The new president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, lambasted the US' decades-long war on drugs in Latin America in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, confirming a change in stance from a country that once fully supported Washington's anti-narcotics policies.
In his first address to the UN on September 20, Petro confronted the international community about what he perceived as failures in the fight against drug trafficking and climate change. He particularly focused on the controversial use of the herbicide glyphosate to destroy coca crops in Colombia and the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
"The war on drugs has failed. The fight against the climate crisis has failed. The jungle that we are trying to save is ... being destroyed," said Petro.
He also pointed out how the use of glyphosate to eradicate coca crops only worsened the environment. "To destroy coca plants, they throw poison, glyphosate ... that runs through the water," he added.
After pointing out alleged contradictions in how countries have dealt with drug trafficking, he called out the "hypocrisy" of countries claiming they want to save the rainforest which "burns while they wage war."
Finally, Petro called for a regional effort to save the Amazon and end the so-called war on drugs after decades. Should this fail, he warned that such policies could continue for decades and that the United States could see millions die from fentanyl overdoses, a drug which he claimed "is not produced in Latin America."
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Gustavo Petro's speech marks a major change in Colombia's position on key issues, including the war on drugs and its very relations with the United States.
His address was a public rebuke of Washington's costly efforts to win the war on drugs. From 2000 to 2016, the United States poured around $10 billion to strengthen Colombia's security apparatus, judicial system, and overall development as part of a bilateral cooperation plan known as Plan Colombia. And overall, Washington has spent up to $1 trillion worldwide as part of its anti-narcotics efforts, according to estimates from the Human Rights Foundation.
But Petro is not the first Colombian president to make such criticisms. In 2012, then-President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), who was from the center-right of the political spectrum, criticized years of bloodshed that showed little result.
While Petro has clearly stated his disagreement with the United States' stance on the war on drugs, the feeling that Colombia has paid in blood for the US' demand for cocaine is hardly new. Petro may now need to move on to the next question: how can the two countries continue to cooperate and coexist?