President Trump threatened the decertification of Colombia as an ally in its counternarcotics efforts, according to a statement released by the White House on September 13.
President Trump’s hardline rhetoric regarding the War on Drugs is emblematic of a more troubling trend in global discourse surrounding counternarcotics efforts. Leaders around the world such as Trump and Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte view drug-related issues in strictly criminal terms.
Violence and organized crime as a result of the narcotics trade remain critical problems throughout the Americas. However, this is a multi-faceted issue that cannot be solved by mass incarceration.
Although coca production has been steadily decreasing, according to a report conducted by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, it has slowly increased in recent years. During this time, incarceration has skyrocketed as drug sales declined according to the Drug Policy Alliance, Penal Reform International, and Thailand Institute of Justice.
Forty years of the War on Drugs and the problem remains. World leaders such as President Trump must redefine the drug issue and stop viewing it in such simplistic terms. Incarceration does not stop the demand for drugs, and neither does limiting the supply of them.
We must address the drug issue for what it is: a global health endemic. Together, as a global community, we must build upon the efforts made at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs. We must provide rehabilitation programs and chances at reintegration rather than relying on imprisonment.
In his final United Nations General Assembly speech on September 19, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos captured this best in his response to President Trump’s accusation, explaining, “We all have a common and shared responsibility.”
Bryce Couch (SFS ’19) is the editor for Latin America and Caribbean. The editorial column can be found in the October 2017 Print Edition.