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Nobel Peace awardee faces drug problem

IN Oslo, Norway, last Saturday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, for his efforts to end a half-century of civil war which has killed over 220,000 and displaced eight million people in the longest continuing conflict in the Western Hemisphere.

Colombia is on the other side of our planet in South America but Filipinos identify with that country in so many ways. We too have suffered from a long-running insurgency, that of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) which began in 1969, 47 years ago. We too are now seeking to end that insurgency with peace talks in Oslo, Norway.

We also share with Colombia the problem of drugs, except that while we are faced with a tremendous number of addicts to shabu or methamphetamine, Colombia faces a bigger problem from drug lords who have made it the world’s biggest producer of cocaine. In 2014, the United Nations estimated that Colombia had 69,000 hectares planted to coca, more than Peru and Bolivia combined. Coca is the base product for cocaine, a major drug problem in the United States and Europe today.

Peace has been the victim of these twin scourges in Colombia – the leftist insurgency led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the drug lords with their huge cultivation of coca, with earnings estimated between $200 million and $3.5 billion a year.

The initial peace agreement with FARC was very narrowly defeated, with 50.2 percent rejecting it in a referendum, but President Santos quickly drew up a new agreement accommodating objections raised in the referendum and this has now been approved by Colombia’s Congress. With the insurgency out of the way, he will now concentrate on the drug problem.

During his acceptance speech at the Nobel awards, President Santos deviated from his prepared remarks to say some words on the drug problem. “After decades of fighting against drug trafficking, the world has still been unable to control this scourge that fuels violence and corruption throughout our global community,” he said. “The manner in which this war against drugs is being waged is equally or perhaps even more harmful than all the wars the world is fighting today combined.”

President Santos has the world’s support, including the Philippines under our new President Duterte, as he now faces the drug cartels and an international market spread all over the US, Europe, and the rest of the world.