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Colombia Leader's Drug Plan Tests Longstanding U.S. Relationship

Colombia’s new leftist leader is proposing steps to decriminalize elements of his country’s flourishing narcotics industry, signaling a potential break with a hard-line strategy on drugs and a test of Bogotá’s ties with its most powerful ally, the U.S., reports the Washington Post. President Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla whose election this summer marked an end to decades of conservative rule in Colombia, would permit small-scale farmers to legally grow coca leaf, the raw material for cocaine, and address deforestation and climate change by paying farmers not to plant the crop — or anything else — in Colombia’s rainforest.

He said the booming international drug trade, more powerful than in the days of famed Colombian cartel leader Pablo Escobar, and the destabilizing toll it had taken on Latin American nations illustrated the “resounding failure” of the U.S.-backed war on drugs. “We need to construct a more effective path,” he said in an interview at the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. He made an appeal for support from consumer nations, principally the United States. “I can’t go down this path alone, given that the demand comes from outside Colombia,” he said. Petro’s desire to pursue significant changes to Colombia’s policies, which for decades have included U.S.-funded efforts to forcibly eradicate coca plants and spray pesticide on coca fields, reflect a desire for profound change in a country where persistent economic inequality and the toll of the coronavirus pandemic have generated popular unrest.


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