Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe criticized Wednesday the government’s push to discuss global drug legalization at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas.
In a column published in El Colombiano newspaper, entitled “Legalizing drugs: More Tragedies than Benefits,” Uribe claimed that legalization would create more social problems than it would cure.
Uribe criticized the arguments in favor of decriminalization, claiming “The official discourse is confusing. One day they talk about legalizing and the next they seek new policies; or they propose to tax the sale of drugs and then at a different time they say they will carry out a strong offensive, not understanding why it would contradict legalization,” he said.
Colombia’s current President Juan Manuel Santos and his Guatemalan counterpart Otto Perez Mollina have campaigned strongly to get this issue on the international agenda, successfully persuading the U.S. to discuss legalization in a multilateral setting for the first time at this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena. Numerous other leaders throughout Latin America believe the U.S. “war on drugs” has failed and have expressed their desire to legalize or decriminalize drugs.
But according to Uribe, drugs are a social ill whose use must never be officially endorsed. “Substances alienate the individual and turn them into a being with no self-control,” he claimed. Decriminalization would lead to the “weakening of security forces, who may argue that there is no justification for risking [their lives] over a criminal activity that may be legalized,” he added, going on to criticize the economic arguments for drug legalization.
“The legalization thesis, in which taxes would be put in place to cover the cost of rehabilitating addicts, is questioned by economists, whose (…) calculations show that legalization would increase the number of consumers by so much, especially at the beginning, that the tax rate would have to be so high that it would invite evasion and smuggling,” he said.
The former president also lamented the potential loss of Colombia’s forest to make way for the cultivation of plants used for drugs.
President Santos said in January he would welcome a debate on decriminalization, seeing that “Colombia may be the country that has suffered the most from fighting drug trafficking. It has cost us our best leaders, our best journalists, our best judges and our best policemen.”
Without explictly mentioning the U.S., Santos called on “the main consumer of the world, and Europe too” to debate the possibility of drug decriminalization if it could help reduce the violence caused by clashes between authorities and drug traffickers.
Colombia has been the world’s number one producer of cocaine since the 1980s. The drug trade is blamed for fueling the country’s armed conflict with leftist guerrillas and extreme violence carried out by right-wing paramilitary groups and drug cartels. Since the rise of popularity in the use of cocaine, tens of thousands of Colombians have died in violence related to drug trafficking. According to NGOs, the violence has displaced more than 5 million, more than 10% of the population.