‘President Duterte is repeating my mistakes’—Cesar Gaviria

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

Cesar Gaviria is the former president of Columbia.

“Illegal drugs are a matter of national security, but the war against them cannot be won by armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime.” Thus begins an article written for the New York Times of February 7, 2017 by Gaviria, who ruled Colombia from 1990 to 1994.

The article was posted on the page of my Facebook Friend Elgin Castillo Lazaro III, and it immediately caught my attention, because sometime back I had come across another account dealing with the same episode contained in the article which depicted the drugs war in Colombia having led to civil war. I had wanted to discuss that subject matter, delineate it by way of advancing my concern over the untrammeled extrajudicial killings that were increasingly becoming the one single trademark of the Duterte anti-drugs war.

In the face of what appeared as popular approval of that war, I had found myself helpless in wanting to do something about it, like explaining the whole breadth and width of the ramifications of the mass killings the Duterte anti-drugs campaign has entailed. With a narrative of the Colombia experience on the issue coming now out of the mouth of one who should be the foremost partaker in that drugs war, I feel I have been enabled to word what I, in my utter ignorance on the subject matter, had never quite done so ever.


I take the liberty to reprint the Gaviria New York Times article in its entirety. The standard quotation marks are omitted. Every word that follows is Gaviria’s.

* * *

That is the message I would like to send to the world and, especially, to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Trust me, I learned the hard way.

We Colombians know a thing or two about fighting drugs. Our country has long been one of the world’s primary suppliers of cocaine. With support from North American and Western European governments, we have poured billions of dollars into a relentless campaign to eradicate drugs and destroy cartels. I was personally involved in taking down the planet’s most notorious drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar, in 1993. While we managed to make Colombia a bit safer, it came at a tremendous price.

My government and every administration since threw everything at the problem — from fumigating crops to jailing every drug pusher in sight. Not only did we fail to eradicate drug production, trafficking and consumption in Colombia, but we also pushed drugs and crime into neighboring countries. And we created new problems. Tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in our antidrug crusade. Many of our brightest politicians, judges, police officers and journalists were assassinated. At the same time, the vast funds earned by drug cartels were spent to corrupt our executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.

This heavy-handed approach to drugs did little to diminish the drug supply and demand in Colombia, much less in markets like Western Europe and the United States. In fact, drugs such as cocaine and heroin are as accessible as ever from Bogotá to New York to Manila.

The war on drugs is essentially a war on people. But old habits die hard. Many countries are still addicted to waging this war. As Colombia’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, said, “We are still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years.” Fortunately, more and more governments also concede that a new approach is needed, one that strips out the profits that accompany drug sales while ensuring the basic human rights and public health of all citizens.

If we are going to get drugs under control, we need to have an honest conversation. The Global Commission on Drug Policy — of which I am a founding member — has supported an open, evidence-based debate on drugs since 2011. We strongly support reducing drug supply and demand, but differ fundamentally with hard-liners about how this should be achieved. We are not soft on drugs. Far from it.

What do we propose? Well, for one, we do not believe that military hardware, repressive policing and bigger prisons are the answer. Real reductions in drug supply and demand will come through improving public health and safety, strengthening anticorruption measures — especially those that combat money laundering — and investing in sustainable development. We also believe that the smartest pathway to tackling drugs is decriminalizing consumption and ensuring that governments regulate certain drugs, including for medical and recreational purposes.

While the Filipino government has a duty to provide for the security of its people, there is a real risk that a heavy-handed approach will do more harm than good. There is no doubt that tough penalties are necessary to deter organized crime. But extrajudicial killings and vigilantism are the wrong ways to go. After the killing of a South Korean businessman, Mr. Duterte seemed as if he might be closer to realizing this. But bringing the army in to fight the drug war, as he now suggests, would also be disastrous. The fight against drugs has to be balanced so that it does not infringe on the rights and well-being of citizens.

Winning the fight against drugs requires addressing not just crime, but also public health, human rights and economic development. No matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines. But it is important to put the problem in perspective: The Philippines already has a low number of regular drug users. The application of severe penalties and extrajudicial violence against drug consumers makes it almost impossible for people with drug addiction problems to find treatment. Instead, they resort to dangerous habits and the criminal economy. Indeed, the criminalization of drug users runs counter to all available scientific evidence of what works.

Taking a hard line against criminals is always popular for politicians. I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs during my time as president. The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.

A successful president makes decisions that strengthen the public good. This means investing in solutions that meet the basic standards of basic rights and minimize unnecessary pain and suffering. The fight against drugs is no exception. Strategies that target violent criminals and undermine money laundering are critical. So, too, are measures that decriminalize drug users, support alternative sentencing for low-level nonviolent offenders and provide a range of treatment options for drug abusers. This is a test that many of my Colombian compatriots have failed. I hope Mr. Duterte does not fall into the same trap.

César Gaviria was president of Colombia from 1990 to 1994 and the secretary general of the Organization of American States from 1994 to 2004.

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12 Comments

  1. Miguel Tantoco on

    Cesar Gaviria is a loser, Tatay Degong is right in all aspects. Ph is now gaining its campaign against shabu and strategically effective its momentum in war, thus, it is a matter of time to annihilate illegal drugs problem. In the next few weeks, an intelligence driven campaign will definitely scrap the drugs menace. Mind you….

  2. If former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria comparing the drug problems in Colombia during his time, and the Philippines today, under President Duterte, is like comparing apples and oranges. The comparison would not be fair because he was not even the President of Colombia during the height of drug problems in the 1980s. Gaviria’s presidency was from 1990-1994, and the drug problem of that country was pretty much under control because the U.S. invaded Panama in 1990 and captured the dictator, Manuel Noriega, the biggest transporter of cocaine into the United States, and spent 20 years in Florida jail. Without The U.S. government help, especially during Ronald Raegan era, Colombia would have had difficulties in getting out of drug problem. It was the U.S. who pumped Billions of Dollars into the country’s economy and improved everything, to include what is Gaviria is talking about now. If not for the U.S. actions and good deeds, Colombia would have had difficulties in surviving with their drug war.

    Comparing Colombia with the Philippines, President Duterte started his drug war in the middle of last year with very limited budget, a remnant from previous administration. Extra judicial killings and human rights violations are the terms used by media and human rights advocates but in reality, these killings were not sanctioned by the government nor endorsed by the President. Here is the bottom line: PDU30 is still supported by majority of Filipino voters at sana murain din si Cesar Gaviria.

  3. The proliferators of illegal drugs have added another burden for the government , and that is the deceptively dangerous , extra-judicial killings.

    People do not realize that the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings are the very same people who have created the drug monster. In this way , these lawless criminals get the government to work doubly hard.

    Those people who do not want to support Duterte are the ones aggravating the problem , they all want to be evil protectors.
    Like Satan , their father , they want to protect the lives of the wicked ones instead of acceding to an all out war against them to annihilate them via “mutual slaughter”.

    As I have been bringing out in every post , let us invoke the words of The Lord in Psalms 34:21 about the mutual slaughter of the wicked ones. Let the evil slay the wicked.
    In this way , the government is free from bloodguiltiness.
    Those who do not want the wicked ones killed , are there any other solutions The Lord had proposed? He decreed just one effective solution—that of mutual slaughter of the wicked individuals using their own men within the organization.
    That is how to destroy wickedness , the destruction must come from within themselves.

    You want to solve the problem yet the main problem is , YOU—YOU , do not know how to make righteous judgement. YOU , do make judgement by the mere appearance of things. YOU , do keep on focusing on Duterte when the culprit is the one operating in the background , the drug syndicate.

    Critics have fallen in love with Duterte. And because he is the one visibly manning the fort , they have long conceded that he is the culprit. They are so blind to see through the entanglement between the apparent and the hidden.

    Forget about Duterte , he is a feigned murderer , he is a master simulator , simulating murder perfectly fooling even the true criminals.

    The people of the whole world , with their being entangled in the deceptive wisdom of Satan , cannot get through the wisdom of really knowing good and evil.
    They became enamored in swapping places and mixing up positions for the good and the evil—they call good the evil and they call evil the good. This is the incurable malady of the whole world because as it is written , ” the whole world lies under the power of the evil one”.

    It follows therefore that this world is truly going down the drain. Wisdom has become increasingly depleted as time wears on. In the final end , maybe a handful of righteous men are predestined to survive the onslaught of lawlessness by the evil one because of their love for righteousness.

    Ask yourselves which is more righteous , to be an evil protector or to be an evil terminator?

    To tell you the truth , all the problems that are besieging the whole world now have no further solutions.
    Yes , solutions may be implemented but these will all be transitory—there shall be no stopping the wicked ones!
    So let the drug syndicate divide itself—let them kill their own people. Anyway they are the ones killing them , extra-judicial.

    We are nearing the end , and the ULTIMATE SOLUTION will be coming from The Lord—the annihilation of the evil one and his followers populating the whole world.
    It is only then that this lawlessness shall be stopped for all eternity!

  4. MARIANO PATALINJUG on

    Yonkers, New York
    13 February 2017

    Sad to say, Little Tyrant Rodrigo Duterte’s knee-jerk reaction to Colombia ex-President CESAR GAVIRIA’s sensible and well-meaning advice for him was to let loose his uncouth and foul mouth: “THE IDIOT!”

    One can only conclude that this psychotic fellow who has already inflicted a bloody REIGN OF TERROR on the Filipino people actually enjoys killing his own countrymen, using the Drug War as his flimsy excuse for doing so. Nobody really knows how many people he murdered during his bloody reign as the Mayor of Davao City for 23 years. That was where he “learned the ropes” as a killer–and he simply cannot stop now that he is President.

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com

    • You want to know how many people he has murdered during his term in Davao? NONE.
      And now that he is the president of the Philippines he has already murdered—NONE.

      I have been making a hint about Duterte’s secret weapon but no one , up to now is able to comprehend. You people are so dull of understanding.

      No wonder Cain , also a “feigned murderer” like Duterte has suffered much ignominy in the minds of the dumb and the dull for so many generations.
      It requires Wisdom to unravel the secret of these men. You all do not understand that the so-called TRUTH has its ALTER-EGO.

      If you condemned a man by first inspection , and you conclude outright , then you are lost because the truth has its second coming signifying the other self of the truth , its alter-ego which is the True One.

  5. fuuuck you soros on

    My gosh, Gaviria is a SOROS puppet!

    And they want to legalize drugs!

    “The second meeting of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy run by George Soros’s “ex-Presidents cartel” of Brazil’s Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Colombia’s Cesar Gaviria, and Mexico’s Ernesto Zedillo, opened here today with none other than Soros’s personal drug legalization hitman, Ethan Nadelmann, personally on hand to run the show.

    Nadelmann, today Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading drug legalization organization in the United States, has run Soros’s international war for legalization full-time since 1994, when he set up the Open Society Institute’s drug-pushing unit, the Lindesmith Center, for Soros. Nadelmann argues flatly that people should use all kinds of narcotics, including those which are highly addictive, “in a recreational fashion without severe consequences,” if they so chose.”

  6. You can’t compare Colombia drug problems to PH. Shabu is different from Cocaine and heroin. They will be a different approach between the two. PDU30 has right in his campaign to eradicate the illegal drugs in PH in our own way.

  7. That Colombia’s war against drugs was unwinnable is clear now with it’s former President Gaviria prescribing virtual suicide for the Philippines. That such a person ultimately recommend’s surrender,shamelessly mouthing “decriminalization of drugs for recreation” the rights of the drug user are but proof of his abject surrender for unknown reasons.This is the sorry state of the once proud hispanics being reduced to idiots by the powerful clouts of evil yankee influence and virtually unable to make a decisive change in their own backyards and yet having the temerity to offer unsolicited advice to Digong. One should remember that in such countries where totalitarian regimes do not give a hoot about so called rights and simply liquidating all those drug fiends like in Mao’s China with their powerful Triad gangs the drug problem disappeared almost completely. Clearly the answer likes in more effective slaughter of these lawless elements by not allowing them to hind from behind the skirts of those blasted faggots of the academe.the church,the civil society,the scandalous nympho maniac female senators,the assorted cretins of the Liberal and if need be to eliminate with extreme prejudice also these verbose protectors by declaring Martial Law….

  8. Cesar Gaviria’s biggest mistake was taking money from the drug cartels/ The colombian gov’t was under the control of the powerful drug lords, and Gaviria was corrupt w/c is a major reason why he didn’t stop the illegal trade.
    Duterte, on the other hand is nowhere like Gaviria. He’s not corrupt and doesn’t protect drug lords, in fact ifhe could have his way, he’d rather kill them all, which i agree with.
    http://www.larouchepub.com/eiw/public/1992/eirv19n37-19920918/eirv19n37-19920918_042-colombias_gaviria_faces_corrupti.pdf

  9. Duterte’s war on drugs is really not aimed at the drug pushers but against our politicians. It is just a ploy to scare politicians in the similar way that Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr threw the grenade at the rally of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda to produce the same effect of scaring our politicians. That is why there is a high probability that President Duterte will get his constitutional amendments of creating a Federal government. The grenade that Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr threw at the rally of the Liberal Party enabled his widow to change the existing Constitution – the same thing that President Duterte hopes to accomplish to produce a Federal Government in our country. His widow returned the bicameral Congress that existed before the Constitutional Convention of 1971 tried to experiment with a unicameral Congress. The unicameral Congress written by the Constitutional Convention of 1971 was a disaster for our country as Congress passed just a few bills per year during the entire Martial Period. With the return to the bicameral Congress, our Congress became more active again. We need a federal government so that the people of Mindanao can have a greater decision about what to do about the Muslim insurgency that is limited to Mindanao and not throughout the country. Perhaps it is easy for us to make conclusions about how to deal with the Muslim insurgency because they are not disrupting our lives. Did Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr commit evil by throwing a grenade at the rally of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda? Whatever our judgment may be, the Plaza Miranda bombing had a profound effect on our political developments of our country. It propelled our politicians to a greater sense of maturity just as the Martial Law of Marcos accomplished the same. In this aspect, let us not be judgmental on whether an act is good or bad on our simple assumptions about morality. Let us look at the picture on a bigger scale.

    The situation in Columbia is vastly different from the Philippines. The drug producers in Columbia are run by big-time cartels that cannot be easily rooted out – that are the reasons why they can sell their drugs all over the world. They will not be easily defeated by hard-fist policies no matter how tough they are. The drug producers in our country are just small time planters and distributors. It is just an extra sideline income for them. If the government gets tough on them, they can temporarily cease or reduce production until a less strict President is around for them to resume their operations.

    The problem of drugs is a problem of industrial nations since they are the recipients of excess drug production that a developing country cannot afford to consume totally. Industrial nations have the capacity to solve the drug problem without resort to extreme measures of extra-judicial killings. If they cannot solve the drug menace, then there is something wrong with them.

    The drug problem will be with us until industrial nations find a way to curb the illegal importation of narcotics into their society. Narcotic production is a monopoly of developing countries because the planters and processors can easily bribe their governments to keep quiet about their operations. There are no planters and processors of narcotics in industrial nations because of the efficiency of their law enforcing agencies. Thus, the problem of drugs is more essentially a problem of industrial nations who are the biggest consumer of drugs in our planet.

    Politicians use the drug menace to convince voters to support their controversial actions. The US invaded Panama on the pretext that Noriega is a drug pusher. They are also accusing Venezuelan President Maduro of being a drug pusher as a prelude of the invasion of that country. You see the connection between the drug menace and the demagoguery of our politicians! This explains the support that Duterte is getting from his tough war on drugs.

    • MARIANO PATALINJUG on

      Yonkers, New York
      13 Feb. 2017

      Ramon:

      The drug problem in the Philippines is fundamentally a medical problem, as it was in Colombia when Cesar Gaviria was its president for four years and tried to deal with it mistakenly the same way Little Tyrant Rodrigo Duterte is dealing with it lawlessly and in genocidal fashion now. The correct solution, therefore, is to give drug addicts a chance to get cured pf their addiction in rehabilitation centers. Chinese president XI JINPING showed him the way by constructing such a rehabilitation center in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija. But it seems that Duterte enjoys killing people and is incorrigible. MARIANO PATALINJUG.patalinjugmar@gmail.com