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In Colombia, the “War on Drugs” Is About As Effective As Shoveling Water

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In mid-May, shortly after being confirmed to lead the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowski offered the latest hint that the Obama Administration might take a new approach to counternarcotics.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We're not at war with people in this country.”

While we welcome positive words like these, the United States also needs to make clear that it’s not at war with small farmers in Colombia who, lacking viable economic alternatives, are forced into growing coca, the raw ingredient in cocaine.

Shoveling Water: War on Drugs, War on People, a recent documentary produced by LAWG partner Witness for Peace, takes us to the coca fields of Colombia to see the disastrous affects of U.S.-sponsored aerial fumigations. In the film, Pedro Arenas—the mayor of San José del Guaviare, a major city in south-central Colombia—explains how, rather than reducing coca, these fumigations have instead harmed small farmers’ food crops and displaced thousands from rural parts of Guaviare to his city or even as far as Bogotá.

Shoveling Water also gives viewers a good look at the precarious and impoverished existence of small farmers who have to make coca paste deep in the rainforest, miles away from any roads or government presence. In an interesting exchange, as one of the workers refines the coca paste, he tells the camera person that it’d be good if President Barack Obama could see this video because then he’d understand how they truly live.

Please check out the film to hear more testimonies—and proposals for new policies—from Colombians who are directly affected by our government’s senseless and destructive counternarcotics approach abroad to drug abuse here at home.

Interested in traveling to Guaviare to see the affects of U.S. policy for yourself? Join Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies and LAWG staffer Travis Wheeler on a Witness for Peace-sponsored delegation August 9th-19th. The deadline to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is coming soon, so we encourage you to apply today! Learn more here.