Written in collaboration with Diego Garcia Devis, Program Officer, Global Drug Policy Program, Open Society Foundations.
BOGOTA - President Juan Manuel Santos's decision to suspend Colombia's aerial spraying program is a welcome move that further strengthens his position as an international leader of drug policy reform. This is a bold step that signals an important shift away from a focus on the coca farmers as the main counter-narcotics effort, in favor of strengthening efforts against criminal gangs that benefit overwhelmingly from their involvement in the drug supply chain.
While suspending fumigation to eradicate coca crops is the right way forward, it is only the first step. An innovative reform agenda is urgently needed to pave the way for long-term stability in Colombia and the Andean states. Coca growers from different regions have several proposals for their government. These are plans for integral development would require a strong state presence. In addition, experiences from other Andean states that have reduced coca production could also be instructive for Colombia.
Colombia's government needs to implement policies that:
- Are developed in consultation with peasant communities.
- Avoid forced eradication and allow a realistic amount of time for voluntary substitution.
- Clearly define communities that have a historical relationship to coca, regulate their coca production, and provide them with models for coca industrialization.
- Strengthen citizen security for these communities.
- Protect and promote human rights.
- Make a special effort to address the socio-economic needs of peasant women, including those who were affected by sexual violence as result of the armed conflict.
Many European countries have prioritized the wellbeing of their citizens by adopting new drug policies. Colombia is now in a strong position to demonstrate to the world that drug policy can be reformed in a manner that is based on evidence and that ensures the best possible outcome for all of its citizens.
Photo caption: Communities with a historical relationship to coca produce medicinal and nutritional products from the leaves. Photo taken by Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Lerma, Cauca, Colombia.