Colombian President Gustavo Petro: End the War on Drugs

At his United Nations General Assembly address this week, newly elected leftist Colombian president Gustavo Petro denounced the war on drugs and destruction of the planet waged by the United States. We reprint his remarks here in full.

Colombian president Gustavo Petro speaks during the Seventy-seventh Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at the UN headquarters on September 20, 2022, in New York City. (Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images)

Secretary-general of the United Nations António Guterres, Your Excellencies, heads of state and heads of missions accredited to the Seventy-seventh United Nations General Assembly; Deputy Secretary-general of the United Nations Amina Mohammed, to all of you.

I come from one of the three most beautiful countries on Earth. There is an explosion of life there. Thousands of multicolored species in the seas, in the skies, on the land. I come from the land of yellow butterflies and magic. There, in the mountains and valleys of all the shades of green, flow not just abundant waters but also torrents of blood.

I come from a country of bloodsoaked beauty. My country is not just beautiful — it is also violent.

How can violence and beauty exist side by side? How can the biodiversity of life intertwine with the dances of death and horror? Who is to blame for breaking the charming spell with terror? Who or what is responsible for suffocating life in the routine decisions of wealth and interest? Who leads us to destruction as a nation and as a people?

My country is beautiful, because it has the Amazon rainforest, the Chocó rainforest, the waters, the Andes Mountain range, and the oceans. There, in those rainforests, planetary oxygen is released, and atmospheric CO2 is absorbed. One of those plants that absorbs CO2, among millions of species, is one of the most persecuted on Earth. Wherever it grows, its destruction is sought. It is an Amazonian plant. It is the coca plant, the sacred plant of the Incas.

As if at a paradoxical crossroads, the jungle that we are trying to save is, at the same time, being destroyed.

To destroy the coca plant, you spray poisons, massive amounts of glyphosate that run through the waters, you arrest its growers and imprison them. To destroy or possess the coca leaf, a million Latin Americans are murdered, and two million African Americans are imprisoned in North America.

“Destroy the plant that kills,” you shout from the North, “destroy it.” But the plant is just one more plant of the millions of species that perish when you unleash fire on the rainforest.

“Destroy the Rainforest,” “[Destroy] the Amazon” have become the slogans followed by states and businessmen. The cry of scientists baptizing the rainforest as one of the great climate pillars does not matter. For the power brokers of the world, the rainforest and its inhabitants are to blame for the plague that torments them. The power brokers are plagued by the addiction to money, to self-perpetuation, to oil, to cocaine, and to the hardest drugs in order to be able to anesthetize more.

Nothing is more hypocritical than the discourse about saving the rainforest. The rainforest is burning, distinguished delegates, while you wage war and play with it. The rainforest, the climate pillar of the world, disappears with all its life. The enormous sponge that absorbs the planetary CO2 evaporates. The rainforest — our savior —  is seen in my country as the enemy to defeat, as weeds to be eradicated.

The space of coca and of the peasants who cultivate it, because they have nothing else to cultivate, is demonized. My country doesn’t interest you except to fill its rainforests with poison, to take its men to prison, and to cast its women into exclusion.

You are not interested in children’s education but rather in killing the rainforest and extracting the coal and oil from its entrails. The sponge that absorbs the poison is useless; you prefer to spread more poison into the atmosphere.

We serve to excuse the emptiness and loneliness of your own society that lead you to live in your bubble of drugs. We conceal from you your own problems that you refuse to reform. It is better to declare war on the rainforest, its plants, its people.

While you let the jungles burn, while hypocrites obliterate plants with poisons to hide the disasters of their own society, you ask us for more and more coal, more and more oil to calm the other addiction: that of consumption, that of power, that of money.

What is more poisonous for the human being: cocaine or coal and oil? The will of power has ordered that cocaine is the poison and must be prosecuted, even if it only causes minimal deaths by overdose (more due to what it’s mixed with as a result of its imposed illegal status).

Meanwhile, coal and oil must be protected, even if its use can extinguish all of humanity. These are the ways of world power, of injustice, of irrationality, because world power has become irrational.

You see in the exuberance of the rainforest, in its vitality, the lustful, the sinful — the guilty origin of the sadness of your societies is imbued in the deep unlimited compulsion to have and to consume. How to hide the loneliness of the heart — in its drought in the midst of societies without affection, competitive to the point of imprisoning the soul in solitude — if not by blaming the plant, the man who grows it, the liberating secrets of the rainforest. According to the irrational world powers, it is not the fault of the market that cuts down existence; it is the fault of the rainforest and those who inhabit it.

Bank accounts have become limitless. The money held by the most powerful on Earth couldn’t even be spent over the course of centuries. You fill the existential sadness produced by this artificial call to competition with noise and drugs. Addiction to money and possessions has another face: drug addiction in people who lose the competition, the artificial race into which you have transformed humanity.

The disease of loneliness is not cured by spraying glyphosate on the rainforests. The rainforest is not to blame. The culprit is your society educated in endless consumption, in the stupid confusion between consumption and happiness that allows for the pockets of power to be filled with money. The culprit of drug addiction is not the rainforest — it is the lack of rationality of your world power.

Illuminate your power with reason. Turn on once again the lights of the century. The war on drugs has lasted forty years. If we do not correct course and it continues for another forty years, the United States will see 2,800,000 young people die of overdose due to fentanyl, which is not produced in our Latin America. You will see millions of African Americans imprisoned in your private prisons — the imprisoned African American will become the pawn of prison companies. A million more Latin Americans will be murdered; our waters and our green fields will fill with blood. You will see the dream of democracy die, both in my America and in Anglo-Saxon America. Democracy will die where it was born, in the great Western European Athens.

By hiding the truth, you will see the rainforest and democracies die.

The war on drugs has failed. The fight against climate change has failed. You have increased the fatal consumption of drugs. You have gone from soft drugs to the hardest drugs. A genocide has occurred on my continent, and in my country, millions of people have been sentenced to prison. To hide your own social guilt, you have blamed the rainforest and its plants. You have filled your speeches and policies with a lack of reason.

I demand here, from my wounded Latin America, an end to the irrational war on drugs. Reducing drug consumption does not need wars or weapons; it needs all of us to build a better society: a more supportive, more affectionate society, where the intensity of life saves us from addictions and from the new slaveries. Do you want fewer drugs? Think of less profit and more love. Think of a rational exercise of power.

Do not touch the beauty of my country with your poisons. Help us, without hypocrisy, to save the Amazon rainforest to save the life of humanity on the planet.

You gathered the scientists, and they spoke with reason, with mathematics and climatological models. They said that the end of the human species was near, that its time is no longer millennia, not even centuries. Science set off the alarm, and we stopped listening to it. The war served as an excuse for us not to take the necessary measures.

When action was most needed, when discourse was no longer useful, when it was essential to deposit money in the funds to save humanity, when it was necessary to get away from coal and oil as quickly as possible, one war and another and another were invented. Ukraine was invaded but also Iraq and Libya and Syria. You invaded in the name of oil and gas. You discovered in the twenty-first century the worst of your addictions: addiction to money and oil.

Wars have served you as an excuse for not acting against the climate crisis. The wars have shown you how dependent you are on that which will put an end to the human species.

If you observe that the people suffering from hunger and thirst migrate by millions to the North, toward where the water is, you lock them up, build walls, deploy machine guns, shoot at them. You expel them as if they were not human beings, quintuple the mentality of those who created the policies of the gas chambers and the concentration camps; you reproduce 1933 on a planetary scale, the day of the great triumph of the assault on reason.

Do you not see that the solution to the great exodus unleashed on your Northern countries is to return the water filling the rivers and to fill the fields with nutrients again?

The climatic disaster fills us with viruses that work to overwhelm us, but you do business with medicines and turn vaccines into merchandise. You propose that the market will save us from what the market itself has created. The Frankenstein of humanity lies in letting the market and greed act without planning, surrendering the brain and reason, bowing human rationality to greed.

Why war, if what we need is to save humanity? What use are the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and empires, if what is upon us is the end of intelligence?

The climate disaster will kill hundreds of millions of people — and listen well — it is not produced by the planet; it is produced by capital. The cause of the climate disaster is capital. The logic of relating to one another to consume more and more, to produce more and more, so that a few earn more and more, is what produces the climate disaster. You articulated the logic of the expanded accumulation of capital; the energy engines of coal and oil and unleashed the hurricane: the chemical change of the atmosphere that is ever deeper and more deadly. Now in a parallel world, the expanded accumulation of capital is an expanded accumulation of death.

From the lands of the rainforest and beauty, where you decided to make an enemy of an Amazon rainforest plant, extradite and imprison its growers, I invite you to end the war and stop the climate disaster.

Here, in this Amazon rainforest, there is a failure of humanity. Behind the bonfires that burn her, after her poisoning, there is a wholesale civilizational failure of humanity.

Behind the addiction to cocaine and other drugs, behind the addiction to oil and coal, is the true addiction of this phase of human history: the addiction to irrational power, to profit and to money. This is the enormous fatal machinery that can extinguish humanity.

As president of one of the most beautiful countries on earth and one of the most bloodstained and violent, I propose to end the war on drugs — and all wars — and to allow our people to live in peace.

I call on all of Latin America for this purpose. I call on the voice of Latin America to unite to defeat the irrationality that martyrs our body. I call on you to save the Amazon rainforest, in its entirety, with the resources that can be allocated to life worldwide.

If you do not have the capacity to finance the funds for the revitalization of the jungle, if it is more important to allocate the money to weapons than to life, then let us reduce the external debt to free up our own budgets and with them, carry out the task of saving humanity and life on the planet. We can do it ourselves if you, from the North, don’t want to. Only change debt for life; only change debt for nature.

I propose this and summon you in Latin America to do so, to dialogue to end the war. Do not pressure us to align ourselves in the fields of war. It is the hour of peace. Let the Slavic peoples talk to each other; let the peoples of the world do it. War is just a trap that draws us closer to the end of time in the great orgy of irrationality. From Latin America, we call on Ukraine and Russia to make peace.

Only in peace can we save life on this, our common land. There is no “total peace” without social, economic, and environmental justice. We are at war too — with the planet. Without peace with the planet, there will be no peace among nations. Without social justice, there is no social peace.