Less than fifteen days after the FARC revealed its proposal on drugs, La Silla has seen the most recent draft of the National Drug Statute that the government is planning on presenting to Congress in March. The two documents fit together perfectly.
The Vice-Minister for Criminal Policy and Restorative Justice, Farid Benavides, acknowledged to La Silla that it is possible that in various areas the proposals coincide but that this is a coincidence, the result of what studies have said on the issue and not that they are synthesizing together at the negotiating table, at which the Minister is not participating. “If it has benefits, that is another story,” he said.
La Silla verified that those at the negotiating table were not consulted for this statute and, in any case, this is the third version that the government has drafted to replace the current Narcotics Statute. The first draft was put forward by Germán Vargas Lleras – in Santos’s first year in government – when he was Minister of the Interior and it had a completely repressive approach. The new version is in line with new international focuses on the fight against drugs.
In any case, even if it was not intentional, this new version spearheaded by Minister Ruth Stella Correa fits in with an eventual agreement with FARC in five areas:
1. Sending the message that the government is reconsidering its drug policies
This new statute will abandon the exclusively repressive logic of the Narcotics Statute and has a more progressive focus, in the philosophical line of the Commission composed of former Latin American presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Ernesto Zedillo and César Gaviria. “Part of the acknowledgement is that Colombia is not only a producing country but also a consuming one,” explains Vice-Minister Benavides. “Therefore it incorporates a public health approach.”
The new version of the statute explicitly says that the consumption of psychoactive substances will not be penalized, that drug policies must respond to accurate information (and not to ideologies), emphasizes prevention of consumption and concentrates repression on drug trafficking and not on the weaker links – the growers and the consumers.
In this way, among others, the government is sending the signal to the FARC that it is willing to rethink the philosophy that inspired Plan Colombia, which has guided the fight against drugs and counterinsurgency for the past decade.
2. Creating the possibility to legalize illicit cultivation
The statute would allow the National Drug Policy Council – composed of the majority of ministers – to authorize – in areas established jointly with the Anti-Drugs Police – cultivation of “plants which can produce psychoactive substances if they are meant for legal uses.”
This follows the line of the FARC’s proposal in Havana in the sense of exploring ways to transfer illegal crops to “alternative or substitution production or towards its legalization for medical, therapeutic or cultural ends.”
3. Restricting aerial spraying
The statute creates various controls for aerial fumigation, including that this type of eradication must have an environmental management plan approved by the Environmental Licensing Authority; it must follow a prior Operating Plan which measures its results; and it must have a damage mitigation plan. Furthermore, it prohibits this type of spraying in protected zones such as national parks. This, in practice, would reduce aerial spraying significantly.
Aerial spraying not only destroys illicit crops but also food crops among which the farmers plant coca. Since the FARC’s social base is mostly made up of coca farmers, who feel the impact of this type of eradication most strongly, this measure will be welcomed by the guerrillas at the negotiating table.
4. Promoting voluntary manual eradication
The statute states that the government will encourage communities involved in illicit cultivation to help in their manual eradication.
Since the time of Caguán, the FARC has proposed a substitution of crops to directly involve coca farmers. This – within the context of comprehensive agrarian development, which is one of the agreements in the Havana process – would allow employment options for farmers in their zones of influence. Obviously, the FARC could politically capitalize on this program.
5. Creating mechanisms so that FARC collaborators do not end up in jail
The statute creates opportunities for small-scale coca growers if they voluntarily enroll in the eradication programs as well as for traffickers when their “contribution to crime has not been significant” and if they collaborate to dismantle drug trafficking gangs and are not the heads of criminal or terrorist organizations.
This would allow the prosecutors to not open trials against farmers living in FARC areas and who – either because of their own decisions or because of fear – ended up helping the guerillas. Trying their collaboration is difficult but it would be easy to incriminate them for their coca cultivations which are not easy to hide.
This norm would avoid small coca farmers and guerillas ending up in jail. It would also allow the middle men to betray coca buyers from big cartels.