Call for new approach to global war on drugs

13 November 2015


Hounding it out: a drug-sniffer dog in Bogota, Colombia, stands guard next to some of the packs of two tonnes of cocaine seized by police, in September

Hounding it out: a drug-sniffer dog in Bogota, Colombia, stands guard next to some of the packs of two tonnes of cocaine seized by police, in Septembe...

THE global war against drugs has failed to the extent that in some countries the trade is now so powerful that it is shaping the entire economy, governance, and social fabric of the nation, Christian Aid reports.

The trade could no longer be treated as a “malignant tumour” that could be cut out, but in some countries had become “an almost necessary part of the whole body, rendering conventional treatments ineffective. Removal could cause certain organs to fail,” a senior adviser at the charity, Eric Gutierrez, said.

Christian Aid’s paper Drugs and Illicit Practices assesses the impact of the drugs trade on development and governance, analysing the trade in four countries: Afghanistan, which produces opium; Colombia, where cocaine is manufactured; Mali, from where cocaine from South America is moved north into Western Europe; and Tajikistan, through which heroin passes en route to more lucrative markets in Russia, and Eastern and Western Europe.

The studies show how drug networks have become providers of much needed jobs and investment. Drug barons have been elected to government office, and criminal syndicates serve as shadow sub-contractors of state security.

In Tajikistan, the heroin trade has become a source of stability, where trafficking in opiates adds at least 30 per cent to the country’s GDP. In Mali, boundaries between state officials and drug barons are so blurred that “one can find not only agents of the state behaving like criminals, but also criminals behaving like the state.” In Colombia, criminals have taken overtly political positions and are now a “fundamental part of Colombian politics”.

A case study on Afghanistan shows how the well-intentioned Food Zone initiative — where farmers are weaned away from opium poppy and subsidised to grow food crops in well-irrigated fields instead — inadvertently made things worse. The programme triggered the mass migration of land-poor households out of the Food Zone and into the desert, where they opened more fields for opium-poppy cultivation.

Mr Gutierrez said that the studies showed development agencies had to move beyond the “prohibition or legalisation” argument when tackling drugs. He argued: “Reluctant to engage in the ‘war on drugs’, there has been a tendency to view the illicit economy as something entirely separate from the work of development. That is no longer possible.

“Like it or not, the drugs trade and other illicit activities are now part of the lives of millions of the people we aim to support. New cures need to be considered. Dealing with illicit drugs cannot solely be a matter for law enforcement.”

He said: “The options that development agencies could consider are not limited to prohibition or legalisation.”

The report has been timed to come out before a special session of the United Nations General Assembly early next year to discuss the global drugs problem.

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