Colombia's FARC rebels back drug legalization
Colombia's main rebel army called on the government Wednesday to legalize the cultivation of marijuana, poppy and coca leaf, as well as the personal consumption of drugs derived from those plants.
The chief negotiator of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, presented the proposal as part of the rebels' position in peace talks launched in Norway in October and begun in earnest the following month in Havana.
"Legalizing consumption accompanied by robust education of young people ... as was done in the past with the use of tobacco and alcohol can be done with cocaine," said the FARC commander, Ivan Marquez.
The FARC has long taxed the cultivation of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, to bankroll its armed struggle. The Colombian and U.S. governments accuse it of more direct involvement in the illegal narcotics trade, including smuggling cocaine into Venezuela, though the rebels deny those allegations.
All Colombia's illegal armed groups, including the FARC's far-right paramilitary foes, have at least partially funded themselves through the illegal drug trade.
Colombia is asking the rebels to help end the drug trade as one condition for peace.
But skeptical analysts have expressed doubt that local FARC commanders who benefit from the drug trade can be persuaded to renounce its lucre as part of an eventual peace deal.
Drug legalization was one of a number of proposals the FARC made to government negotiators Wednesday at the talks, which have centered on land reform as the first of six agenda items to be tackled. The concentration of Colombia's richest agricultural lands in the hands of a small minority is a root cause of the conflict.
Marquez said that along with legalization, Colombia must solve "the problem of farmers who are forced by economic necessity to cultivate coca leaf." Such farmers, however, make only a small fraction of the profit, with the vast majority of the money in the illegal drugs trade going to traffickers and dealers.
A document released by the FARC also called for controls on water usage and mining, disincentives for extensive cattle ranching, respect for local communities and the creation of a regulatory body that would be called the National Land Council.
Some personal consumption and possession is already permitted within limits in Colombia.
President Juan Manuel Santos has said he is open to a debate about legalizing narcotics, and leaders at a regional summit last year asked the Organization of American States to prepare a report about the subject expected to be released next month.
Santos has also called on the United States and other developed nations to take responsibility as the world's biggest consumers of illicit drugs.
Colombia had 158,000 acres (64,000 hectares) of coca under cultivation in 2011, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, compared with 154,000 acres (62,500 hectares) in Peru and 67,000 acres (27,200 hectares) in Bolivia, the other two coca-producing nations. Colombia is the only one of the three that uses chemical herbicides, sprayed from planes, to destroy drug crops.
In Bolivia, and to a lesser extent Peru, a percentage of the coca crop is grown legally for traditional and industrial use.
Argentina and Uruguay have recently had open debates about legalization.
Formed in the early 1960s, the FARC are the oldest active guerrilla army in the Western Hemisphere and currently have an estimated 9,000 combatants.
Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, and Vivian Sequera in Bogota contributed to this report.
Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP