The punitive, prohibitionist war on drugs has helped prolong Colombia’s disastrous civil war, the country’s truth commission found in a landmark report released Tuesday as part of an effort to heal the wounds left by the conflict.
The report, titled ‘There is a future if there is truth’, was the first part of a study by the commission which was formed as part of a landmark 2016 peace deal with rebels in left of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
This agreement officially ended five decades of civil war that killed more than 260,000 people and forced seven million people from their homes. Other leftist rebel groups, state-aligned paramilitaries and Colombian security forces have contributed to the bloodshed, with atrocities committed on all sides.
The violence has affected all sectors of Colombian society – from political and business elites to rural peasants – with drug money funding insurgents, paramilitaries and corrupt politicians. Poorer farmers have often been forced – whether economically or at gunpoint – to grow coca, the basic ingredient used to make cocaine.
But the report found that “the joining of U.S. and Colombian interests led to the construction of Plan Colombia,” a massive multibillion-dollar military assistance program that began in 2000, “which merged counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and anti-narcotics programs with the war on narco-terrorism”.
The report concluded that a “substantial shift in drug policy” should be implemented and a shift “towards the regulation of drug markets” should follow, while placing some of the blame on the United States, which financed the Colombian armed forces during the war.
“We cannot postpone, as we have done after millions of victims, the day when ‘peace is a duty and an obligatory right’, as expressed in our constitution,” said Francisco de Roux, president of the truth commission at a ceremony in Bogotá.
The report calls for major changes in Colombia’s military and police forces, which have received more than $8 billion from the United States over the past two decades.
He said the army’s objectives should be reassessed and that all human rights violations committed by the security forces should be tried in civilian courts instead of the military justice system.
Like many victims of the conflict, Ángela María Escobar celebrated the launch of the report as a chance for Colombia to heal after decades of bitter war. Escobar survived sexual violence at the hands of members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a now defunct right-wing paramilitary organization.
“It is vital that all Colombians, and the whole world, really understand what happened during the conflict, which affected so many families and so much of society,” said Escobar, who now leads a organization for women victims of the conflict.
The report also made policy recommendations that could be taken up by the new administration of President-elect Gustavo Petro, including the reform of the armed forces, the creation of a ministry of reconciliation and the protection of human rights defenders against political violence. .
Petro – the first leftist ever elected head of state in Colombia – will take office on August 7. He was a guerrilla in the M-19 militia in his youth and is a strong supporter of the peace process with the Farc.
The left-leaning instigator attended the launch ceremony in Bogotá on Tuesday morning, alongside his elected vice-president, Francia Márquez, who was forced to flee her home during the conflict. She will be the first black woman to hold the position.
Incumbent President Iván Duque, skeptical of the deal and accused of slowing its implementation to undermine it, was in Portugal for the UN ocean conference.