Gustavo Preto, President of Colombia, delivered one of the most courageous, forceful and emotional speeches ever heard at the United Nations Assembly last September 20th. Petro spoke to the representatives of the world’s nations, but with special emphasis on the United States, promoter and guarantor of the “failed” war on drugs, a disaster that has been dragging on for 40 years and has political, social and environmental consequences in Colombia, his country, and also throughout Latin America.
The war on drugs, said the Colombian president, is, together with greed for oil and coal, co-responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest: “As in a paradoxical crossroads, the rainforest that we are trying to save is at the same time being destroyed”.
Petro is not the first Latin American leader to point the finger squarely at the war on drugs as responsible for the violence in Colombia, but also in Mexico, Brazil and Peru. The difference lies in the fact that, unlike, for example, Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, he does so from his presidential post and not after leaving office.
Below is the video of Gustavo Preto’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly and its transcript:
SPEECH AT THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY GUSTAVO PETRO URREGO
«I come from one of the three most beautiful countries on Earth. There is an explosion of life there. Thousands of multicoloured species in the seas, in the skies, in the lands… I come from the land of yellow butterflies and magic. There, in the mountains and valleys of all greens, not only the abundant waters flow down, but also the torrents of blood. I come from a country of bloody beauty. My country is not only beautiful, it is also violent. How can beauty be combined with death, how can the biodiversity of life erupt with the dances of death and horror? Who is guilty of breaking the charm with terror? Who or what is responsible for drowning life in the routine decisions of wealth and interest? Who is leading us to destruction as a nation and as a people? My country is beautiful because it has the Amazon jungle, the Chocó jungle, the waters, the Andes mountain ranges, and the oceans.
There, in those forests, planetary oxygen is emanated and atmospheric CO2 is absorbed. One of these CO2-absorbing plants, among millions of species, is one of the most persecuted on earth. Its destruction is being sought at all costs: it is an Amazonian plant, the coca plant, the sacred plant of the Incas. As if at a paradoxical crossroads, the jungle they are trying to save is, at the same time, being destroyed. To destroy the coca plant, they throw poisons, glyphosate en masse, which runs through the waters, they arrest its growers and imprison them. For destroying or possessing the coca leaf, one million Latin Americans are killed and two million Afro-Americans are imprisoned in North America. “Destroy the plant that kills”, they shout from the North, but the plant is just one more of the millions that perish when they unleash fire on the jungle. Destroying the forest, the Amazon, has become the watchword followed by states and businessmen. Never mind the cry of scientists baptising the rainforest as one of the great climatic pillars. For the power relations of the world, the rainforest and its inhabitants are to blame for the plague that plagues them. Power relations are plagued by the addiction to money, to perpetuate themselves, to oil, to cocaine and to the hardest drugs in order to anaesthetise themselves further. Nothing is more hypocritical than the discourse to save the jungle.
The forest is burning, gentlemen, while you wage war and play with it. The forest, the climatic pillar of the world, disappears with all its life. The great sponge that absorbs the planetary CO2 evaporates. The saviour forest is seen in my country as the enemy to be defeated, as the weed to be extinguished. The space of coca and of the farmers who grow it, because they have nothing else to grow, is demonised. You are only interested in my country to throw poisons into your jungles, take your men to prison and throw your women into exclusion. You are not interested in the education of children, but in killing their forests and extracting coal and oil from their entrails. The sponge that absorbs the poisons is useless, they prefer to throw more poisons into the atmosphere. We serve them to excuse the emptiness and loneliness of their own society that leads them to live in the bubbles of drugs. We hide from them their problems that they refuse to reform. It is better to declare war on the forest, on its plants, on its people. While they let the forests burn, while hypocrites chase the plants with poisons to hide the disasters of their own society, they 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 humanity, cocaine, coal or oil? The dictates of power have ordered that cocaine is the poison and must be pursued, even if it only causes minimal deaths by overdose, and more by the mixtures caused by its clandestine dictates, but, on the other hand, coal and oil must be protected, even if their use could extinguish the whole of humanity. These are the things of world power, things of injustice, things of irrationality, because world power has become irrational. They see in the exuberance of the jungle, in its vitality, the lustful, the sinful; the guilty origin of the sadness of their societies, imbued with the unlimited compulsion to have and to consume. How to hide the loneliness of the heart, its dryness in the midst of affectionless societies, competitive to the point of imprisoning the soul in solitude, if not by blaming the plant, the man who cultivates it, the libertarian secrets of the jungle. According to the irrational power of the world, it is not the fault of the market that cuts back on existence, it is the fault of the forest and those who inhabit it. The bank accounts have become unlimited, the saved money of the most powerful people on earth cannot even be spent in the time of the centuries. The sadness of existence produced by this artificial call for competition is filled with noise and drugs. The addiction to money and having has another face: the addiction to drugs in people who lose the competition, in the losers of the artificial race into which humanity has been transformed. The disease of loneliness will not be cured by glyphosate on the jungles. It is not the jungle that is to blame. The culprit is their society educated in endless consumption, in the stupid confusion between consumption and happiness that allows, yes, the pockets of power to fill with money.
It is not the jungle that is to blame for drug addiction, it is the irrationality of your world power. Strike a blow of reason to your power. Turn the lights of the century back on. The war on drugs has lasted 40 years. If we do not correct course and it goes on for another 40 years, the United States will see 2,800,000 young people die of overdoses from fentanyl, which is not produced in our Latin America. It will see millions of Afro-Americans imprisoned in its private prisons. Afro-prisoners will become the business of prison companies, a million more Latin Americans will be murdered, our waters and our green fields will be filled with blood, the dream of democracy will die in my America as well as in Anglo-Saxon America. Democracy will die where it was born, in the great western European Athens. For hiding the truth, you will see the jungle and democracies die. The war on drugs has failed. The fight against the climate crisis has failed. The deadly consumption has increased, from soft drugs to harder ones, genocide has taken place on my continent and in my country, millions of people have been condemned to prison, and to hide their own social guilt they have blamed the rainforest and its plants. They have filled speeches and policies with nonsense.
I demand from here, from my wounded Latin America, an end to the irrational war on drugs. Reducing drug consumption does not require wars, it requires that we all build a better society: a society with more solidarity, more affection, where the intensity of life saves from addictions and new forms of slavery. Do you want fewer drugs? Think about less profit and more love. Think of a rational exercise of power. Do not touch with your poisons the beauty of my homeland, help us without hypocrisy to save the Amazon rainforest in order 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 the alarm bells ringing and we stopped listening to it. The war served as an excuse for not taking the necessary action. When action was most needed, when speeches were no longer useful, when it was essential to put money into funds to save humanity, when it was necessary to move away from coal and oil as soon as possible, they invented war after war after war. They invaded Ukraine, but also Iraq, Libya and Syria. They invaded in the name of oil and gas.
They discovered in the 21st century the worst of their addictions: the addiction to money and oil. Wars have served them as an excuse not to act against the climate crisis. Wars have shown them how dependent they are on what will kill the human species. If you see people starving and thirsty and migrating by the millions to the north, to where the water is, then you lock them up, build walls, deploy machine guns, shoot them. You expel them as if they were not human beings, you reproduce five times the mentality of those who politically created the gas chambers and the concentration camps, you reproduce on a planetary scale 1933. Can’t they see that the solution to the great exodus unleashed on their countries is to return the water to fill the rivers and the fields with nutrients? The climate disaster fills us with viruses that swarm over us, but you do business with medicines and turn vaccines into commodities. 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 brains and reason. Kneeling human rationality to greed.
What is the point of 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 well, it is not produced by the planet, it is produced by capital. The cause of climate disaster is capital. The logic of relating to each other in order to consume more and more, produce more and more, and for some to earn more and more produces the climate disaster. They articulated to the logic of extended accumulation, the energy engines of coal and oil and unleashed the hurricane: the deepening and deadly chemical change of the atmosphere. Now in a parallel world, the expanded accumulation of capital is an expanded accumulation of death. From the lands of jungle and beauty, where they decided to make an Amazonian jungle plant an enemy, extradite and imprison its growers, I invite you to stop the war, and to stop the climate disaster. Here, in this Amazon rainforest, there is a failure of humanity. Behind the bonfires that burn it, behind its poisoning, there is a comprehensive, civilisational failure of humanity. Behind the addiction to cocaine and drugs, behind the addiction to oil and coal, is the real addiction of this phase of human history: the addiction to irrational power, to profit and money. This is the huge deadly machinery that can extinguish humanity.
I propose to you as president of one of the most beautiful countries on earth, and one of the bloodiest and most violent, to end the war on drugs and allow our people to live in peace. I call on the whole of Latin America for this purpose. I call on the voice of Latin America to unite to defeat the irrational that martyrs our bodies. I call upon you to save the Amazon rainforest in its entirety with the resources that can be allocated globally to life. If you do not have the capacity to finance the fund for the revitalisation of the forests, if the money is more important for weapons than for life, then reduce the foreign debt to free up our own budgetary spaces and with them carry out the task of saving humanity and life on the planet. We can do it if you don’t want to. Just exchange debt for life, for nature. I propose to you, and I call on Latin America to do so, to engage in dialogue to end the war. Do not pressure us to align ourselves in the fields of war. It is time for PEACE. Let the Slavic peoples talk to each other, let the peoples of the world talk to each other. War is only a trap that brings the end of time closer 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 in this land of ours. There is no total peace without social, economic and environmental justice. We are also at war with the planet. Without peace with the planet, there will be no peace between nations. Without social justice, there is no social peace».