Colombia’s cocaine shame


ILLEGAL drug use around the world is a scourge that ruins the lives of addicts and their families and undermines the very fabric of civilized society. There is hardly a government anywhere has not dedicated itself to destroying the narcotics trade by tracking down the farmers who grow opium poppies from which heroin is produced and the coca plants that are the main constituent of cocaine.

The identities of the drugs lords and their criminal gangs who trade in death are well known. International bank transactions are monitored to identify the laundering of drugs money. Satellites survey likely growing areas and identify the deadly crops. Customs men around the globe are constantly making large discoveries of smuggled narcotics. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year in the seemingly endless war on drugs, yet by all accounts the authorities are still losing and losing badly. One key metric is that despite seizures by law enforcement officers, of often large consignments, the street price of cocaine is either stable or actually declining.

The United Nations has just come out with depressing figures which claim that despite all the efforts mounted to curtail production, in a single year, coco output in Colombia, the world’s largest producer of the narcotic, has increased by almost a third. This startling statistic from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reveals that last year the coca harvest was up 31 percent to around 1,400 tons from a cultivated area of around 1,700 square kilometers, roughly the same land area as our capital Riyadh. Experts say that one reason for the increase is that farmers are growing hybrid plants that are more productive.

The brutal Colombian drugs cartels have now been surpassed in terms of atrocities by Mexican drugs barons who slaughter, sometimes en masse, both their criminal rivals and anyone who objects to or seeks to stand in the way of their horrific trade. It is hardly surprising that police and judges as well as local and national politicians feel themselves intimidated by these ruthless gangs. These thugs deserve no mercy.

However, it may with good reason be asked why, if the UNODC can view satellite images of Colombian coca fields to make its calculations, those same images are not being used to direct massive spraying programs to eradicate crop. To its credit, the Colombian government in 2015 did mount an aerial spraying campaign with help from Washington. But on the advice of another UN agency, the World Health Organization, the program was suspended because the glyphosate chemical they were using has been linked to cancer. The question that no one appears to have asked is which is the more dangerous and far-reaching cancer, international drug addiction or tumors among members of the gangs growing coca?

The United States is the largest market for Colombian cocaine, where it is treated as a recreational drug. Since some US states have already legalized the growing and use of marijuana, can it be long before pressure mounts to also decriminalize cocaine and heroin? The argument that this will destroy the lucrative business model of the drugs barons is specious rubbish. The immense destructive power of narcotics lies in their addiction. The war on drugs simply cannot be abandoned. Instead the forces ranged against these loathsome criminals must be increased exponentially until their immoral trade is stamped out.