War on drugs prolonged Colombia’s decades-long civil war, landmark report finds

The punitive, prohibitionist war on drugs helped prolong Colombia’s disastrous civil war, the country’s truth commission has found, in a landmark report published on Tuesday as part of an effort to heal the raw wounds left by conflict.

The report, titled “There is a future if there is truth” was the first instalment of a study put together by the commission that was formed as part of a historic 2016 peace deal with the leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

That deal formally ended five decades of civil war that killed more than 260,000 people and forced seven million from their homes. Other leftist rebel groups, state-aligned paramilitaries and Colombia’s security forces contributed to the bloodshed, with atrocities committed on all sides.

The violence has affected all sectors of Colombian society – from political and business elites to rural peasant farmers – with drug money funding insurgents, paramilitaries and corrupt politicians. The poorest farmers have often been forced – either economically or at the barrel of a gun – to grow coca, the base ingredient used to make cocaine.

But the report found that “the union of the interests of United States and Colombia led to the construction of Plan Colombia”, a massive multibillion-dollar military aid programme that began in 2000, “which merged together the counter-insurgency, anti-terrorist and anti-narcotics programmes with the war against narco-terrorism”.

The report found that a “substantial change in drug policy” should be implemented and that a transition “to the regulation of drug markets” should follow, while also placing some of the blame at the US, who funded Colombia’s armed forces during the war.

“We cannot postpone, as we did after millions of victims, the day when ‘peace is a duty and a mandatory right’, as expressed in our constitution”,” said Francisco de Roux, the truth commission’s president at a ceremony in Bogotá.

The report called for major changes to Colombia’s military and police forces, which have received more than $8bn from the US over the past two decades.

It said the military’s objectives should be re-evaluated and all human rights violations committed by security forces should be tried by civilian courts instead of falling under the military justice system.

Like many victims of the conflict, Ángela María Escobar celebrated the launch of the report as a chance for Colombia to heal after decades of bitter war. Escobar survived sexual violence at the hands of members of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (or AUC), a now-defunct rightwing paramilitary organisation.

“It’s vital that all Colombians, and the whole world, truly understand what happened during the conflict, which affected so many families and so much of society,” said Escobar, who now runs an organisation for female victims of the conflict.

The report also made policy recommendations which could be picked up by the incoming administration of president-elect Gustavo Petro, including reforming the armed forces, the creation of a ministry for reconciliation, and the protection of human rights defenders from political violence.

Petro – the first leftist ever elected head of state in Colombia – will take office on 7 August. He was a guerrilla fighter with the M-19 militia in his youth and is a firm supporter of the peace process with the Farc.

The leftwing firebrand attended the launch ceremony in Bogotá on Tuesday morning, along with his vice president-elect, Francia Márquez, who was forced to flee her home during the conflict. She will be the first black woman to fill the post.

Outgoing president Iván Duque, a sceptic of the deal who has been accused of slow-walking its implementation to undermine it, was in Portugal for the United Nations ocean conference.

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