BOGOTÁ, Colombia — 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.
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.