Former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria raised questions regarding the war on drugs policy of current Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, penning an opinion piece that was published in the New York Times in early February, 2017. As Colombia’s president during the time of Pablo Escobar, one of the most infamous drug kingpins in all of history, Gaviria has plenty of experiencing waging a war against drugs. In his heyday, it was reported that Escobar built a multi-billion dollar drug empire, and supplied about eighty percent of the cocaine in the United States.
While Colombian authorities did track and kill Escobar under Gaviria’s authority, Gaviria expresses regret regarding the techniques he used to accomplish his goals. The tone of the op-ed is regretful, as he states that while he does feel that he played a personal role in ensuring Columbia becoming safe, he also feels as though the accomplishment came at a terrible price. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, he hopes to confer his shifting opinions on the matter to Duterte, in the hopes that he could successfully challenge Duterte’s drug control strategy.
In Gaviria’s eyes, Duterte is heading down the same path the former Columbian leader had once followed. Gaviria called out Duterte’s strategy of throwing billions of dollars into a campaign designed to completely eradicate drugs. Gaviria sees parallels with the former Columbian government’s attempt to pour everything into the drug problem, leading to a relentless campaign that involved throwing anyone associated with the illegal drug trade into prison. However, in Gaviria’s opinion, these drastic measures did little to create a safer environment, instead leading to many deaths and new problems that had to be grappled with.
Instead of following in Columbia’s footsteps when it comes to the war on drugs, Gaviria instead argued that Duterte should begin moving away from a model based on larger prisons and more aggressive policing. Instead, Gaviria supported the utilization of a more balanced strategy that incorporated humanitarian and health concerns, rather than simply placing an emphasis on overcoming the drug problem by applying additional force. Gaviria made it clear that, while the harsh policies of the Columbian government may have polled well while they were being implemented, he nevertheless found the war on drugs to be unwinnable. He advised Duterte to avoid making the same mistake, and simply walk away from an unwinnable war while he still could.
Gaviria explained that it was only once the Columbian government recognized drugs as a social problem and began responding accordingly that real progress was made. The former president drove home the notion that the extremely high cost in terms of human life did not justify the results that could be obtrained by a war on drugs. Gaviria concluded that, no matter what beliefs Duterte may possess, there will always be substances and users in the Phillipines – and everywhere else. Instead, recovery is the better solution.
If you’re struggling with an addiction to drugs, contact the American Drug Testing Center for treatment options.