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PanAm Podcast with Bob Barr: The Colombian People, in Rejecting FARC Peace Deal, Had it Right

By: David Unsworth - @LatinAmerUpdate - Aug 30, 2017, 2:34 pm

Former Congressman Bob Barr has had a lengthy and varied career in public service: he’s worked as a CIA analyst, District Attorney, served as a House manager for the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, and ran for president in 2008 as the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. His evolution on drug policy has been particularly heartening to libertarians: once a staunch believer in the global Drug War, he has evolved into a leading critic of our government’s drug prohibition efforts.

Recently, Congressman Barr sat down with PanAm Post English editor David Unsworth for a discussion on drug policy, the economic and political crisis in Venezuela, the recent Santos-FARC agreement in Colombia, and his role in taking on Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel during his time as the District Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

“During my tenure…from 1986 to 1990, of course it was my duty as the chief federal prosecutor for the northern part of Georgia…to enforce federal drug laws, but after that period of time, and particularly during my service in the Congress, and especially afterwards, I’ve become very concerned about the tremendous rise in government power across the board. This became particularly problematic for me during the administration of George W. Bush, and in the post 9/11 world, with the Bush administration taking great liberties with the law, to put it mildly, to engage in massive surveillance, electronic surveillance, torture, asset forfeiture in particular…it forced me to go back and take a much more careful look at where government was involved, where it really should be involved, and where the government has been involved in ways that are not productive, to put it mildly, and many of the federal drug laws, and particularly those that are opposed by the individual states.”

Barr argues that recent state referendum campaigns to legalize or decriminalize certain drugs should be respected by the principles of federalism:

“It led me to adopt a much more states’ rights-oriented policy…in other words, if the people of a particular state such as Colorado elect through the democratic process to decide that they want to legalize marijuana, to the extent that it doesn’t harm other individuals, such as driving under the influence of it, then that ought to be allowed, and the federal government, reflecting the principles of federalism in our country, ought to step back and allow the citizens of the states to make those decisions.”

Regarding the recent agreement between the FARC rebel group and the administration of current Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, Barr is extremely skeptical of the terms of the deal:

“I think that the Colombian people, in rejecting the proposal, had it right. I think many of the voters, the citizens in Colombia, did not appreciate a pact that not only would have forgiven all of the past sins of the FARC, which were far more than simply political sins; they were engaged in a very long and very bloody civil war against the civil authorities in Colombia, committed numerous kidnappings and murders and bombings…and not only did this pact provide immunity for prosecution, but actually rewarded the FARC for its past violent behavior, by allowing its members to obtain positions in the government. I think this really was a slap in the face at the Colombian citizenry, which had put up with the FARC and its violent behavior for many, many years.”

Barr was surprised by Trump’s statements earlier this month, in which he suggested the existence of a “military option” in Venezuela:

“I was somewhat taken aback by the president’s implication…it was more than a implication, he stated publicly that there was a US military option on the table…I’m not quite sure what it means…but, the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, not only economically, but politically as well, with the government of Maduro essentially taking on more and more of the elements of a dictatorial power, even with the facade of continuing to have a National Assembly.”

He views Trump’s posturing as potentially counter-productive, noting that many other options remain on the table:

“There are many things that the United States can do to try to influence what is going on in Venezuela, through banking regulations, for example, additional trade restrictions…but, I would think the last thing that we would want to do would be to move all those options aside…and to raise the specter of military action someone escapes me in terms of whether it could be productive.”

David Unsworth David Unsworth

David Unsworth is a Boston native. He received degrees in History and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, and subsequently spent five years working in real estate development in New York City. Currently he resides in Bogota, Colombia, where he is involved in the tourism industry. In his free time he enjoys singing in rock bands, travelling throughout Latin America, and studying Portuguese.