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‘War on drugs has failed’: At UN, Colombia condemns ‘addiction to money and oil’

Colombia’s first ever left-wing President Gustavo Petro delivered a historic UN speech declaring, “The war on drugs has failed.” He warned capitalism is destroying the environment, with its “addiction to money and oil,” and called for debt relief for the Global South.

Colombia Gustavo Petro UN speech
Gustavo Petro

Colombia’s first ever left-wing President Gustavo Petro delivered a historic speech at the United Nations declaring, “The war on drugs has failed.”

Petro emphasized that drug addiction is a social problem, and cannot be solved with violence and militarization. Rather, he argued, it is a mere symptom of a much deeper problem: the capitalist system itself, with its “addiction to money and oil.”

The Colombian leader warned that the infinite greed of capitalism is destroying the planet, threatening life on Earth.

“The cause of the climate disaster is capital – the logic of dedicating ourselves to consume more and more, to produce more and more, and so that a small few can earn more and more [money],” Petro proclaimed.

The “logic of increasing accumulation of capital” is ravaging the environment, he warned. “The increasing accumulation of capital is the increasing accumulation of death.”

In a jab directed toward the Global North, Petro added, “You all insist that the market will save us from what the market itself has created. Humanity’s Frankenstein is allowing the market and greed to act without any planning, giving up our brains and reason, making human rationality kneel before greed.”

Colombian president rebels against US, says ‘war on drugs’ fueled mass death and racist mass incarceration

Petro’s powerful speech, delivered on September 20, was the first time the Colombian president had addressed the UN General Assembly since winning elections in June and entering office in August.

Unlike many of the world’s presidents, who have their words carefully decided by speechwriters, Petro himself penned large parts of the address.

Knowing how explosive it would be politically, Petro kept the speech secret, sharing it with just a small handful of his closest aides, telling them, “Keep it safe, so no one can read it.”

Spain’s establishment newspaper El País noted that Petro’s UN address includes “all of his ideological corpus: anti-capitalism, environmentalism, even the anti-Americanism in which many leftists of his generation were raised.”

For decades, Colombia had been at the center of the US-led “war on drugs.” Washington spent billions of dollars militarizing the South American country through its Plan Colombia program.

Petro used the platform at the United Nations to declare that this policy has been an utter disaster, fueling countless deaths in Latin America, as well as racist mass incarceration in the United States itself.

“For destroying or possessing the coca leaf, 1 million Latin Americans are killed, and they imprison 2 million African-Americans in North America,” he said.

While demanding an end to the “war on drugs,” Petro called in general for peace and an end to all wars.

‘There is no peace without justice’

He urged a peaceful settlement to the proxy war in Ukraine, while also condemning the Western wars on Iraq, and Libya, and Syria.

“There is no total peace without social, economic, and environmental justice,” he said. “We are at war, as well, with the planet. Without peace with the planet, there will be no peace between nations.”

Petro condemned the Global North for its rampant abuse of refugees and migrants, comparing their cruel policies to Nazi Germany.

He called on the North to forgive the debt of the Global South, so it can invest resources in saving the environment.

“If it is more important to dedicate the money to weapons than to life, then reduce the external debt to free our own state budgets, and with those we can fulfill the duty of saving humanity and life on the planet,” Petro implored.

Gustavo Petro’s historic UN speech

Gustavo Petro opened his speech emphasizing the natural beauty of his country. He warned, however, that this is being destroyed.

The Amazon rainforest helps combat climate change by absorbing CO2 and creating oxygen. But the rainforest is being cut down and polluted in the name of corporate profits. Petro stressed that this endangers life itself.

There were some problems with the translation done by the UN’s English-language interpreter, perhaps because it was done simultaneously and was thus rushed. Petro repeatedly mentioned coal and oil, but the interpreter mistakenly translated “coal” (carbón in Spanish) as “carbon” (carbono in Spanish).

Colombia is a significant oil producer, and petroleum-based products make up the value of nearly one-third of its total exports. But Colombia is also the world’s fifth-largest exporter of coal.

Multipolarista has translated the bulk of Petro’s speech and published it below.

The Colombian president said:

The jungle that tries to save us is, at the same time, being destroyed.

To destroy the coca plant, they spray poisons, glyphosate en masse that runs through the waters. They arrest and imprison those who grow it.

For destroying or possessing the coca leaf, 1 million Latin Americans are killed, and they imprison 2 million African-Americans in North America.

“Destroy the plant that kills,” they shout from the North, “destroy it!” But it is just one plant, among the millions more species that perish when they unleash the fire on the jungle.

Destroy the jungle, the Amazon, has become the slogan followed by states and businessmen. It doesn’t matter that scientists are crying out, baptizing the jungle as one of the great climatic pillars.

For the power relations of the world, the jungle and its inhabitants are to blame for the plague that ravages them. The power relations are ravaged by the addiction to money, to keep on, to oil, to cocaine, and to the hardest drugs to be able to anesthetize themselves more.

[There is] nothing more hypocritical than the discourse about saving the jungle.

The jungle is burning, gentlemen, while you wage war and play with it. The jungle, the climatic pillar of the world, disappears with all its life. The great sponge that absorbs the planetary CO2 evaporates.

The jungle, our savior, is seen in my country as the enemy to defeat, as the weeds to be extinguished. The space of coca and of the peasants who cultivate it, because they have nothing else to cultivate, are demonized.

For you all, my country is of no interest except to spray poisons into its jungles, to throw its men to jail, and push its women into exclusion. You all are not interested in the education of the child, but rather in killing his jungle and extracting the coal and oil from its entrails.

The sponge that absorbs the poisons is useless, they prefer to spray more poisons into the atmosphere.

We are only useful to you all to make up for the emptiness and loneliness of your own society, which leads you to live in bubbles of drugs. We hide your problems that you refuse to reform. It is better to declare war on the jungle, on its plants, on its peoples.

While you let the jungles burn, while hypocrites destroy the plants with poison to cover up the disasters in their own society, you ask us for more and more coal, more and more oil, to calm the other addiction: the addiction of consumption, of power, of money. What is more harmful to human beings: cocaine, coal, or oil?

The judgment of power has declared that cocaine is a poison must be destroyed, even though it causes few deaths by overdose, and more because of the mixtures which lead to it being trafficked.

But on the other hand, coal and oil must be protected, even though their use can lead to the extinction of all humanity.

This is the way world power works, with injustice, with irrationality, because world power has become irrational.

They see in the exuberance of the jungle, in its vitality, a sign of lust and sinfulness, the guilty cause of the sadness in their societies, imbued with the limitless drive to have, to have and to consume.

[They] hide the loneliness in people’s hearts, the drought in societies without affection, that are so competitive they imprison souls in loneliness, by putting the blame on the plant, the people who cultivate it, the secret freedoms of the jungle.

According to the irrational power of the world, it is not the fault of the market, that cuts off existence; it is the fault of the jungle and those who live in it.

Bank accounts have been filled without limits. The most powerful people on Earth have stashed so much money they couldn’t even spend it in centuries.

The sadness of existence that is produced by that artificial call for competition, it is filled with noise and drugs.

The addiction to money and to possession, it has another face: drug addiction in people who lose the competition, the artificial race that they have transformed humanity into.

The disease of loneliness is not cured by spraying the jungle with glyphosate. It is not the jungle that is guilty.

What is guilty is their society taught to endlessly consume, in the stupid confusion between consumption and happiness, which is what allows the pockets of the powerful to be filled with money.

The cause of drug addiction is not the jungle; it is the irrationality of their world power.

War on drugs ‘has caused a genocide on my continent’ and ‘condemned millions of people to prison’

In the next part of his speech, Petro stated clearly that the “war on drugs” has been a complete failure, and called on the world to abandon it:

The war on drugs has lasted for 40 years. If we do not correct our course, and it goes on for another 40 years, the United States will see 2.8 million young people die of overdoses on fentanyl, which is not produced in our Latin America.

It will see millions of African-Americans incarcerated in its private prisons. The African-American prisoner will become the business of prison corporations.

Another million Latin Americans will be killed. They will fill our waters and our green fields with blood.

They will see the the dream of democracy die, both in my America [Latin America] and in Anglo-Saxon America.

To hide the truth, you will see the jungle and democracies die.

The war on drugs has failed.

The struggle against the climate crisis has failed.

The deadly consumption of soft drugs has increased. It has moved to harder drugs. It has caused a genocide on my continent and in my country. It has condemned millions of people to prison.

To cover up their social causes, they have blamed the jungle and its plants. Their narratives and policies have been filled with irrationality.

I call on you all here, from my wounded Latin America, to end the irrational war on drugs.

Wars and guns are not needed to decrease drug consumption. What is needed is that we all build a better society: a society with more solidarity, with more affection, where the intensity of life saves people from addiction and new forms of slavery.

Do you want fewer drugs? Think of fewer profits and more love. Think of the rational use of power.

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

Wars ‘in the name of oil and gas’ threaten humanity

Petro went on in his speech to warn that climate science is being ignored, and that wealthy countries in the Global North have used war as an excuse to not take action to stop it:

You brought together the scientists, and they spoke with reason, with mathematics and climatological models.

They said that the end of the human species was approaching, that the time left to us is not millennia, not even centuries. Science sounded the alarm. And we stopped listening.

War served us as an excuse to not take the necessary measures.

When action was needed most, when speeches were no longer useful, when it was indispensable to invest money to save humanity, when we had to move away as soon as possible from coal and oil, they started one war after another.

They invaded Ukraine, but also Iraq, and Libya, and Syria. They invaded in the name of oil and gas.

In the 21st century, they discovered the worst of their addictions: the addiction to money and oil.

Wars have served them as an excuse to not act against climate change. Wars have shown them how dependent they are on that which will put an end to the human species.

Global North’s abuse of migrants is reminiscent of the Nazis

Petro continued discussing the migration crisis from Latin America, and emphasized its roots in these very same economic problems.

He condemned the Global North’s abuse of refugees and migrants, likening it to the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany:

You observe that people suffer from hunger and thirst, and immigrate in their millions toward the north, toward where there is water, then you lock them up, you build walls, you use machine guns, you shoot at them, you expel them as if they were not human beings.

You multiply by five the mentality of those who who created the policies of gas chambers and concentration camps. You are reproducing 1933 on a planetary scale – that era of the great victory of the assault on reason.

Do you not see that the solution to the great exodus scrambling toward your countries in the North is returning to filling the rivers with water and filling the countryside with nutrients?

The climate disaster fills us with viruses, which are swarming to lay waste to us. But you all are doing business with medicines, and even turning vaccines into merchandise.

You all insist that the market will save us from what the market itself has created. Humanity’s Frankenstein is allowing the market and greed to act without any planning, giving up our brains and reason, making human rationality kneel before greed.

There are no empires on a dead planet

Petro warned that Global North countries are fighting to save their empires, while destroying the environment and the possibility for life on the planet:

Why have war if what we need is to save the human species? What is the point of NATO and empires, if what is coming is the end of intelligence?

The climate disaster will kill hundreds of millions of people.

And listen up: it is not the planet that produces this; it is capital that produces this.

The cause of the climate disaster is capital. The logic of dedicating ourselves to consume more and more, to produce more and more, and so that a small few can earn more and more [money]. That is what produces the climate disaster.

They applied the logic of increasing accumulation of capital to the energy motors of coal and oil, and they unleashed a hurricane: the chemical change of the atmosphere keeps getting deeper and deadlier.

Now in a parallel world, the increasing accumulation of capital is the increasing accumulation of death.

From the lands of jungle and beauty, there, where they decided to turn a plant from the Amazon rainforest into an enemy, to extradite and imprison those who grow it, I ask you all to stop the war and to stop the climate disaster.

‘The addiction to irrational power, to profit and to money’

Petro argued “the true addiction of this phase of human history” is “the addiction to irrational power, to profit and to money.”

He concluded his speech with a powerful call for peace, but underscored that peace is only possible with justice:

Here, in this Amazon rainforest, there is a failure of humanity. From the stakes where they burn it, from the poisoning, there is a wholesale civilizational failure of humanity.

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

I request of all of you, as president of one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, and one of the most bloodstained and brutalized countries, that you end the war on drugs, and end all wars, and let our people live in peace.

I call on all of Latin America with that purpose. I call on the voice of Latin America to unite to defeat the irrationality that is tormenting our body.

I call on you to save the Amazon rainforest, as a whole, with resources that can be devoted around the world to life.

If you don’t have the capacity to finance the fund to revitalize the jungles, if it is more important to dedicate the money to weapons than to life, then reduce the external debt to free our own state budgets, and with those we can fulfill the duty of saving humanity and life on the planet.

We can do it ourselves if you all, those in the North, do not want to. Just exchange the debt for life; just exchange the debt for nature.

I proposal this to you all, and I call on Latin America to do this, to hold dialogue to end war.

Don’t pressure us to pick a side in the fields of war. This is the time of peace.

The Slavic peoples should speak to each other; the peoples of the world should speak to each other. War is just a trap that brings the end of the times closer in a grand orgy of irrationality.

From Latin America, we call on Ukraine and Russia to make peace. Only in peace can we save life on our shared Earth.

There is no total peace without social, economic, and environmental justice.

We are at war, as well, with the planet. Without peace with the planet, there will be no peace between nations.

Without justice, there is no social peace.

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