prohibitionists everywhere.
He began by condemning the U.S. government’s annihilation of everything from his people’s crops and sacred plants to their labs and landing strips. He laughed at the U.S. logic that imprisoning drug consumers would keep them from using drugs. “Do they not think they can get drugs in prison?” he asked the crowd of over 200. The responding laughter gave him his answer.
De Greiff has been working for over two decades to decriminalize drug usage in his native Colombia and instead institute a policy of legal regulation. As the former Prosecutor General of Colombia, this philosophy did not go over well with those within his government who benefited from narco-trafficking and, as a result, de Greiff was forced to leave the political arena in his home country and take up residence in Mexico, where he had developed a community as the Colombian Ambassador. The experience only served to strengthen his resolve to see justice served, though, and he has worked tirelessly to research the opposition’s arguments and disprove them by using their own factual information against them. De Greiff especially takes issue with the misinformation that drug consumption has decreased following an increase in drug prices. Yet, 450 tons of cocaine still flows steadily into the U.S. every year, and the prices have actually dropped, per gram, since 1988, according to the drug report released every year by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Or what about the justification for crop fumigation, a practice that destroys not only essential opium and coca plants, but countless other cash crops, down to polluting the very soil that would make it possible to grow in the future? “Lies,” spat out de Greiff. The government’s own satellite photos show an increase of plant growth across Latin America. To date, 3,263 hectares of poppy have been sprayed, yet opium poppy cultivation in Colombia increasing by nearly 62% over the last few years, according to the U.S. State Department.
Does this mean that de Greiff is advocating more spraying to combat the increases in product? “No,” said de Greiff in an interview later today. “The issue is to find a more rational answer to the problem.” By rational, he said, he means no felony drug convictions, a higher emphasis on drug education and drug treatment programs for those who have serious medical problems. “Holland and the Netherlands, in comparison to France, have less consumption even though their drugs are legal,” he argued. He gave the entirety of Europe as a role model, pointing toward its general move towards legalization as a lead to be followed.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government is more in alignment with the mentality of drug cartels than that of their European allies. The drug cartels don’t want to see drugs legalized, either – that would only serve to take away their cash cow with the elimination of black market dealings. No, de Greiff argues, the U.S. government doesn’t want to stop narco-trafficking, because it benefits those in power within the government just as much as drug kingpins in Latin America.
The same man that was instrumental in fighting narco-trafficking in the early 90’s, ultimately felling the infamous narco kingpin, Pablo Escobar, this morning denounced corruption within the U.S. and Mexico governments, and his anger and frustration were palpable at the thought of fighting another enemy, one that should be his ally. “They leave Colombia by corruption, but they enter the U.S. also by corruption. What, are they that stupid that the drugs pass right under their noses? Or are they corrupted?” he asked, referring to the billions of dollars invested in the U.S. War on Drugs and Plan Colombia that have still been unable to secure the borders from drug trafficking.
De Greiff recounted a story from his last days in office as Prosecutor General, where he was invited to a conference in LA to talk about money laundering. Attendees were discussing consolidating the FBI and the DEA to save money, but de Greiff pointed out that, ironically, this was just a superficial ploy to launder money themselves! “They receive their own benefits, benefits they have used their own policies to obtain, benefits so that people don’t become ‘contaminated’ by drugs.” The point, of course, is that the only contamination is coming from the highest echelons of our own government. “We must expose their reasons.”
Many people have criticized de Greiff and others in support of drug legalization, claiming that they are condoning the use of drugs. De Greiff has asserted over and over that this is not the case. “This is not in support of drugs, but rather a focus to take away business from corrupt narco-dealers. But it must be collaborative. We must combine it with education and treatment.”
One of the most compelling aspects of de Greiff’s speech this morning was the powerful love he feels for his people, which was evident. A man shut out of his own country, forced to speak out anywhere but Colombia, where he fears for his life; separated from his people, but still fighting for their rights, their right to practice a religion that holds the coca plant sacred, their right to grow crops to sustain themselves and their families, their right to have money to educate their children as opposed to line the pockets of their government officials. Who does this anymore? Who takes this kind of stand? Certainly not the men and women who solicit the people’s votes, only to turn a blind eye to their own destruction. Sitting in the auditorium at the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan, the audience witnessed a phenomenon: a politician that would not allow himself to be corrupted, who has risked his life to take a stand against everything that his country is now founded on in support of everything that it should be founded on.
De Greiff ended his speech with this plea: “There are doubtful factors that go into our legalization policy, yes – but still we must press forward with this fight, or things will only continue to get worse.”
Full Disclosure: The author wishes to acknowledge the material assistance, encouragement, and guidance, of The Narco News Bulletin, The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, publisher Al Giordano and the rest of the faculty, and of the Tides Foundation. Narco News is a co-sponsor and funder of the international drug legalization summit, “OUT FROM THE SHADOWS: Ending Prohibition in the 21st Century,” in Mérida, Yucatán, and is wholly responsible for the School of Authentic Journalism whose philosophy and methodology were employed in the creation of this report. The writing, the opinions expressed, and the conclusions reached, if any, are solely those of the author.
Apertura total: El autor desea reconocer la asistencia material, el ánimo y la guía de The Narco News Bulletin, La Escuela de Narco News de Periodismo Auténtico, su Director General Al Giordano y el resto del profesorado, y de la Fundación Tides. Narco News es copatrocinador y financiador del encuentro internacional sobre legalización de las drogas “Saliendo de las sombras: terminando con la prohibición a las drogas en el siglo XXI” en Mérida, Yucatán, y es completamente responsable por la Escuela de Periodismo Auténtico, cuya filosofía y metodología fueron empleadas en la elaboración de esta nota. La escritura, las opiniones expresadas y las conclusiones alcanzadas, si las hay, son de exclusiva responsabilidad del autor
Abertura Total: O autor deseja reconhecer o material de apoio, o propósito e o guia do Boletim Narco News. a Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, o editor Al Giordano, o restante de professores e a Fundaçáo Tides. Narco News é co-patrocinador e financiador do encontro sobre a legalizaçao das drogas Saindo das Sombras: terminando com a proibiçao das drogas no século XXI em Mérida, Yucatan, e é completamente responsável pela Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, cuja filosofia e metodologia foram implantadas na elaboraçao desta reportagem. O texto, as opinioes expressadas e as conclusoes alcançadas, se houver, sao de responsabilidade do autor.
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