Sunday, September 23, 2012

Drug Decriminalization: The Piece Missing from Peace Negotiations?

Today's El Tiempo contains a big section about Colombia's prospects for peace, perspectives about the likely peace negotiations and obstacles to peace.

By almost anybody's measure, reaching a succesful peace treaty between the Colombian government and Marxist guerrillas won't be easy. After all, this conflict has dragged on for more than half a century, and generations have grown up with this conflict, which involves much of Colombia's geography and a complex mix of illegal actors, including leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and narco-cartels dealing in a grab-bag of of commodities, both legal and illegal, including gold, gasoline, cocaine and heroin.

The Colombian government and guerrilla leaders have tried negotiating several times before, but gotten nowhere, and many Colombians blame that on the guerrillas insincerity.

But what if the FARC guerrillas knew that if they don't make a deal, they'd lose their cash cow, the illegal income? Would that inject a big dose of sincerity and urgency into them?

Colombian negotiators could make that threat real by vowing to push for drug decriminalization. Such a move would be controversial both inside Colombia and internationally. But the fear of losing most of their income would undoubtedly add urgency to the guerrillas' position. And, if the talks fail, that will enable Colombia to justify decriminalization to the rest of the world.

Decriminalizing drugs would also bring a second, more fundamental benefit to Colombia. After all, a peace treaty with the guerrillas won't change the fundamentals on the ground: Colombia will still be a big country with lots of remote regions and a weak government presence in many of them. And, while the illegal drug trade continues, a huge amouny of black market wealth will still be out there for the taking - and you can be sure that some illegal group will appear to grab it. Just look at the predicament of Mexico, which has no armed guerrillas, but does have the same conditions of weak government sovereignety and lots of illegal wealth flowing thru.

In fact, it could even happen that, with the FARC gone but poverty and economic inequality continuing, a new guerrilla organization would appear to fill the vacuum.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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