In Test of Ties with U.S., Colombian Leader Proposes Shift on Drugs

By Missy Ryan

"This very important relationship is changing and might look dramatically different two years from now," said AS/COA's Brian Winter to The Washington Post.

Colombia’s new leftist leader is proposing steps to decriminalize elements of his country’s flourishing narcotics industry, signaling a potential break with a past hard-line strategy on drugs and a test of Bogotá’s ties with its most powerful ally, the United States.

President Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla whose election this summer marked an end to decades of conservative rule in Colombia, described plans that 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 it was 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. […]

Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, said Petro represents a “paradigm shift” on the issues that have dominated the U.S.-Colombian relationship, including the drug trade, border security and each country’s policy toward Venezuela. Petro is also urging changes to extradition practices that have allowed U.S. courts to try Colombian drug traffickers.

“He’s talking about a wholesale reinvention of the relationship between Colombia and the United States as it’s existed for the last 30 years,” Winter said. While both sides are proceeding cautiously as they size one another up, he said, “there’s no doubt that this very important relationship is changing and might look dramatically different two years from now.”…

Read the full article.