Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs: “We Must Change the Narrative”

The Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs took place this week in the city of Cali, Colombia. There was consensus on the failure of the war on drugs, however there is still no clarity or agreement on a new drug policy .

Nestor Osuna, Minister of Defense of Colombia

Photo: EFE/ Ernesto Guzmán


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Leer en español: Conferencia Latinoamericana y del Caribe sobre Drogas: “Hay que cambiar la narrativa”

The Latin American and Caribbean Conference on Drugs left a common agreement this Friday: that the traditional war on drugs is a failure and must be rethought, but there is no consensus on outlining a new model that regulates drugs such as cocaine.

At the meeting held from Thursday to Saturday in the Colombian city of Cali, experts and government representatives – mainly Colombian – have proposed a roadmap to propose a new way of addressing the global drug problem that leaves behind , among other issues, the persecution of peasants.

"International leadership belongs to our country and I believe it is being exercised in a responsible manner," said Colombian Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna, in the first of the day's panels.

And within that leadership, he assured, the Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, has pointed out in various summits and countries "to the international community that prohibitionism was not a correct policy."

New drug policy

The president himself will present on Saturday at the closing of the Conference the new drug policy, an initiative that seeks to stop persecuting farmers who grow coca leaves and emphasize actions against drug trafficking networks.

This "change of narratives" is an important step, say organizations that work with farmers and have a lot of knowledge about drugs, but experts such as María Alejandra Vélez, director of the Center for Studies on Security and Drugs (Cesed) at the University of Los Andes, in Bogotá, considers that Colombia is being "timid" in the face of its "international leadership."

Read also: The New Drug Policy in the World: the Change Proposed by Colombia

"I celebrate the drug policy but I call for us not to be shy at least in proposing what this model of regulated cocaine can be like because if we stay in defending the peasant producer without proposing alternatives on the other side, with a market of 21 million consumers of cocaine, what is fixed on one side, will explode on the other," said the expert.

The Minister of Justice, in response, hoped that "we will move to a world without illegal drug economies, with responsible, reasonable regulation of cocaine, heroin, opioids, cannabis," but he highlighted that currently with international laws it is difficult to do.

For this reason, Colombia cannot act outside that international framework, said the minister, but it will propose in international settings "that a regulated market is required with reasonable use of cocaine, heroin, opioids, all these substances, and that prohibition and punitivism did not work.

And the progression of alcohol, whose consumption was persecuted a century ago, can be a guideline, as well as that of tobacco, which has reduced consumption not by "taking smokers to jail" but with prevention and public health campaigns.

End punitivism

On the other hand, the conference also addressed ways to leave punitivism behind. "It is an imaginary that does not correspond to reality to think that the big drug trafficking bosses are in prisons, that is not true, the prisons are full of poor people," said the minister.

"Punitive approaches have limited results in any field and thinking that criminal law or a punitive approach or prison can give results beyond the limits of criminal punishment is a frequent error of our contemporary societies, fueled by the punitive phenomenon", considered.

But "there is no room to act" in ending the punitive approach, which is why the Colombian Government believes that persecution efforts should be focused on the major leaders of drug trafficking and not on peasants.

"What we are going to do is prioritize the punitive approach in the fight against cocaine, not against the coca leaf, not against the poor peasant who has had no alternative but the coca leaf," Osuna stated.

The Latin American and Caribbean Drug Conference has been collecting positions, criticisms and new ideas for two days to address a global problem and tomorrow they will deliver their conclusions to the Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, and the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

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