On August 7, 2022, Gustavo Petro was sworn in as Colombia’s new president and first left-wing leader, marking a shift in the country’s political landscape. Petro, 62, is a former member of the M-19 rebel group, a guerilla organization-turned-political party that aimed to introduce democracy to Colombia. As a former senator and mayor of Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, Petro is an experienced politician that signals hope for a country reeling from decades of political violence that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions.
Revisiting The Legacy Of America’s War On Drugs In Colombia
In 2000, the United States government introduced ‘Plan Colombia,’ a $1.3 billion initiative consisting of foreign and military aid aimed at countering narcotics operations. These efforts are widely thought to have exacerbated Colombia’s drug and organized crime problem. Colombian law enforcement and paramilitary organizations that received either funding or training from the US have been accused of widespread human rights violations and overall cocaine production was not reduced.
Colombia’s status as the world’s largest producer of cocaine has often been the impetus for instability and violence. As such, President Petro has called for new strategies and systems to address the problem of drug production and trafficking stating, “It is time for a new international convention that accepts that the war on drugs has failed… The war on drugs has strengthened mafias and weakened states.”
Turning A New Leaf Through Cannabis Legalization
Colombian Senator, Gustavo Bolivar, introduced a bill, backed by President Petro, to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults. Commenting on the bill via Twitter, Senator Bolivar said, “We will stop killing ourselves for a plant that produces $25 billion a year in the USA.”
The bill will create a regulatory apparatus for the production, storage, promotion, and use of recreational cannabis. Analysts are confident the bill will be passed as Petro’s party, Pacto Histórico, enjoys a parliamentary majority.
In a country desperately needing economic reform and opportunities, legal cannabis offers a multifaceted solution across various industries. President Petro acknowledges this through his campaign website stating, “The production of cannabis and its derivatives will have a legal framework that facilitates permits and commercial, technical support for producer families, ensuring that small owners and producer cooperatives participate in the market and that safe distribution is guaranteed… In turn, spaces will be opened in international trade with a variety of derived products – medicinal, food, and textiles.”
How Leftist Policies Offer Colombians New Hope
Alongside changes to Colombia’s economic and foreign policy, President Petro’s historic victory promises social improvements too. Many of his supporters are young people who participated in the mass protests that rocked Colombia last year. Youth activists took to the streets to demand improvements in safety, economic, and social well-being.
Francia Marquez, Petro’s Vice President, is Colombia’s first Afro-Colombian deputy leader and is an ardent supporter of social justice causes such as gender and racial equality and indigenous rights. Petro himself campaigned on tax reforms, free tertiary education, basic income for vulnerable groups such as single mothers, and a transition to sustainable energy sources.
After gaining independence from the Spanish Empire in 1819 under the guidance of Latin America’s revered liberator, Simón Bolívar, Colombia has failed to thrive as its own nation. A perfect storm of foreign interference, political corruption, armed insurgencies, drug trafficking, and organized crime has stunted the country’s growth. As Gustavo Petro takes the helm during a period of immense optimism, he is in an ideal position to thrust his homeland to its full potential. In light of this, it is most fitting that at his inauguration, Petro requested that the sword of Simón Bolívar be displayed. Perhaps now, the fruits of liberation can be fully enjoyed by the people of Colombia.
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