Headquarters of the United Nations
In his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, newly elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro delivered a fiery speech that recalled some of his campaign themes, denouncing the war on drugs as a failure and turning a blind eye to the global north. Destruction of the Amazon.
Eschewing the careful phrasing that characterizes so much diplomacy at the UN, Petro contrasted the dangers of drug addiction with humanity’s even more pernicious “irrational addiction to power, profit and money.”
“What is more poisonous to mankind, cocaine, coal or oil?” he asked.
“The opinion of power has dictated that cocaine is poison and should be persecuted, while causing minimal overdose deaths … but instead, coal and oil should be protected, even when they can extinguish all of humanity,” he said.
After UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that it was “burning our planet”, Petro called the global discourse on saving the environment “hypocritical”, saying that scientists’ recommendations and warnings about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest have long been ignored.
“The climate catastrophe that will kill hundreds of millions of people is not caused by the planet, but by capital. According to the logic of consuming more and more, producing more and more and earning more and more for some”, he also said.
Colombia is the world’s largest producer of cocaine, and for the last 50 years public authorities have pushed a prohibitionist agenda, banning the sale and consumption of drugs, in order to target criminals who profit from drug trafficking in their pockets. So far, however, the flow of illegal substances has not stopped.
In his speech, Petro, who was inaugurated last month, called on the whole of Latin America to stop the war on drugs.
“We don’t need a war to reduce drug use,” he said. “It takes us all to build a better society.”
Petro has said in the past that he wants Colombia to export food rather than cocaine, and encourage other types of production through agricultural subsidies rather than arms. His administration also recently introduced a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the country, and Colombian Senator Gustavo Bolivar – a close ally of Petro’s – told CNN in August that he believed the regulation could someday be extended to cocaine.
His appeals on Tuesday for a regional approach to drugs did not fall on deaf ears. In a press conference after the day’s talks, Bolivian President Luis Arce said on Tuesday that his administration had been in discussions with Petro about the topics of the conference.
“He shared with us the ideas he spoke about today. We would like to hear a very specific proposal about this”, said Arce.
Although he stated that Bolivia and Colombia face very different situations in terms of drug trafficking, Arce added that he believed that Colombia, Peru and Bolivia – the world’s three largest producers of cocaine – should unite their “criteria” to deal with the problem.
Since Petro took office, all three countries have been led by leftist leaders.
Bolivia already has a thriving legal market for coca byproducts, mostly the dried leaves chewed by the indigenous population, and the governments of Bolivia and Colombia have previously pushed for a rethink on drug policies at multilateral meetings.