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Colombian Leader Moves Ahead With 'Total Peace' Drug Plan

Following through on campaign pledges to end what he calls the "irrational" and "failed" war on drugs, Colombian President Gustavo Petro is pushing his audacious "Total Peace" initiative aiming to bring all of the country's armed groups and criminal actors to the negotiating table, Vice reports. Already a who's who of the country's most powerful mafias, paramilitaries and cartels have signaled a willingness to take deals potentially limiting prison time and preventing extradition to the U.S. in return for demobilization or surrender, which would end decades of bloody, cocaine-fueled conflict. Colombia's congress just approved legislation to formalize the process and Petro administration officials are reaching out to impoverished coca farmers seeking to rekindle crop-substitution programs.

But there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of Petro's chances for success. The 62-year-old economist and former left-wing guerrilla is cleaning house among the top ranks of the national security forces, causing one former official of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to worry that Colombia would "go down the route of Venezuela or Bolivia" and end anti-narcotics cooperation. The Biden administration has mostly been publicly supportive of Petro's plans, but the U.S. ultimately lacks significant leverage in the relationship. “The cultural strength of illegality is too strong, the infrastructure is too weak to implement significant effort at national level," said Kevin Whitaker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2014 to 2019. "Trying to do everything everywhere all at once is a recipe for failure and another failure is not what Colombia needs.” While the jury is still out as Petro’s plan takes shape in the early stages of his presidency, the universal takeaway was that regardless of the outcome his efforts will have a ripple effect for years to come on the global cocaine trade, which shows no signs of slowing down. “I don't think these people are ever going to leave a lucrative business like the production and distribution of cocaine,” said Mike Vigil, a decorated former DEA agent who was stationed in Colombia during the Pablo Escobar era. “In a way, negotiating is a stalling tactic where they buy time. They’re able to generate more money and become more powerful.”


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