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Gustavo Petro has just stirred up a debate that has not occurred since the eighties. It is about what is the effective approach to face one of the most serious governance challenges of the last century, whose persistent presence seems to predict a long life. It is about the trafficking of drugs and other psychotropic and narcotic substances to use the language of the OAS.
This activity has become one of the most successful businesses started by Latin Americans since it has evolved from an artisanal activity into a global corporation with tentacles in all corners of the earth and with income that, according to Republican Senator David Purdue, is only for Mexican cartels amount to the staggering figure of US$500 million a year. In other words, the Bolivian cartels are not among these profits; Colombians,
This scenario was described by the Nobel Prize in Economics Milton Friedman in 1995 on the occasion of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the United Nations. On that occasion, the follower of Adam Smith postulated the need for the heads of state of the world attending the General Assembly to replace the criminalistic approach to drug use with one of health service. In short, he proposed declaring drug use as a disease and not as a crime.
According to Professor Friedman, if this change does not take place, the monopoly income from the fight against drugs would grow over time until it reaches proportions greater than the income of most of the states in the world. This would mean that drug business operators would have vast infusions of cash with which to build armies; bribe rulers; finance political campaigns and even buy islands. In short, the criminal treatment of drugs in Professor Friedman’s opinion would only contribute to creating powerful criminal organizations that would eat away at nation states.
Twenty-seven years later, the current president of Colombia assumes a position of rejecting the battle against drugs as it has been waged without proposing alternative policies. On the contrary, President Petro tried to trivialize the serious matter by indicating that cocaine was as harmful as oil or coal. And by saying this, I reveal a negligible knowledge of the brain damage caused by cocaine and the consequences this has for health systems. Even more, President Petro tried to start a debate on world policies to combat drugs by giving his speech a mocking tone that was not appropriate to the circumstances and that only contributed to the fact that the whole world continues to see the elites of Latin America as irresponsible and superficial.
And this opinion is already having consequences because when Latin American nations fail to comply with many of the commitments they assume in international treaties such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, investments are reduced. In a continent where savings rates are low because the majority of the population barely receives income to cover their basic needs, foreign investment is essential. Making jokes about the scourge represented by world drug consumption, production and marketing does not contribute to giving confidence to any investor. But it does contribute to stagnating the already paralyzed economies of the region.
Beatrice Rangel es directora del Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Managing Director de AMLA Consulting, responsable de negociar e implementar estrategias y adquisiciones de inversión corporativas en América Latina y el Caribe. Exmiembro ejecutivo de Wharton School de la Universidad de Pennsylvania // Beatrice Rangel is Director of the Interamerican Institute for Democracy, Managing Director of AMLA Consulting, responsible for negotiating and implementing corporate investment strategies and acquisitions in Latin America and the Caribbean. Former Executive Fellow of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.