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Colombia: Drugs and Peace

This article is a translation of an article published in the print edition of the Colombian magazine El Salmón.

Gearóid ó Loingsigh

6 December 2016

The fourth point of both versions of the Final Peace Accord deals with the issue of drugs and illicit crops.  The issue hasn’t received as much attention in Colombia or discussion as the other points.  But it is worth looking at, if Colombia changes as a result of this process, one of the aspects in which we could easily measure progress would be on this point.

The accord on illicit crops enunciates various praiseworthy aims for Colombian society and the whole world.

We aspire to a country without drug trafficking, which should be the common aim of all of us and requires transformations in political life, institutions and society in general with the aim of consolidating a culture based on anti-drug trafficking and money laundering values …
Here we find one of the first areas of confusion, do they want a country without drug trafficking or with drug consumption?  They are not the same thing.  As Antonio Escohotado shows in his magnum opus, Historia General de las Drogas (General History of Drugs),(1) drug consumption is with us since before pagan times and is still thought of as a divine gift.  According to Escohotado, all peoples have their sacred drugs, which after a time were consumed in every day life, outside of the religious or social settings in which their path amongst us began.  Two of the most famous drugs that started their career as sacred drugs are alcohol (particularly wine) and tobacco.  Drug trafficking comes as the result of a different phenomenon, that some drugs that were legal are now persecuted, such as opium and coca leaf and their respective derivatives.  The banning of them had nothing to do with public health questions, but rather with the geo-strategic interests of northern countries, especially, though not exclusively the USA (this is the case with opium) and questions regarding competition between companies are large industries, which is the case in relation to cocaine and marijuana.(2)  Thus, if what they are interested in is eradicating drug trafficking, well legalising them does away with the illegal trade in drugs.

They continue to support a prohibitionist perspective, although they have a shared responsibility perspective, which Francisco Santos’ old slogan from when he was Uribe’s Vice-President.  In point 4.3.5. they call for an international conference on drugs, where the “National government will promote a space for discussion on the commitments and responsibilities and in general the shared responsibility of producer and consumer countries in dealing with the problem.” (Emphasis not in the original).  Nowhere do they even propose a discussion on legalisation, although, they do talk of an objective evaluation of the war on drugs, which could be interpreted as something which includes a rethinking of the problem and the legal criminal framework.  But this is not explicit and so will not form part of official state policy after the demobilisation of the FARC.

This point is replete with hyperbole and furthermore completely ignores the real legal framework that governs the issue of drugs on an international level.

The first thing is that it does not talk of illicit crops but rather crops with an illicit use an this confusion is due to the influence of the NGOs who have never wanted to acknowledge the role of the UN in fumigations and the persecution of the coca leaf.  The international treaty in force on the issue is the Single Convention of 1961.  This convention talks of illicit crops and demands, in article 22 No. 1., the complete eradication of the leaf, including wild plants.  What it prohibits is the coca leaf and its derivatives.  For the UN (the same people who the NGOs and the FARC promise will safeguard peace and well-being in Colombia) the crop in itself is illicit.

The FARC and the government also promised

That the policy of a recognising the ancestral and traditional uses of the coca leaf be maintained, as part of the cultural identity of the indigenous community and the possibility of using illicit use crops for medical and scientific purposes that may be formulated. (Emphasis not in the original).
This recognition of ancestral uses does not exist, despite the findings of the Council of State.  In 2015, the Council of State, using their common sense, ruled in favour, of traditional uses and the sale of products that contain the coca leaf (but not cocaine) outside the reservations(3), but which went against the international agreements signed by Colombia.  The Single Convention in Article 49, categorically states “Coca leaf chewing must be abolished within twenty-five years from the coming into force of this Convention”.  Of course, they didn’t manage to put an end to indigenous customs and nowadays it has not been ruled out, as the governments have opposed reforms to the Single Convention.  There simply exists a tacit suspension of this article, leaving this fight for the future when drug trafficking has been eliminated or significantly reduced.

The other point is that they talk about uses “for medical and scientific purposes that may be formulated.”  This is good, not only should no-one oppose this, it is already regulated by the same Single Convention and the International Narcotics Control Board, the UN body in charge of the issue.  Every year, the INCB authorises the production of opium and coca leaf for medicinal purposes and regulates its supply and transport globally i.e. it is already authorised but Colombia is not one of the countries where coca can be grown for those purposes, but Bolivia and Peru are.  It would make greater sense, to simply ask that Colombia be one of the authorised countries for licit production.  Of course, this does not mean that whomever wants can plant it, but rather the INCB authorises the country and then later the regions and quantities of coca and cocaine that can be produced are defined.  Aside from this debate, there are the traditional medicinal uses, the terms medicinal and scientific are not defined and there is a certain space for manoeuvre on this point, although when it comes to export such products, again they would need the permission of the INCB, something which would not happen.  Traditional medical uses would be limited to the country.  This is why the legalisation of medical marijuana in the USA has not represented a major problem for the US government, as the medical use was legalised but there is no legal trafficking beyond the internal borders of each state and of course, the legislation does not permit and there is no legal international trafficking.

There are some positive aspects such as the acceptance of drug consumption as a public health issue and within that they champion harm reduction.  Harm reduction is a widely debated issue in many countries but not so in Colombia.  We don’t know to what extent the FARC understand the issue, but we can be completely sure that Santos and De la Calle haven’t a clue.  Harm reduction would include things such as used needle exchange with the aim of reducing the spread of HIV and Hep C and other illnesses transmitted by body fluids, it would include the availability of clean needles and pipes in prisons, education on drugs, safe places where drug addicts can consume drugs, treatment and timely diagnosis of HIV and Hep C and the free distribution of condoms amongst sex workers.  Bearing in mind the country we are in, where healthcare is a luxury, where the new mayor of Bogotá closed down social and medical programmes for the marginalised population groups, does anyone take these lofty declarations seriously?  It is more likely that given that this forms part of the international debate, one of the consultants thought it would be a good idea to include it, knowing that they would not implement it, but rather that it would form part of the debate regarding production and the increasing consumption of drugs in Colombia.  Harm reduction policies generally signal a change to less prohibitionist regimes.

However, this point of the Final Accord, continues to be prohibitionist, not just because of the general declarations on drug trafficking but rather the specific proposals for peasants that it contains.  First, they propose alternatives to coca within the framework of the rural proposals made in Point 1 of the Accord, proposals which contain nothing good for the peasantry and as was analysed in another article, represent the triumph of agri-business i.e. agrarian capitalists and investors over the peasants.(4)  These projects will not do away with the economic needs of the peasants and it most likely that they will plant coca and opium poppy again and we can rest assured that the suspension for two years of criminal prosecution, contained in Article is not enough.  But it is not a question of time, but rather of that prohibitionist vision that continues to be in force.  So much so, that the uribistas took advantage of the FARC’s and the government’s vision (it is worth pointing out that the Accord belongs to both of them and not just one of the parties) and inserted the following gems in the new version.

First of all, they reduced the timeframe from two years to one, something which may annoy the fans of the peace process, but if we accept the prohibitionist vision and the persecution of the peasants, the difference between one year and two is a technical question and not a core issue as it should be.  But the most serious thing is the following point which appears in the new version on page 101.

It will be the duty of every person who has had any part in the activities associated with any part of the chain of the illicit use crops and their derivatives, in the context of the conflict, to appear before the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, to provide the Chamber for the Recognition of Truth, Responsibility and Establishment of Facts and Conduct of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace the necessary information that they have in a detailed and thorough fashion on the activities engaged in and the circumstances surrounding their commission as well  the required sufficient information that they have knowledge of in order to apportion blame.  This should contribute to guaranteeing the rights of victims to reparations and non-repetition. (Emphasis is not in the original).
This means that the peasants who grow coca and the coca pickers will have to appear before the SJP and tell all they know.  All those who had any relationship with any part of the chain is to be criminalised, from the women who cook food for the coca pickers to the generals who are in prison today.  We will hear the liberal leftie claim that we shouldn’t worry that it is really meant for the accountants etc.  It worth pointing out that Uribe and his lackeys, people who are surrounded by corrupt accountants, generals and lawyers, wrote this particular gem.  Are we really meant to swallow that hook, line and sinker?  Here we have another mechanism to pursue the peasantry and maybe confiscate the land of those who do not appear before the SJP.

A prohibitionist view that hits the peasantry hard and will not change the rules of drug trafficking one bit.  Missing from the Final Accord is any proposal to revise the Single Convention and other international treaties, as many academics and social organisations have proposed, although it does allude to it without having the courage to clearly say so.  They could have proposed decriminalising drug consumption (which is not the same as legalisation or personal dose).  These would be minimal proposals, but no.  The only unknown factor in this episode is exactly what drug the FARC were smoking when they agreed to this.


(1) Escohotado, A. (2004) Historia General de las Drogas, Madrid: Espasa Forum.

(2) For further information see Bewley-Taylor, D.R, (1999). The United States and International Drug Control 1909-1997, London: Pinter.
Bertram et al (1996). Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial, London: University of California Press.
Boville Luca de Tena, B. (2000). La Guerra de la Cocaína, Madrid: Editorial Debate.

(3) El Tiempo (22/06/2015) Avalan consumo y comercialización de productos con hoja de coca 

(4) See

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