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Participation of Colombia in the United Nations During the Period 1945-1995

Chapter VIII:

The Drug Problem


Drugs are one of the toughest problems of contemporary times and for this reason it is not a coincidence that this problem has become a topic of the most important international meetings and that it has been taken to the United Nations due to the implications it has in the international arena. Within the process of drugs, which includes production, transformation, transportation, consumption, money laundering and associated activities, such as trafficking in chemical agents and arms it has come to the point where they have formed truly multinational crime organizations. All of this, of course, has attracted the interest of the international community given that it is a problem posing great difficulties for a country to overcome.

We are far from the situation described in the Records of Colombia´s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 1963 in which it states that the matter was discussed in the Third Committee, which

"…briefly took up the matter of international control of drugs, an issue which the United Nations then assigned to the Central Permanent Committee for Opium. The deep rooted use of alcohol which so strongly affects the weak economic groups in any society and particularly in Latin America, shows a certain degree of social similarity with the addiction caused by drugs, which although well presented with respect to questions of international trade, could derive useful lessons aimed at moderating the social consequences of alcoholism, especially among the poor working class; and therefore it is advisable to take up the problem of toxicomania in our environment given that the principal economic resources are oriented toward the East and Europe".

Twenty years later the situation was Colombia has been deeply altered. The marijuana crops have grown incredibly and powerful groups of delinquents became strengthened by the trafficking of this product and of cocaine. Confrontation between the State and these criminal groups had caused a violent response by the latter which was manifested in actions against members of the judicial branch and specifically the assassination of the Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, on April 30, 1984. These were serious, but internal problems that became more and more complicated as Colombia was singled out in the international realm as the cause of a plight that was extending throughout the world. From then on, Colombia had to seek the attention of international fora, and among them the highest bodies of the United Nations, to show how the country was a victim of the effects of drug trafficking, how it had declared war on the State´s institutions, particularly the judicial branch in the form of judges, magistrates, ministers, prosecutors, presidential candidates, police and soldiers that fell victims to narcotraffic. But above all, Colombia needed to make the international community understand that this was a type of criminality with vast reach, with international ramifications and that actions to combat it could be undertaken in a Manichean way, pointing at Colombia as the only guilty party. The answer had to be multiple and international. As of that moment, Colombia insistently posed the question of narcotraffic in the United Nations, through its Ambassadors, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Presidents. Let us see: In his speech before the General Assembly on September 25, 1984, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augusto Ramírez Ocampo, devoted an important segment of this address to the topic in a chapter called "Drug trafficking against peace". He reminded the Assembly that on August 10th in the city of Quito, the Presidents of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia and the VicePresidents of Nicaragua and Panama declared trafficking and the use of drugs a threat to the health of their people, placing conditions on their development and becoming a "constant danger of subversion". For these reasons it was necessary for the United Nations to hold a specialized international conference and declare narcotraffic to be a universal crime. It manifested that in order to combat narcotraffic actions had to be developed on a world scale and an aid fund created for the producer countries "…which at great costs are determined to eradicate it".

The speech made by Minister Ramírez Ocampo the following year on September 23, 1985 had a tone of pessimism and upbraiding due to lack of international interest in the topic:

"…we recently saw with surprise that developed countries abstained from supporting the proposal of the Secretary General to extend an invitation to a meeting of plenipotentiaries to deal with the topic of drug traffic, under the doubtful guise of its financial cost. We would like to clearly establish that our position with respect to this is to support any initiative taken in this area, because drug traffic constitutes an attack on man´s integrity".

A few days after the Minister´s presentation, a guerrilla group took over the Palace of Justice in Bogotá, the seat of the Supreme Court of Justice and of the State Council. As a product of this attack by the guerrillas and the response by the army to recover the Palace, it was completely destroyed by a fire and half of the Magistrates of the Court died, as well as tens of others. Under the weight of this impact, the representative of Colombia in the Third Commission of the General Assembly, Emilio Lébolo, gave another speech on drug traffic, particularly about its violent effects in Colombia. He began by quoting a sentence by the assassinated Minister of Justice, Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, to the effect that eradication of drug traffic was everyone´s responsibility. He stated that the support of the Colombian Government for a project to come to an agreement to combat drug traffic, as well as the initiative of the Secretary General to convene a UN conference on the control of undue use of drugs and how Colombia had expressed that narcotraffic must be considered a crime against humanity. He asserted that Colombia, "is the country that has made the greatest efforts to struggle against drug trafficking. Thanks to the action undertaken in this area, between January 1, 1984 and June 30, 1985 enormous amounts of drug were seized, many individuals captured and some of them extradited". With respect to the violence in Colombia, he recalled that it was developing a peace plan to integrate insurgent groups, but showed how the M19, the group that had launched violent action against the Palace of Justice,

"…has not respected the peace agreements and has assumed the objective of perturbing civil order and destroying institutions with the aid of the international Mafia of drug trafficking…It becomes clear that Colombian institutions have been threatened by terrorism and drug traffickers. Colombia shall not flag however, in pursuing the two objectives formulated for pacifying the country and eliminating drug traffic".

Shortly after taking office, President Virgilio Barco (1986-1990), spoke to the General Assembly for the first time and gave some consideration to drug trafficking. He recalled the efforts made by Colombia, at great economic cost and an elevated number of human lives, and emphasized another aspect of the problem, namely consumption which is basically located in developed countries. President Barco stated: "In order for this struggle to be successful, it is essential that countries that register the greatest level of consumption of these degrading substances, put coordinated programs into practice to penalize and discourage consumption and trading in these types of drugs. Here, as well as on other solidary battlefields against delinquency, it is imperative to achieve an understanding and coordination among all civilized nations".

In the Third Committee of the General Assembly in 1986, Ambassador Jaime Castro insisted on the international aspects of narcotraffic and the need for this to be treated as an international crime. According to him, it was necessary to achieve complementarity among countries to combat it parallely on all fronts, "that is, the production, traffic and consumption". Likewise, an overview of the analysis of the problem would benefit from a global approach which would take into account social, economic, cultural and political aspects that strengthen narcotraffic and narcodependency. He recalled that the United Nations had two exceptional manners for adopting definitions and policies regarding drugs; the proposal for the International Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Trafficking and the International Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Traffic (ICDAIT) to be held in 1987. He showed that the framework of the United Nations is suitable for treating these matters, because "…the problem has an universal dimension. Up until a few years ago, only a few countries were interested in it and drugs were concentrated in some regions, but today they affect about two thirds of UN Members States".

In the month of June, 1987 the Conference on Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Traffic was held in Vienna, and its emphasis was on global solutions. The Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances was approved. In the General Assembly's Third Committee of that year, the results of the Vienna Conference were analyzed an as a result emphasis was given to global solutions. Many delegations acknowledge that their countries were affected by problems of drug addiction and narcotraffic, among them several African delegations. Countries of the Pacific, especially New Zealand and Fiji expressed their alarm at the growing use their territories as places for drug transit. The Soviet Union also recognized its growing problem. "Only the United States appeared stubbornly reluctant to recognize their status of consumer and the responsibilities derived therefrom".

The Permanent Ambassador of Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa in speaking at the 1987 General Assembly noted that after the World Conference of Vienna, rhetoric had been replaced by recognition of responsibility we all have in combating drug addiction an narcotraffic. He showed the social costs that this struggle being waged against narcotraffic implied for Colombia; that resources had to be oriented toward that front instead of being invested in social areas and fighting against poverty. But above all, he recalled that consumption is a fundamental part of the process and stated:

"…we continue to be worried about the psychological association of the drug problem exclusively with production and traffic, given that consumption is the great generator of the problem and all the efforts that are made to decrease it will contribute more effectively to the struggle on which we have embarked, than all efforts at controlling production and transportation".

The universal, globalizing nature of each link of the phenomenon was emphasized before the General Assembly of the same year by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julio Londoño Paredes, who pointed out that the crusade against drugs was a matter for mankind that could not be carried successfully by one country of group of States; that what was needed was "a concerted international effort that would cover the phenomenon integrally, in its different phases of production, consumption and control of resources derived from this solvent traffic".

Colombia´s position had evolved in accordance with new understanding of the drug phenomenon. Each time it became clearer, and almost nobody refuted that narcotraffic was an international phenomenon composed of various phases in which different persons or groups of State were involved and that, as in all aspects of market economy, consumption and production are elements of the same equation. Likewise, it was realized that the drug business was not limited to that product, since alongside traffic in arms an other elements flourished. Therefore, the talk that tended to locate the cause or those responsible in a single country or region, or a single phase of the process has been overcome. Colombia, a country which has experienced a situation of different types of violence since tens of years ago, was very much aware of this link between the drug business and arms dealing. The speech by Minister Londoño Paredes during the General Assembly of 1988, devoted some words to clarifying these aspects of the drug business and linking it to terrorism and arms dealing. He stated that the fragile process of development of Third World countries must confront a stack of problems among which were:

"…the situation faced with the presence of destabilizing phenomena such as narcotraffic and terrorism. One of our great worries in this respect is the way how members of these groups obtain resources to combat legality and democratic institutions. The aberrant and absurd arms traffic, which takes place without any effective control in all corners of the world, serves to introduce disturbing elements with grave consequences for the countries that must bear these phenomena or for those popular democratic governments that are intended to be destabilized by means of intervention by others in their internal affairs. The universal hypocrisy becomes evident when this subject is analyzed, given that on occasions the same ones that pretend to be defenders of peace and safety, are those supplying arms to those struggling against them in other parts of the world. Frequently, certain arms manufactures stimulate the commercial aspects of this traffic and the entired world, without exceptions, is the victim of an absurdity that is based fundamentally on economic interests and in private greed."

On September 29, 1989, President Virgilio Barco addressed the General Assembly in his speech entitled "The International Struggle against Narcotraffic is not a War of Words". And truly is was not. The Colombian Government was vertically pitted against the drug cartels and the latter had unleashed a war against the state with attacks, massacres, assassination of judges and politicians and with terrorist actions. On that occasion, President Barco received a standing ovations at the General Assembly in recognition of this courage in confronting narcotraffic and its terrorist expressions. Just as he stated, the world community was being attacked by and international criminal organization that had no country and for which no law exist. If the community of nations failed to act as a united front against this plight, the use of drugs and violence paired by it would advance even further. "… I am sure that Colombia will defeat drug traffickers. But if this effort is not accompanied by a global commitment, final victory will not be reached". For Colombia it was not a war of worlds and many Colombians, including the Liberal Party presidential candidate, Luis Carlos Galán, had been assassinated due to his firm commitment against drug traffic. Phenomena such as drug traffic and terrorism, affect countries individually, but also constitute a powerful enemy that extends beyond borders. For this reason, the struggle must be international, and for that purpose President Barco proposed the following points:

1-It is essential to effectively attack the demand for illicit drugs and the profit they produce. Regardless of how much production is attacked, the business will continue if there is no action against the demand. "That´s what happened with marijuana. When it became too costly for traffickers to operate in Colombia, due to the effectiveness of public forces, tradesmen of this vice moved their crops to California, Hawaii and many other regions. The only law that traffickers do not violate is the law of supply and demand". 2- Illegal drugs are not innocuous, whether consumed in slums or at rich parties and this is a message we must insist on. 3- There must be taken against the international arms market which is linked to the drug trade, "last year Colombia presented a resolution to the United Nations, making a call for restrictions to be imposed on the sale of arms, but unfortunately it was not possible to reach a consensus among the Member States on this matter. We cannot continue to wait passively while this death trade progresses. Adoption of special measures to reduce and control the sale of arms to drug dealers and terrorists is essential". 5- Colombia is very much concerned about the activity of foreign mercenaries who have aided narcoterrorists in Colombia and the international community must condemn this mortal association between narcotraffic, terrorism and mercenaries. 6- International cooperation is essential in achieving control over money laundering since the drug cartels depend on the international financial system in relation to transfer of earnings. 7- All countries must quickly ratify the Vienna Convention. 8- Colombia proposes two international initiatives: a- To convoke a special session of the General Assembly aimed at discussing all aspects of the drug problem and b) To establish a ministerial level International Task Team on the Drug Problem in order to coordinate international action.

In furtherance of the Colombian proposal, the "Extraordinary Assembly on International Cooperation against Production, Supply, Demand, Traffic and Distribution of Illicit Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances" was held in New York from February 20th to 23rd, 1990. On behalf of the Colombian Government, the debate was opened by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julio Londoño Paredes, with an expression of his gratitude to the Assembly for its positive acceptance of the proposal put forth by President Barco with respect to the summons to the extraordinary session being held. He stated that the decade of the 80´s had been focused exclusively on a small number of developing countries, which simultaneously witnessed the shrinkage of their income and deterioration of their economies due to the discriminatory and unjust treatment given their export products. He refuted the idea that action against narcotraffic must be limited only to aspects of production, since "the decisive and even heroic struggle by some countries in the repression of traffic and processing of narcotics would serve no purpose, if at the same time no action is taken against the exportation of chemical input products; if consumption is not repressed and discouraged, if the transportation of inputs and basic products for their manufacture is not guarded against, if there on adequate control over the production of raw material, if there is no effective actions against the corrupt civil authorities and officers, military agents and police which in some countries benefit the transportation of narcotics and inputs with their actions or omissions, if there is no legal action against the goods and prevention of money laundering form these activities, if there is not full cooperation among the States that are involved in the struggle and if there is no just and fair treatment for the economies of the developing countries most affected by production and processing".

International cooperation must imply actions aimed at strengthening our economies, coming from industrialized countries to eliminate customs barriers and the subsidies that affect our basic export products. The United States, "…the number one consumer of narcotics in the world, has acknowledged the immense responsibility it bears in this struggle which until a short time ago assigned one country or a small group of producer or processor countries". As a consequence it has been recognize that the drug traffic problem is universal, as the negative effects on the Andean country economies has also been recognized.

As a result of this meeting, the Assembly approved by consensus the "Political Declaration and World Action Program" (A/S-17/AC.1/L3) aimed at adopting multidisciplinary and global scope strategies, including measures to eliminate the illicit demand for drugs, illicit crops and illicit traffic of drugs and to prevent abusive use of financial and banking systems. Likewise, an Action Plan was adopted for consumer countries to establish programs oriented at decreasing demand and for producer countries to combat supply of these substances, taking into account the social and economic effects that said policy could cause. Likewise, the Plan was addressed at coordinating efforts by all governments in this field.

In September, 1989, Great Britain attempted to raise the topic of drug trafficking at the formal sessions of the Security Council. For this purpose, it prepared a resolution proposal "Draft Security Council Resolution on the effect of International Drug Trafficking on International Peace and Security" according to which the ability of international drug cartels to intimidate and corrupt officials by the use of force, including death, constitutes a serious threat to the States and to regional and international peace.

The Colombian Delegation objected to the inclusion of this topic on the Security Council agenda and proposed the topic be with in the General Assembly as on previous occasions, given that notwithstanding its importance, it was something that did not place international peace and security in danger. On the other hand, leaving a topic such as this in the hands of the Security Council could imply an attack on the sovereignty of other States indicated as part of the problem and the justification for sending foreign troops to control the production and distribution of narcotics. Colombia then promoted a resolution proposal to hold a special session of the General Assembly on "International Cooperation against Production, Supply and Demand, Traffic and Distribution of Illicit Drugs", which was accepted by the CAUCUS, which is a group of non-aligned countries, members of the Security Council that meets informally.

Less than two months after the inauguration of Cesar Gaviria, as President of Colombia (1990-1994), he addressed the General Assembly, on September 26, 1990. César Gaviria had reached the Presidency after a bloody presidential campaign in which three presidential pre-candidates were assassinated and another seriously wounded, the latter Ernesto Samper, who succeeded Gaviria in the Presidency. Drug traffickers, in response to the persecution against them deployed by the State and the war President Barco had declared against them, had turned to terrorism and even demential actions, such as the sabotage of a commercial airline. For this reason, when President Gaviria addressed the Assembly he listed all those events which Colombian society had been a victim of and which had turned "…Colombia into the Nation that had, undoubtedly, paid the highest price in this struggle". He made allusions to the struggle that the majority of the cocaine captured and destroyed in the world had been by Colombian authorities. But he asserted that, as long as the developed world did not decrease its demand for drugs there would always be more laboratories and the drug mafias would be ever and ever richer.

"…in line with the inexorable logic of the market, the consumption of drugs grows towards other countries and regions, as can be seen in Europe and parts of Asia. We do not want to think about the consequences it would have for Colombia and for the dynamics of this problem were high income countries like Japan or European nations to develop a demand for drugs similar to that experienced in North America".

The fight against drug traffic can be the sole responsibility of one country. Colombia "has received reiterated expressions of solidarity but truly effective actions have been few and far between". For this reason it is necessary for all manifestations in this area to be put into deeds. Colombia is awaiting the presentation of the preferential trade regime for signatory countries of the Cartagena Declaration, Known as the "Andean Initiative" and its approval by the Congress of the United States, just as it awaits cooperation initiatives from Japan and the ASEAN countries.

The ideas expressed in the report of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1991, on treatment of the drug problem is a confirmation of President Gaviria's claim made in his address the previous year about the need for effective action and not simple rhetoric. The Memorial says: "It is surprising to point out the slight relevance awarded the topic of drug traffic in the General Debate, except by a few Caribbeans who made allusion to that problem; developed countries did not include it on their international agenda".

Possibly, so much rhetoric on cooperation to confront to confront the drug traffic problem and the slight collaboration and lack of understanding from certain countries motivated President Cesar Gaviria to use more assertive language, even to denounce, when whe spoke for a second time before de UN General Assembly. In his address on September 21, 1992, he stated that Colombia was victim of the uncontrollable appetite for drugs and that it paid an immense tax in blood and the lack of welfare for its population in the struggle against drug traffic in which its judges were assassinated. He pointed out that the bribes that corrupted prison authorities and penal officers of the country came out of the pockets of drug addicts that consumed drugs in the world's principal capital cities. For this reason, it was painful for Colombia to see that,

"…those who dare to point an accusing finger at a courageous and sacrificing people are precisely those that casually look the other way when drugs are consumed beside them or when it is a matter of money laundering, arms traffic, illegal export of chemical inputs or drug distribution networks in streets and cities".

We must move from words to deeds, to concrete actions and for this reason, in his speech, President Gaviria made the following proposals: 1- It is necessary to set goals, global and regional goals per country on the control of drugs, "we must commit ourselves to reducing the supply and demand for drugs by at least 50% for the year 2000, by 70% for the year 2005 and to free humanity forever from the curse of drugs before the year 2010". 2- It is necessary that global action be taken, for which the United Nations must hold a conference on the illicit drug problem and arrive at concrete commitments. 3- It is necessary to create a special international penal jurisdiction for narcotraffic, money laundering and export of illegal chemical inputs. 4- Available instruments must be improved for judicial cooperation among countries and for this reason it would be very important to have a UN Convention on Judicial Cooperation and Penal Crimes.

Within the framework of the proposals by President Gaviria, the Colombian delegation in the General Assembly presented a resolution proposal which became No. A/C.3/47/L.28, which was approved by consensus. It established that the first General Assembly would devote two days of plenary for a top level meeting to review the state of international cooperation against production, traffic, demand and illicit distribution of narcotics and psychotropic substances. During the General Assembly of 1995, at which the 50th anniversary of the United Nations was being commemorated, Rodrigo Pardo, Minister of Foreign Affairs for President Ernesto Samper, brought up the topic of drug trafficking again to insist on its international characteristic, the efforts made by Colombia to combat it and the proposed that in 1997 and International Conference be held for the purpose of assessing the results of the Convention.

"One of the world problems that requires an effective multilateral strategy, led by the United Nations is that of illicit drugs. This is not the problem of a single country, nor of a small group of nations: this is transnational crime of vast proportions, oppressing dimensions and extremely serious dangers. It is crime without a nationality.

We Colombians who have suffered more than anyone the devastating effectos of drugs, who have suffered death and corruption generated by its immense profits, are truly surprised to find that the international community still lacks a full awareness of its dimensions and the true nature of this problem.

This is an illegal economic activity, the dimensions of which have been compared to those of the oil industry. It is 7 or 8 times the GDP of a nation such as Colombia, operates in dozens of countries and has numerous related activities, such as money laundering and rerouting of chemical inputs. These related activities generally occur in developed countries and are just as important as the growing of coca itself or the transformation of coca leaves into cocaine.

Much research has shown the increase in the levels of illicit drug consumption in industrialized countries and the opening of new markets throughout the world. World figures on death from drug abuse have tripled since 1988 and medical emergencies from cocaine overdoses also increased by 1,000% between 1978 and 1993.

My country has fought more successfully than any other against the producers and traffickers of illicit drugs. Colombia eradicated marihuana crops in the seventies, destroyed the Medellin Cartel in the eighties and dismantled the Cali Cartel in the nineties.

Colombia is credited with the eradication of more than 50% of all the poppy crops destroyed on a worldwide level and the seizure of more than one fourth of the cocaine and coca base seized in the entire world.

The eradication of illicit crops in Colombia must be accompanied by similar efforts at eradication of marihuana crops in other countries, among which are included the industrialized countries of the North.

During the first year of the Samper administration, the policy of persecution of the drug cartels brought about results that no other government, either in Colombia nor in any other country had ever been able to achieve.

The world now has, thanks to these successes achieved by Colombia, an historical opportunity to strike a hard blow to narcotrafficking, in general. An historical opportunity which could, however, be diluted if immediate and effective policies against money laundering, rerouting of chemical inputs and against permissiveness toward consumption are not adopted.

My country has proposed that a Special Segment of ECOSOC be held in order to come to agreement on measures for international cooperation, the adoption of an Interamerican Convention against Money Laundering and the summoning of an international conference in 1997 to assess the results of the Vienna Convention and to make any needed adjustments".


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