The result of the second presidential race on June 19 in Colombia was going to be unprecedented in any case, as it pitted two political “outsiders” who campaigned against the establishment. But the winner, the progressive senator (and former guerrilla leader) Gustavo Petro, did so twice as unprecedentedly, as he will now become the first left-wing president in the country.
Petro won a limited victory over rival right-wing populist Rodolfo Hernandez, a belligerent construction mogul in Donald Trump’s mold. The couple represented diametrically opposed populism marks. Petro’s campaign emphasized multiculturalism and ecology, as well as the more traditional leftist demands of social and economic justice. Formula Fellow Colombian environmental activist Francia Márquez will become the country’s first black vice president since the inauguration on August 7.
“This story we are writing today is a new story for Colombia, for Latin America, for the world,” Petro said in his victory speech at a stadium in Bogota. “We will not betray this electorate.”
But despite the advances of recent years — a peace process to end the civil war, the emergence of a legal cannabis sector — the dystopia of the war on drugs in Colombia remains deeply rooted. Petro will face the challenge of lifting pressure on small-scale cannabis farmers, who have largely lagged behind as large-scale greenhouse operations dominate the legal industry.
Corporate or peasant cannabis?
The good news is that there is now a consensus on the commercial cultivation of cannabis legalized in almost the entire political spectrum of Colombia. Medicinal marijuana was legalized in December 2015 by decree of then-President Juan Manuel Santos, who the following year would win the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating peace with FARC guerrillas. Along with the peace agreement, in 2016 the Colombian Congress also approved commercial cultivation.
Even Santos ’hard-line successor, outgoing incumbent Iván Duque, who rejected the peace deal and bottleneck in its implementation, has adopted a commercial cannabis sector. On February 20, Duque signed Resolution 227, which expands commercial licenses and approves the use of cannabis in food and beverages. He also announced his support for legislation allowing exports.
And this program was enthusiastically accepted by both Petro and Hernandez.
Hernandez went so far as to say that cannabis could become the “engine” of Colombia’s economy, highlighting the “large amount of foreign investment” that the sector has received. His campaign cited a study by Colombian think tank Fedesarrollo that found that cannabis could generate exports worth more than $ 1.7 billion by 2030.
However, in the face of the ongoing armed conflict and drug violence, Hernandez took an extremely tough stance, promising a “zero impunity” approach to crime. He said he would declare a state of emergency by taking possession and order security forces to reclaim areas “where armed actors exercise political and territorial control.”
Petro, on the other hand, says he will reform the security forces and purge his leadership at the highest levels. He considers the “war on drugs” a failure and is committed to reorienting the efforts of low-income farmers and couriers to the financial and business sectors that facilitate trafficking and launder revenue.
And that points to likely differences in his approach to cannabis. Unlike Hernández, Petro did not emphasize the expansion of the cannabis sector as a platform. However, when asked in an interview with Bogota Newsweekly Week In March, he responded bluntly: Cauca. ”
The southwestern region of the Cauca is the traditional heart of illicit cultivation in Colombia, and not by chance, one of the regions most affected by the ongoing armed conflict.
The interviewer pressured Petro on which son of a former president enters the cannabis industry, but did not say names. However, rumors in the Colombian media have named Martín Santos, the former president’s son, as seeking participation in a potential cannabis producer called Metódica Consulting.
And no doubt foreign investors promoted by Hernandez have invested money in large-scale facilities in the immediate vicinity of Bogota, far from inland peasant production areas like the Cauca, where very little has changed.
Eradication, counterinsurgency operations continue
The cultivation of peasant cannabis in the Cauca is still almost unlicensed, which means that producers have no choice but to sell it to criminal networks, which overlap with the armed factions. This, of course, makes them targets for counterinsurgency as well as ongoing eradication efforts.
On May 11, the army uprooted two plots of cannabis in a raid on the village of El Mayo, in the municipality of Toribío, in the Nasa del Cauca indigenous area. Troops arrived in the remote mountain village by helicopter to search for illegal crops and found what they were looking for.
The village was visited a few days later by the Colombian news site Las 2 Orillas. A local resident told reporters that affected families will go hungry, “since marijuana plantations are their only means of subsistence or survival.”
Mónica Díaz, a peasant leader in the municipality, stressed that local communities have been largely abandoned by the government, except when sending soldiers to eradicate crops. “The army does not agree with us cultivating these plants, but it is the only way, because the government is not cooperating with us,” he said. “It’s our only way of subsistence.”
About a month later, on June 13, the armed forces announced the assassination of guerrilla leader Leider Yohani Noscué, also known as “Mayimbú” or “Commander Wilson”, in the Cauca municipality of Suárez. He was the commander of the Sixth Front of the FARC, which has remained in arms, in rejection of the 2016 peace agreement. “Jaguar”. His body was not recovered, but the Sixth Front confirmed his death and posted photos of his coffin, covered with the Colombian flag, which was lowered into a grave in a clandestine mountain location.
The media reported much of Mayimbú’s alleged control over cannabis cultivation in the “Golden Triangle” of the Cauca, defined by the municipalities of Miranda, Corinto and Toribío. There was the familiar sensationalism about new and supposedly ultra-powerful strains, with the traditional Punto Rojo supposedly replaced by “Creepy” (also turned into “Cripy”). Authorities estimate that 13,000 hectares are dedicated to the cultivation of unlicensed cannabis in the Golden Triangle of the Cauca.
And anger is rising rapidly over the continued eradication of illicit crops as fortunes are made in the corporate cannabis sector. On the same day of the raid in El Mayo, May 11, three peasants were injured in San José de Uré, Córdoba region, when residents reacted angrily to a National Police detachment sent to eradicate their crops. of coca. “The community was protesting peacefully, without weapons, when the police used state weapons to shoot at the civilian population,” José David Ortega, leader of the Asociación de Campesina del Sur de Córdoba, told El Espectador.
A similar incident was reported on May 9 in Jamundí, in the Cauca Valley (the next region north of the Cauca), where local residents gathered to protest angrily against a detachment of army troops sent in an eradication mission. The media did not mention any victims or make it clear whether the crops in question were cannabis or coca. Also in May, farmers in Tibú, north of Santander, cut off roads to prevent army troops from entering their communities to eradicate coca crops.
In April, the Putumayo Peasant, Cocalero, Agrarian and Environmental Movement (MOVICAAP) launched a protest campaign in that region of the southern rainforest to draw attention to “the severe conditions we suffer in our territories, generated by the forced eradication of coca leaf crops, abandonment by the state and systematic violation of human rights ”.
The spectrum of fumigation
A particular threat to further eradicate eradication dystopia is the return of aerial fumigation of the herbicide glyphosate on illicit crops: fumigation, as the government calls it. Started in the 1980s, it was suspended in 2015 due to health issues and amid legal challenges in practice by affected peasant communities. The United States stopped sending pilots hired for fumigation in 2013 after planes were shot down by guerrillas.
But Duque reactivated the fumigation program in 2018, this time on a smaller scale and conducted by drones instead of a forest plane, supposedly allowing for more precise guidance. In April 2021, Duque signed Decree 380, which establishes the regulations for the extension of fumigation. The text of the decree specifically mentioned “marijuana” as well as coca crops.
This May, the newly formed National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) held a meeting in the city of Cúcuta, where they decided to call a national strike if the government implements Decree 380. In April, more than 20 Colombian civil society organizations, including Dejusticia and Elementa, wrote to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requesting an official hearing to testify against the resumption of glyphosate fumigation.
The Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), the body established by the 2016 agreements to try cases related to armed conflict, is currently hearing its first case on communities affected by glyphosate fumigation. The complaint was filed by a group of farmers from villages in the region of Bolivar, represented by the Association of Agricultural Producers of the Zona Alta de San Pablo (ASOCAZUL). The litigants say that at least 40 farmers who were not even producing illegal bodies were affected by the fumigation, both affecting their health and destroying their (legal) crops, such as cocoa.
By 2020, a total of 263 similar complaints had been filed in the ordinary courts of Colombia, demanding reparations. Of these, 41 were in favor of the affected communities, and 57 in favor of the state. The remaining 156 are still pending.
In 2018, a verdict against glyphosate producer Monsanto in a California case filed by a cancer patient focused global attention on the dangers of the herbicide.
Colombian farmers and small-scale cannabis growers will no doubt have a more sympathetic ear in the presidential palace, Casa de Nariño, after Gustavo Petro takes office. We will soon see if Petro will really be able to control the security forces, break the link between cannabis and illegal armed groups, and extend legalized and regulated cultivation to places like the Golden Caucasus Triangle.