10/09/16 Sanho Tree

Century of Lies

This week we speak with Sanho Tree with the Institute for Policy Studies about the failed peace accords in Colombia, plus Colombia's UN delegate speaks to the UN about drug policy.

Audio file


OCTOBER 9, 2016


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Sanho Tree is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of their Drug Policy Project, which works to end the domestic and international “War on Drugs” and replace it with policies that promote public health and safety, as well as economic alternatives to the prohibition drug economy. The intersection of race and poverty in the drug war is at the heart of the project’s work. In recent years the project has focused on the attendant “collateral damage” caused by the United States exporting its drug war to Colombia and Afghanistan.

We're speaking with Sanho Tree now. Sanho, the Colombian civil war has gone on for 52 years. That's one heck of a long time. How did it start, why are the two sides still fighting?

SANHO TREE: Well, to some extent, they've been fighting for so long, I think they've forgotten why they were fighting to begin with. It's been so long, I mean, this has been going on since Lyndon Johnson sat in the White House. And it began out of the remnants of the previous civil war, called La Violencia, a decade of -- another extreme decade of violence in Colombian history.

And it began as a small, Marxist rebel movement in Colombia, in 1964, and eventually grew to, you know, over 20,000 fighters. They've been weakened since then, their peak, you know, in 2000 or so. But they are, you know, keep fighting, and no one seems to be able to win. I mean, this is not a militarily winnable war, as 52 years of counter insurgency has shown us. So it has to end in negotiations. But, there was a bit of a tantrum, a Trumpian tantrum if you will, in Colombia yesterday, where the voters narrowly defeated the peace deal. It's a nonbinding peace deal, but President Santos has said he would respect the will of the voters. They're going to keep persevering, to try to -- try to get something out of this, both the government and the guerrillas have said they'll maintain their ceasefire for the time being. But everyone thought, and all the polls suggested, that the referendum would pass. But it lost by about point four percentage points, which is a very close race.

It was impacted also by Hurricane Matthew in the north of the country and the Atlantic coast, so a lot of people could not vote, or had trouble getting to polling sites. And they did not extend the deadline for voting, which cut off fairly early, I think 4 PM, if I recall correctly. And in those coastal areas, people had very strong support for the peace process, so it is very conceivable that it would have passed under normal conditions. It's a bit like the United States, where the center of the country, largely untouched by a lot of these events, voted against the peace deal, whereas the outlying areas, the coastal areas and border areas where the fighting has been most heavy in recent decades, voted very strongly in favor of the deal.

DOUG MCVAY: I know that former president Uribe and the Colombian far right are celebrating now, with this defeat of the plebiscite. What happens next?

SANHO TREE: Well, President Uribe, you know, he's kind of like the Dick Cheney of Colombia, in terms of, you know, leaders who are no longer in office but continue to just say nasty, venomous things. He hates the current president, his successor, President Santos, and because this was Santos's peace deal, just vilified it and said you're letting the guerrillas off too easy, they need to be punished, and you know, and nobody likes the guerrillas, very few people like the guerrillas, they've had a -- you know, they've fought for so long they forgot why they were fighting, and they, you know, practiced routine extortion, kidnapping, and massacres, and that's not what you do if you're a guerrilla movement, you know, you don't win hearts and minds by oppressing the very people you claim to be fighting for.

But, nonetheless, they can't be defeated militarily. This has to end at a negotiating table. And so people are angry, but they don't know what they want in place of this. There's no Plan B. And I'm, you know, I doubt people want this war to continue for another, you know, half century. It's already cost close to a quarter million lives in this civil war alone, and displaced seven million people, in a country of about 45, 44 million population. That's a tremendous amount of people it's impacted. So this has to end at a negotiating table somehow, and hopefully soon.

DOUG MCVAY: This -- it wasn't like they just threw together a package of proposals and put it in front of the people. These negotiations have gone on for a while, haven't they?

SANHO TREE: They've been going on for years in Havana, and there's been all kinds of, you know, international observers, and incredibly strong support from around the world, from, you know, whether it's the Vatican, or the US State Department, the UN, you know, everyone assumed this deal would go through. It's so -- it was really a shocker. It was kind of like Brexit, or the election of Duterte in the Philippines, you know. People didn't see this coming, and the voters just threw one giant tantrum, it seems.

DOUG MCVAY: The -- I suppose one of the concerns was the, they wanted to do sort of the truth commissions, that sort of -- the sort of truth and reconciliation approach, as opposed to punishing people for their roles, simply punishing. I mean, had they simply -- was there a problem with the political groundwork? I mean, how did this thing fail?

SANHO TREE: You know, how else can you do it, though? It's kind of like -- it reminds me of South Africa, you know, after apartheid. You know, on one hand, you could have just punished everybody and prosecuted everyone, but where does it end? Where does it even begin? How do you even begin to make those cases and document them, and how many decades or generations would it take to process all of that? And so it's very hard to hold everyone accountable in this conflict, especially when a great many of the abuses were committed by the government itself, or the rightwing paramilitaries, which were closely aligned with the government. And they got off with a slap on the wrist, quite frankly.

So, you know, you have to, at some point, recognize reality, that there's only so much you can do, and it has to end in a negotiated way.

DOUG MCVAY: What happens now? I mean, do the rebels pick up arms once again, do the paramilitaries go back to work, the government start fighting everyone, and the peasants stand in the middle and get shot at? I mean, what happens?

SANHO TREE: This is the big question. Since there is no Plan B and no one expected this to happen. On the one hand, if the FARC did lay down their weapons, as had been planned, there would have been quite a big vacuum in the country, particularly in the countryside. And we're talking about, you know, very strategic smuggling corridors for drugs, for weapons, also lands that are, you know, where there's illegal gold mining and emerald mining going on. So, there would be a rush to fill that vacuum, if the state can't do it. And the state in the past has been really good about following up on these kinds of things, and filling those vacuums. So that's, you know, a serious problem to watch.

But, no one really knows exactly what, or how this is going to play out. The guerrillas seem intent on ending this. Their leadership is getting old, many of them have spent their entire adult lives fighting in the jungle, which is a really miserable experience. From the short time I've spent in the Amazon, this is not someplace you want to be camping out for a long period of time, it's really hostile terrain.

And they're ready to give up. A lot of these fighters, they've never seen a computer, much less an iPhone, or experienced, you know, a music concert. They had a big, the FARC guerrillas had a big convention in the jungle, and they set up these stages and things, and for some of these soldiers, it was the first time they'd experienced anything like that. So, it's hard to grasp, from the US point of view, you know, how people survived this long with this kind of war.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, I know that you'll be following events as they unfold. Where can people find out more about your work? And give people your twitter handle, that kind of thing.

SANHO TREE: Sure. Twitter is the easiest way to follow me. I'm @SanhoTree on Twitter.

DOUG MCVAY: All right. Well, I want to thank you, Sanho. I've been speaking with Sanho Tree, he's a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of their Drug Policy Project. Sanho, thanks so much.

SANHO TREE: My pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

On Thursday October 6th, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, otherwise known as the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee, met to discuss two resolutions dealing with criminal justice and drug control policy. Representatives from a number of member states spoke, we're going to hear from just a few. First up, the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, Juan Jose Gomez Camacho. He's followed by the Deputy Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations, Miguel Camilo Ruiz Blanco. Simultaneous interpretation is provided by the United Nations.

COMMITTEE CHAIR H.E. MARIA EMMA MEJIA: I thank the distinguished delegation of India for their statement and now give the floor to the distinguished ambassador Juan Jose Gomez, the ambassador of Mexico. You have the floor.

JUAN JOSÉ GÓMEZ CAMACHO: Madame Chairman, the special session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem was a turning point in the way in which we are tackling the international narcotics control regime. This is a matter of priority for my country, which has paid a high price in the lives of children, young people, women, and adults. We know firsthand the limits and the consequences of a paradigm which has not managed to curb the production, trafficking, or the consumption of drugs in the world.

That is why in UNGASS we made an appeal to review international strategies and to come up with better strategies, better options, that would place the wellbeing of people at the core of its strategy. As President Pena Nieto indicated at the Special Session, we reaffirm the principle of common but shared responsibility as well as strengthening the fight against transnational crime. Similarly through a better coordination among UN agencies, such as the UNODC, WHO, JFE, the UNDP, and UN Women, among others. We must support states in implementing better strategies and policies to fight drugs in line with Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. The SDGs and the recommendations to resolve the world drug problem are complementary, and are mutually reinforcing.

We must also support the communities which are affected, in providing educational alternatives as well as labor and recreational alternatives, which would strengthen inclusion and social cohesion. Given the limitations of the prohibitionist paradigm, we must favor the human rights perspective as well as public health, as well as proportionate sentences and alternatives to incarceration. In this respect, we reiterate our rejection of the death penalty in any circumstance.

We must combine our international efforts to prevent drug consumption with campaigns directed to children and young people, and to ensure the availability of access to substances controlled for medical and scientific purposes, including those for pain relief and suffering. It's unacceptable that 90 percent of pain medication is consumed in only ten countries.

Madame Chairman, the dialogue that took place at UNGASS was an opportunity to listen to the vision of member states, UN agencies, regional organizations, civil society, and academics, and now we have a responsibility of providing a specific follow up to the recommendations agreed to in the document, our joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem.

We must maintain the impetus that led to the success of UNGASS, and as a result Mexico will present the omnibus resolution on international cooperation to tackle and to counter the world drug problem. This will be a new text, which will highlight the agreements of the April session. Under the principle of the political responsibility of the General Assembly to assess and review the results of its own special session, we will present a vision which would guide the work of the CND as well as the UN system as a whole. We urge all of the members to participate actively in negotiating this resolution, and to comply with commitments made by UNGASS.

In the words of the president of Mexico, it's time to generate the vision, the instruments, as well as the new consensus that we need to counter the drug phenomenon in the 21st century. Thank you very much, Madame Chair.

COMMITTEE CHAIR H.E. MARIA EMMA MEJIA: I thank Ambassador Gomez for his statement on behalf of Mexico, and I now give the floor to the distinguished delegation of Colombia. Ambassador Ruiz, you have the floor.

MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ BLANCO: Thank you very much, Madame Chair. In 2012, the governments of Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico launched an appeal to assess the scope and the limitations of the policy to fight drugs, and called for a special session on this item in the United Nations. Our intention was to organize a broad, frank, and evidence based debate. From the very beginning, we insisted that we include all voices, highlighting in particular the important role played by civil society. As a result, UNGASS 2016 should not be seen as the end of a process, but rather the beginning of a transformation in the drug policy.

The special assembly was the beginning of the end of a long war against drugs. Imagine an idealistic world free of drugs. It was a starting point to build a new consensus based on parameters that are as important as human rights, public health, security, and development. We should not underestimate the significant progress that we have achieved thus far in a matter such as the ones I just mentioned, but nor should we overlook the fact that outstanding tasks require us to keep the debate open.

Madame, our message has always been the same. We must abandon the model of a war, which we have not won, which has left behind hundreds of victims, and which has concentrated disproportionate resources in repressive strategies that have often fallen on the weakest sectors of society. The agreement that we reached in the special assembly must lay the basis for a policy whose main thrust is people, their wellbeing, and their health, as the conventions have indicated for many years.

We must leave behind us indiscriminate, repressive measures, disproportionate balances, disproportionate budgets focused on punitive strategies, as well as neglect of the most vulnerable sectors. The consensus that we reached at UNGASS is far from encompassing all of the facets of the problem, but it's the best one we have thus far.

Assuming that it's impossible to achieve a world free of drugs, we can focus our efforts on more realistic goals, such as avoiding its abuse, and minimizing the harmful consequences that derive from drug abuse. This is an agreement which clearly includes human rights protection, and is connected to the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. Two thrusts which until now have not had a priority in the drug policy.

UNGASS 2016 also recognizes that there is flexibility for countries to be able to apply drugs in accordance with their own realities. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is none other than the recognition that given the specificities of every nation, and the complex universe of drugs, it's ingenuous to think that such diversity can be successfully tackled with single and fixed formulas.

Let's close this chapter of history. Let's put an end to the bellicose model as a way of tackling the drug problem.

Let's not be happy with the partial victories that this vision gave us. Let's continue to examine what evidence has shown us, and on the basis of that, let's overcome the shortcomings of the current policy. The debate should continue without polarization nor impositions, but with a determination to find a more efficient and human response to a problem as complex as the social fabric.

Colombia, let there be no doubt, will continue to tackle organized crime, replacing illicit crops by legal crops, and intercepting ships and planes that belong to narco-traffickers. For Colombia, the fight against drugs is not only a moral imperative, it's also a matter of national security. We will continue to work to achieve peace with guerrilla groups who have taken part in the drug trafficking chain, and to turn them into allies for the eradication of illegal crops, and to promote the production of alternative crops. If we achieve this, it will be a historic and positive turning point, not only for Colombia, but for the entire world.

Madame Chair, with respect to the agenda item on crime prevention and criminal justice, my delegation has the honor of presenting to delegations the draft resolution on preventive action and the fight against corrupt practices, and the transfer of proceeds of corruption, and measures to facilitate the recovery of assets and the return of these assets to their legitimate owners, in particular to countries of origin, in accordance with the UN Convention Against Corruption.

With this, we hope to strengthen measures that this Assembly will take in line with the commitments taken in the Sixth Conference of States Parties to the Convention. Thank you very much, Madame Chairman.

DOUG MCVAY: You just heard Juan Jose Gomez Camacho, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, and Miguel Camilo Ruiz Blanco, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations, speaking before the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, otherwise known as the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee. They were discussing two resolutions dealing with criminal justice and drug control policy.

While we still have time, let's stay with that UN Third Committee meeting. Lourdes O. Yparraguirre is the Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations. To the best of my knowledge she has never said publicly praised Hitler, unlike Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the new Philippine ambassador to the UN, Teddy Locsin Jr. The Philippine government has called for the murder of people who are suspected of being drug users, and death squads composed of Philippine police and military have reportedly carried out thousands of executions around that country so far. Here's the Philippine representative to the UN speaking before the Third Committee at the UN on October 6th.

COMMITTEE CHAIR H.E. MARIA EMMA MEJIA: I'd like to thank the distinguished delegation of Myanmar for that statement. I give the floor now to the distinguished delegation of the Philippines. You have the floor.

LOURDES O. YPARRAGUIRRE: Muchas gracias Senora Presidenta. My delegation wishes to align itself with the ASEAN statement delivered by Singapore on the agenda items under consideration.

Madame Chair, for many years, Philippine development efforts have been weighed down by corruption in high and low places, a worsening crime situation, and the prevalence of illegal drugs. Our people recognize the peril this evil posed to our development and our democracy. Corruption has become the breeding ground for the illegal drug trade, which seriously threatens the country's peace and order, and which in turn impedes our sustainable development goals. It has torn apart many of our communities, destroyed families, and snuffed out the hopes and dreams of our people, young and old, for a bright future.

The current government has turned its focus on the drug menace that has affected 11,321, or 27 percent, or over 142,000 barangays, or villlages, in the country. In the national capital region's 1,706 villages, 1,611, or 94 percent, are affected by illegal drugs. We have almost three million drug users who need help and rehabilitation. As a result of the campaign against illegal drugs, an estimated 73 million US dollars worth of illegal drugs have been confiscated through 17,992 police operations.

An unprecedented number of people, about 700,000 of them, have submitted themselves to authorities for appropriate intervention and rehabilitation. The national government in partnership with local governments is establishing more rehabilitation centers across the country as part of the ongoing comprehensive national rehabilitation program for drug users.

We are determined to free the Philippines from corrupt and other stagnating practices, including eradicating illicit drugs and its manufacture, distribution, and use in the country. The rule of law and strict adherence to due process fully governs our campaign against corruption and criminality, including the fight against illicit drugs.

Madame Chair, another scourge that the Philippines is battling with today is human trafficking. About 10 percent of the Philippine population, or nearly 10 million Filipinos, are among those who have migrated overseas to respond to worldwide demand for migrant labor, skills, and expertise. The protection of Filipino migrants remains one of the highest priorities of the Philippine government.

To this end, we have established a comprehensive protective mantle, or support mechanism, for Filipino migrants, secured by a dedicated framework of laws, regulations, policies and programs, institutions, and with the cooperation of our partners in the international community. We have implemented a migrant centered approach to the entire migration cycle, from pre-employment, transit, onsite employment, return migration, and eventual reintegration. Through the recently amended migrant workers act, and anti-human trafficking act, we have strengthened regulation of recruitment agencies and other measures to protect our migrants from abuse and maltreatment abroad.

The inter-agency council against human trafficking, composed of government agencies and NGOs, was created to oversee, coordinate, and monitor the effective enforcement of the law, and the implementation of the anti-trafficking programs and initiatives.

We have pursued partnerships with Philippine civil society, one of the most ardent advocates of protection of migrants' rights. The anti-human trafficking act was further strengthened to address jurisdictional challenges by transnational trafficking, providing for extraterritorial application of anti-trafficking laws, and allowing the Philippine government and its anti-trafficking partners to assist victims and pursue perpetrators beyond Philippine shores.

In 2015, our fight against human trafficking has resulted in 46 convictions with many of those accused receiving the maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The increasing trend in convictions is a result of enhanced cooperation between law enforcers and prosecutors in building stronger cases against the perpetrators.

Madame Chair, with the imperative to forge policies for our people to achieve enduring peace and prosperity, the Philippines will continue its fight against crime, drugs, and human trafficking, ever mindful of and fully committed to the rule of law, due process, and respect for human rights. When we address and cure society of these ills, then we are on our way to collectively make a universal push to transform our world and improve the quality of life for all of humanity. Thank you, Madame Chair.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Lourdes Yparraguirre, Permanent Representative of the Philippines, speaking before the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee of the UN General Assembly.

JOSH LEDERMAN (AP WHITEHOUSE REPORTER): [I]s there any breaking point where the U.S. starts to say, look, you're not acting much like an ally and maybe we want to reconsider whether this is something that's still in our interest, or something that still has an operational impact?

MR. EARNEST: Well, Josh, I anticipated that you might ask this question today because I've seen these comments and was obviously aware of the previous comments that you cited from President Duterte over the last several weeks. Those comments are at odds with the warm relationship that exists between the Filipino and American people. There's also an important record of cooperation between our two governments, cooperation that has continued under the Duterte government, in fact.

The United States-Philippines alliance is built on a 70-year history of strong people-to-people ties, including a vibrant Filipino-American diaspora and a long list of shared security concerns. So the focus of the Obama administration right now is on the broad relationship with the Philippines, and our work together in the many areas of mutual interest to improve the livelihoods of the Filipino people and uphold their shared democratic values.

DOUG MCVAY: For now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century Of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.