A presidential candidate in Colombia, Rodolfo Hernández, a real estate developer who’s been compared to Donald Trump, proposed giving free drugs to addicts as a policy to end the violence related to drug trafficking.
“If we give drug addicts free drugs, be it intravenous, aspiration, or oral, then the demand is over. Nobody buys again,” Hernández told a crowd last week. “And if they don't buy [drugs] because we give them to users, the sale is over and the drug is over.”
On June 19, Colombians will cast their votes in a second round after none of the candidates managed to reach the 50 percent threshold during the first round, held on May 29.
Colombians will choose between Hernández and the former 1970s political guerrilla ‘M-19’ founding member Gustavo Petro, who would become Colombia’s first leftist president if he wins.
The illegal drug trade has been a central issue during the presidential campaign. Colombia is the biggest cocaine producer in the world, and home to powerful drug-trafficking organizations.
Petro, Hernández’s rival, has stated that Colombia “doesn’t need more violence” to stop the drug war.
“The drug war is fought with capitalism. It is not with lead or with more violence,” Petro said.
He also promised to use cannabis to substitute the traditional coca leaf plantations (coca is the base ingredient for cocaine) and said that if he won, he would start exporting cannabis from Colombia to the U.S. and Europe, a promise Colombians get almost every election.
Since Colombia’s government legalized cannabis in 2016 for medicinal use, millions of dollars have flowed into the country and corporations are now setting up pharmaceutical-grade crops.
Both candidates face wide discontent in Colombian voters, and security analysts are also skeptical of both candidates' proposals regarding drugs.
“There is a widespread perception that the drug war has failed, in Colombia and beyond,” Jeremy McDermott, co-founder and co-director of InSight Crime, a think tank studying organized crime in the Americas, told VICE World News.
“More than 20 years in the U.S.-funded Plan Colombia (a U.S. military aid to fight drug cartels) was launched, Colombia is exporting more cocaine than ever,” he said.
Six years after a historic peace deal was supposed to end 50 years of civil war, Colombians are still facing violence by armed groups. Colombia saw the highest homicide rates in seven years last year, and a 21 percent increase from 2019, according to official numbers.
Colombia’s biggest armed group, Clan del Golfo, a former guerrilla group-turned-drug-cartel, declared a “paro armado”—an armed strike—that installed a curfew after 7 p.m. across a chunk of the country last month. The action blocked main highways as retaliation for the extradition of drug boss Dario Antonio Úsuga, “Otoniel”, to the U.S.
Otoniel, first a member of the ELN guerrilla group and later a prominent paramilitary leader, rose to be the most-wanted cartel boss in Colombia, with the U.S. offering a $5 million bounty for his arrest.
“To change the focus of the fight against the drug trade, the focus should come off the weakest links in the cocaine chain,” McDermott said. “And focus on the corruption in the state and international brokers that facilitate and drive the business.”