Interviews

Santos wants continuation of war on drugs

posted by Wies Ubags

Colombia news - Francisco Santos

The war on drugs is successful and Colombia has to go on with it, the country’s vice-president Francisco Santos told Colombia Reports. Adding to the repression of trade, Santos wants cocaine consuming countries to make a bigger effort in preventing the use of the drug that has fueled Colombia’s 45-year long violent conflict.

Colombia’s vice-President denies vehemently that fighting the drug trade has failed as former President César Gaviria and other former Latin Americans leaders have stated. “What do they want then? That we’ll have 400.000 hectares of coca and that the FARC earn six times as much with drug trafficking?”

The prices of cocaine would go down in case of legalization, Santos admits, “but it is evident that the world is not ready for that. We have to make an end to the trade, but consumption has gone up.”

This is why the Colombian government, through the concept of ‘shared responsibility‘, tries to convince the international community and so-called consumer countries like the United States to work harder in deminishing drug consumption.

Initially, the government tried to convince cocaine consumers to stop snorting because the guerrilla and (former) paramilitaries use the drug trade as a source of income. This didn’t seem to have much effect. Now the campaign focuses on the consequences for Colombia’s jungle. Every line means the loss of 4 square metres jungle and as a consequence affects the animals living there. Ironically, “a poor little bird is more striking than war, because it appeals more to the people’s imagination.” Despite the fact that in countries like Spain the consumption of cocaine continues to increase, “we go on wih our campaign.”

Human rights

Santos, in charge of human rights for the government of Alvaro Uribe, is satisfied that the international Summit on a Mine Free World (29th of November- 4th of December) will be held in Cartagena. The summit on the anti-personnel mines will draw representatives of 150 countries to Colombia’s coast to talk about one of the deadliest problems Colombia deals with in its war against leftist rebels.

The summit will be all about exchanging experiences, Santos explains. “In Cambodia the problem is already moving towards its end and we can also learn from the Balkans, for example from their experiences with rehabilitation. We are focusing on demining, rehabilitation and prevention. The population has to be made conscious of the risks. FARC and ELN lay for example mines in schools or in coca fields.” About 35 percent of the victims are civilians, but the majority are members of the Armed Forces. Santos: “It’s diminishing, but there are still a lot of victims.” (In 2009 until now in Colombia there were 491 dead and wounded, 350 soldiers and 141 civilians. Because of this number Colombia remains the country with the largest amount of mine victims).

A second international conference the vice-President is glad with is the upcoming summit on prevention of recruitment of child soldiers. “You are always late in these things. Prevention costs a lot of money. There are no handbooks, nothing! Not even from Unicef. In 2007, we started working from scratch in 100 municipalities. You have to create sensitivity, a conscience of the seriousness of the problem and a responsibility in the local governments. Until recently, recruiting of child soldiers wasn’t tried, so we have to work hard. It’s a matter of trial and error. We want to work in 200 in 2010. You know that we found a 5 year old child in the computer of (FARC commander) Jerónimo? The guerrillas registrate everything, also the family members of their people, so when somebody deserts, they will go after the family.”

International Criminal Court

Since November 1, Colombia fully complies with the rules of the International Criminal Court. The recruitment of child soldiers is one of the crimes against humanity the Court is watching. “But crimes processed before the first of November can not be tried by the International Criminal Court“, Santos says. The vice-president doesn’t expect action from the Court any time soon, “But yes they are observing us.”

15 former paramilitary warlords who have been extradited to the United States and are being tried there on drug trafficking charges may also be prosecuted by the ICC. Santos does not see this happening as the AUC heads are already appearing before court. “They will receive sentences of between 10 and 40 years and after that they have to decide if they want to submit themselves to our Justice and Peace Law. That means they will have to go to jail for an additional five to eight years more.”

Colombia is frequently being criticized for violations of human rights, not only by guerrillas and new paramilitary groups, but also by the army. This doesn’t seem to bother Santos very much. He considers it all in the game. “We are having an ongoing dialoge with NGOs. It is their reactive role in relation to the State to focus on crimes committed by paramilitaries and the security forces.” The vice-President affirms Colombian claims NGOs should be more critical towards the guerrilla as well. “But they are doing a better job already.”

2010 elections

Francisco Santos, whose government’s term end next year, refuses to speculate on a possible re-election of President Alvaro Uribe and the consequences for himself. “My job finishes on the 7th of August 2010 at three o’ clock”, he says and it almost seems to be fine with this.

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