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  • Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro.

    Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro. | Photo: EFE

Published 3 May 2018

Colombian presidential candidate Gustavo Petro said drug trafficking could be reduced through social policies and land reform.

Presidential candidate Gustavo Petro has urged the Colombian government to end the “ineffective” drug policies it has implemented in conjunction with the United States. While speaking to journalists Tuesday, he said Colombia needs to develop its own policies and move away from the “subordination to the drug war and the assistance it receives” to continue its current policies.

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“Drugs are so demonized that it’s politically correct to say ‘let’s ban them and start a war,’ but we never consider the consequences. The militaristic approach to drugs has been ineffective,” Petro said. He added that the policies of the United States and its current President Donald Trump are "regressive" and built on top of past failures.

Colombia remains the world's largest exporter of cocaine despite some $10 billion in U.S. aid packages meant to curb drug trafficking.

Petro's proposal to reduce the cultivation of coca, the main ingredient for cocaine, is to develop and strengthen “social policies in the regions where drugs are cultivated.” He stressed that policies, such as land reform, must be implemented to “help people escape from the mafia” and regional latifundios, or large estates.

The “land substitution” program, which would enable coca farmers to exchange their plots for more fertile terrain in other areas with access to the legal economy, has led to Petro being branded a communist by political opponents.

His pledge envisages tax hikes for wealthy landowners who retain vast swathes of uncultivated but fertile land. The move he says would encourage a domino effect, which would see landowners sell their lots to the state, these plots would, in turn, be redistributed to the land to peasant farmers.

Colombia's armed conflicts, spanning well over half a century, are intrinsically linked to unequal land distribution and dates back to Spanish colonialism.

Petro, the leading progressive candidate in Colombia’s May 27 presidential elections, has received pledges of support from members of the Liberal Party, the Alternative Democratic Pole, and the Green Alliance despite a reluctance by the leadership of these parties to present a unified candidacy ahead of the election or create an electoral coalition.

His popularity among more liberal or progressive voters, who belong to other left-leaning parties, has seen him make significant gains in the recent round of polls. The latest presidential election poll published by the Latin American Centre for Strategic Geopolitics (CELAG) gives Petro 30.1 percent of the voting intention, placing him less than four percentage points behind his chief political rival Ivan Duque, who is currently heading the polls with 34 percent.

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