President Petro’s almost one-hour inaugural address on Sunday gave Colombians and a global audience the opportunity to hear from the leftist leader on far-reaching issues, including US counter-narcotics efforts in South America, and more to the point, US drug policy in Colombia.
Addressing representatives of foreign governments invited to his inauguration, as well as six Latin American heads of state, and a US delegation named by President Joe Biden that included the Cartagena-born Juan Gonzalez, Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, Petro spared no words to claim that the “War on Drugs is a complete failure.”
In a heavy-handed statement, President Petro affirmed that the War on Drugs has left “one million Latin Americans assassinated, the majority Colombians during these last forty years, and 70,000 North Americans dead every year from drug overdoses.” The War on Drugs has also weakened nations to the extent that they “commit war crimes.” Petro rose the specter that another one million Latin Americans will be murdered and the number of deaths from overdoses in the United States will rise to 200,000 every year, unless there is a “change in anti-drugs policy around the world.”
“Peace is possible if you change the politics against drugs, seen as a war, for a policy of strong prevention of consumption in developed societies,” he urged. These words from the first leftist President to be elected in Colombia, quickly resonated among several US lawmakers, including Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) of the House Rules Committee, who welcomed the opportunity of working with President Petro “rethink drug policy, and much more.”
Petro then called on the United Nations to “start a global discussion, apart from the Vienna Convention, between producing countries and consumer countries.” The former M-19 guerrilla and Mayor of Bogotá drew a direct connection between arms trafficking and growth of the illegal narcotics trade. “Why not change failure for success so that Colombia can live in peace?” he affirmed.
Petro’s focus on US counter-narcotics policy in Colombia and across the region, was also a clarion call for the “Pink Tide” nations of South America, many represented by their heads of state at the ceremony – among them Argentina, Peru, and Chile – to work toward unity. “Cohesion can’t be rhetoric,” he emphasized from the same stage where the Presidential Guard had been ordered to deliver the sword of Bolívar. “Today, we must stand united.”