Former Colombian Central Bank Chief: With a Democrat in the White House, Colombia Could Push for Drug Legalization
“From down here, where it has caused us so much suffering, rational voices should speak up to convince world opinion that we need to change course“
By Salomón Kalmanovitz
November 25, 2007
Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in Spanish in today’s edition of the national Colombian weekly El Espectador. The author has served as both a governor and director of Colombia’s central bank, the Banco de la Republica, and is widely acclaimed as the country’s most influential economist.
Colombia produces more cocaine than any other country in the world: 62 percent of the 2006 supply, some 620 metric tones. That distinction has cost us much blood and tears.
The internal conflict funds itself with income from cocaine. The rise of organized crime and the criminal activities of the paramilitaries and the insurgency brought the number of homicides to the highest levels in the world. The illegal actors corrupted thousands of politicians, the security forces, the justice system and other officials. The assassinations of judges and prosecutors intimidated the justice system, which has reacted well.
For the economy, the affluence of black dollars “strengthened” the peso, discouraged exports of all kinds, including coffee, and as such, slowed growth. Workers who had picked beans left to work in the coca fields, where they were better paid.
The moral fiber of the nation has fractured. Drug use among the population has grown, and the number of addicts has increased. The values of just capitalism, based on hard work, rational organization and innovation have been displaced by the principal that crime pays very well, while hard work is for idiots.
The war on drugs has had very ephemeral successes. The liquidation of the Medellín and Cali cartels reduced the wholesale income from trafficking, which had reached six percent of Colombian’s GDP, profits that were captured by the Mexican mafias. The repression in Peru brought coca cultivation to Colombia, fomented by the guerrillas and the paramilitaries. Today, the cocaine income that stays in Colombia represents one percent of GDP, more than enough to arm 25,000 combatants to the teeth.
The recent captures of large cocaine shipments in the Pacific have provoked a spike in cocaine prices on the streets of U.S. cities. But economic law that guarantees the business will continue is that higher prices attract bolder and bloodier entrepreneurs, who invent new routs and send coca planting to new spaces.
Defoliation from coca crop fumigations has only achieved a dispersal of the plantations, invading new areas of old growth forest with enormous environmental damage. It has not been possible to reduce the 80,000 hectares planted each year in Colombia; the varieties have even been genetically improved to obtain higher yields. Glyphosate spraying has also harmed subsistence food crops and the health of the neighboring population, which is one of the country’s poorest.
In the year 1990, the country spent two percent of GDP on security. Today, it has reached 6.3 percent. The part of that spending that has been applied efficiently to combating the guerrillas and demobilizing paramilitaries has produced good results: improving security and road transport, allowing the world economic boom to be transmitted to the country. But that spending surpasses the sum of all appropriations the government makes for education, health care, and environmental protection. Under less intense conditions of growth, that will not be sustainable.
It is time to think about alternatives to the war on drugs. The only way to reduce production to a manageable level is through the legalization of consumption, plus a monopoly on the buying and selling of cocaine and heroin on the part of the U.S. government. The consumer could acquire the drug with a prescription, and, if he is an addict, submit himself to treatment. By playing with the prices, the cursed profit can be eliminated.
A Democratic administration in the United States would be open to changes in policy toward treating drug use as a public health problem rather than a criminal one, although no politician there dares to suggest legalization. But from down here, where it has caused us so much suffering, rational voices should speak up to convince world opinion that we need to change course.
Lea Ud. el Artículo en Español
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.