By  Courtney Parker,

My recent trip to Colombia was intense. As part of a drug war delegation, I was able to meet with campesino groups, indigenous groups, human rights workers and human rights victims.

It was interesting to get such an inside look at what U.S. drug and economic policies really look like on the ground. It should come as no surprise that things do not look good on these front.

Our economic policies are exorbitantly increasing the wealth disparity between rich and poor and further marginalizing vulnerable populations, all the while crystallizing the institutional control of multi-nationals.

Our drug policies are actually being manipulated to play into the hands of the narco-traffickers, who are among those empowered enough to take advantage of any set of circumstances that come their way.

Eradication efforts seem unilaterally focused on the campesino and indigenous communities who, according to a recent estimate, only receive about .04 percent of the total profits from the narcotics trade. It seems that “eradication efforts,” in practice, translate into an over-arching excuse to execute land grabs and to displace entire communities off their land. This scheme plays right into the hands of multi-national corporations in their efforts to gain an even stronger footing.

In the port city of Buenaventura, a high conflict zone with a U.N. imposed curfew of 4:00 p.m., the Afro-Colombian residents are facing more and more oppression and persecution as the privatization process of the port unfolds with its long-term consequences. In fact, they (the portworkers) now bear the full accountability for any drugs that get through the ports.

Buenaventura is a big-time narcotics trafficking zone; control of this port equates to a large stake in the international drug trade. Given all of the drugs obviously getting through and all of the “interests” involved, it is virtually inconceivable that the burden of risk has now been completely shifted onto poor workers. They alone are prosecuted if drugs are found either coming in or going out. As you can imagine, drugs are only “found” often enough to disrupt any attempt made by the workers towards organizing for fair working contracts.

The coca farming communities (many of which have cultivated and used coca for 10,000 years) have found that eradication does not ensure their safety or livelihood. One single coca plant found on a property is legal grounds for seizing the land as an asset. And unfortunately, multi-national corporations often seem conveniently poised and prepared to capitalize on this facet of the law.

Furthermore, when the communities mobilize and actualize their own efforts of self-eradication, they are often explicitly discouraged by local law enforcement who instead encourage them to keep farming and bringing in whatever income they can. There are usually few other choices for feeding their families, anyhow — the coca leaf is used in flour, teas and topical medicines, and is added to just about any form of food or drink one might prepare in order to take advantage of its high nutritional content. It is heavily relied upon by Colombians to supplement their diets in times of scarcity, and such times occur regularly and often.

We met with a former Attorney General of Colombia who was ousted from his position after he publicly asserted his own conclusion that drug legalization coupled with government regulation was the only route to effective control of the drug trade. The idea of treating the drug situation as a public health issue (instead of an endless war) is trending now, and perhaps there is hope in that paradigm.

The current calcified policies, however, are very unlikely to shift in the short term, and will instead result in prolonged suffering for Colombia’s most impoverished residents.

Courtney Parker is a second-year graduate student pursuing a degree in Non-Profit Organizations