Blinken: US Backs Petro’s Holistic Drug Approach

BUCARAMANGA, Colombia (AP) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Monday in the Colombian capital with leftist President Gustavo Petro, who has been an outspoken critic of anti-narcotics policy, a central issue in the bilateral relationship.

Blinken assured that with respect to the fight against drug trafficking, the United States supports the “holistic approach” that Petro is adopting through justice, community development, environmental protection, and the reduction of supply and demand.

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“We are in tune on this, we are both thinking about comprehensive approaches, there is no single solution for all problems,” Blinken told reporters in a joint statement with Petro at the presidential palace.

Since taking office in August as the first left-wing president in Colombia’s history, Petro has insisted on making changes to anti-drug policy, which he considers has “failed” so far, and on diversifying the bilateral agenda with the United States, emphasizing efforts to mitigate climate change.

The change in the anti-narcotics strategy, Petro pointed out, goes through an agrarian reform and the substitution of illicit crops, strategies that are already reflected in the peace agreement signed in 2016 between the Colombian State and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), what was the oldest guerrilla in Latin America. The United States has donated more than a billion dollars to implement it.

The president pointed out that these two points have not been fully met until now and that he plans to implement them. The rural reform implies giving at least three million hectares of fertile land to peasants, which, according to Petro, would have an impact not only on food sovereignty, but would also be a “disincentive to coca leaf production.”

However, financing becomes a problem, estimates that between 7,000 and 14,000 million dollars are required.

It also seeks to reinforce the illicit crop substitution program, with which productive projects of peasants who abandon the planting of coca leaves and change it to legal agriculture are financed.

Petro assured that the increase in maritime and air interdiction capacity and the increase in intelligence capacity to capture drug owners who live not in remote areas of Colombia, but in large cities, is still a topic of conversation with the United States. cities like Bogotá, Medellín, Miami and New York.

“Perhaps they do not carry a rifle, perhaps they have been in these halls of the (presidential) palace of Nariño, in the whole of political power,” he explained.

David Castrillón Kerrigan, research professor of International Relations at the Externado University, assured The Associated Press that Blinken was strategic in supporting the comprehensive vision of the fight against drugs that is in line with what the Joe Biden government has proposed address it from the demand of American consumers. yes

However, Castrillón believes that Petro’s real challenge will be in the US Congress, where his vision is not very popular and may lack the same support.

Petro has proposed profound changes to the government of Joe Biden, such as allowing drug traffickers who negotiate with the Colombian state not to be extradited, as long as they do not reoffend. In the event that the drug traffickers fail to comply with the agreement, they would be extradited without the right to any type of negotiation in the United States.

Blinken defended the extraditions, saying they have benefited justice in both countries and the victims and helped dismantle transnational criminal organizations. He assured that these are sovereign decisions of both countries and that the extradition process continues.

For Rafael Piñeros, professor of International Relations at the Externado de Colombia University, the United States is giving Petro a wide berth and seeks to have a good harmony with his government in the next four years, even when there are critical issues such as extradition or the debate on legal benefits for criminal gangs or former FARC combatants who reoffended and are dedicated to drug trafficking.

In the rich bilateral agenda, the United States reaffirmed its support for the “more complete” implementation of the peace agreement signed with the FARC. Blinken will sign on behalf of the government for the United States to be the first international companion of the ethnic chapter of the peace agreement, in a ceremonial act together with Vice President Francia Márquez, the first Afro-descendant to hold that position in Colombia.

Blinken explained that the ethnic chapter seeks to ensure the rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups that have suffered disproportionate damage from the armed conflict in Colombia. “This highlights our shared conviction that lasting peace must be an inclusive peace,” she added.

Blinken also highlighted that Colombia represents a “model for the region”, given its policy of welcoming Venezuelan migrants and the United States plans to continue supporting that effort. The Andean country is home to 2.4 million Venezuelan migrants out of a total of 6.8 million who have left their country due to the political and social crisis.

Piñeros assured that Colombia is a strategic ally to control migration from the point of origin and prevent it from reaching the United States border, when the irregular migration of Venezuelans increased in August. and became the second-highest nationality among migrants illegally crossing the border into the United States.

The relationship between Colombia and Venezuela has taken a turn now that Petro has recognized Nicolás Maduro as legitimate president and not opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The thaw began with the appointment of ambassadors, the commercial reopening of the border and advanced when Venezuela agreed to be a guarantor country in the peace negotiations that Petro seeks to resume with the guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN).

Blinken emphasized that the United States will continue to work for a “democratic” Venezuela and that they hope that the dialogue between the Maduro government and the opposition will resume and then hold impartial elections. He added that governments like Venezuela’s that cast aside democratic norms must be held accountable.

Blinken’s tour will continue in Chile, where he will meet with President Gabriel Boric, and will culminate in Peru at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS).

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