<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español November 21, 2017 | Issue #29


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Personal Drug Use Already Decriminalized in Ecuador

A Conversation with Fernando Buendía


By Reed Lindsay
Narco News Authentic Journalism Scholar

March 10, 2003

Fernando Buendía leads of one of Ecuador’s most powerful political parties, the Pachakutik Movement. A small, balding, sociologist with gracious manners, he speaks slowly and deliberately, measuring each phrase and stopping for long pauses.


Fernando Buendía
Photo D.R. Jeremy Bigwood 2003
But his unprepossessing demeanor is soon forgotten when he unleashes the fire in his tongue. Buendía is piercing and direct, and he plays no favorites. His fool’s gallery includes such luminaries as the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, Plan Colombia and some of the policies of his current ally, President Lucio Gutiérrez.

In an interview with Narco News on the eve of last November’s presidential election, Buendía claimed the United States was violating its agreement to use the airbase at Manta solely in drug interdiction efforts. He also raised the possibility of opening a debate about drug legalization.

At that time, he was overseeing the work of those officials charged with drafting a plan of operation for the new Gutiérrez government. Since then, as an independent advisor at the Economy Ministry representing the Pachakutik Movement, Buendía has become an increasingly important player in the new coalition government. He was interviewed recently in Mérida, Mexico, where he gave a keynote speech drug legalization summit co-sponsored by Narco News.

Narco News: What is the legal status of drug use in Ecuador?

Fernando Buendía: Under Ecuadorian law, the consumption of drugs is not penalized. It is considered a disease, and the drug user is not persecuted nor punished, although the drug trafficker is…

Narco News: You can use drugs in the street and nothing will happen to you?

Fernando Buendía: It is not socially permitted, but it is not a crime… If you are taking drugs on a street corner and a policeman arrives he can cause problems if you’re obstructing the street, but he can’t bother you for taking drugs…

Narco News: Is drug consumption a problem in Ecuador?

Fernando Buendía: It is a growing problem… In the Third World the consumption of drugs has to do with poverty, while in the First World, it has to do with alienation.

Narco News: How has Ecuador been affected by drug trafficking?

Fernando Buendía: Criminalization has provoked grave consequences for Latin America and for Ecuador. We’re paying an extremely high cost for prohibition… In Ecuador’s case, there are thousands of people in the jails who worked as mules, or small-scale transporters of drugs, who lacked other opportunities and turned to drug trafficking as a way out of poverty. The Ecuadorian jails are full of people who were linked in one way or another to drug trafficking.

Narco News: Has drug production in Colombia spilled over into Ecuador?

Fernando Buendía: As a result of the war in Colombia, there is evidence that coca leaves are beginning to be cultivated in Ecuador and that clandestine laboratories are functioning. Last year, two labs were discovered and eliminated… Along with this problem there is an economic problem. The volume of money laundering in the case of Ecuador must be extremely high, because Ecuador has a dollarized economy and the flow of currency can no longer be controlled. Ecuador is now a paradise for narco-laundering, and it is generating serious distortions in the economy because money is being invested in consumption, in real estate, in the financial system, and as a result we have heavy speculation that works against investment in productive industries.

Narco News: Is Ecuador’s economy becoming narcotized, like Colombia’s?

Fernando Buendía: In last year’s trade balance, the country had a deficit of 1.4 billion dollars, or approximately 8 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is very high, and it’s explained in part by narco-laundering…

There is a strong pressure on demand. Where do these resources that maintain the pressure on demand, especially on luxury articles, come from? In part, it is explained by the remittances from emigrants, and on the other hand it is explained by narco-laundering…

We also have a political problem, which is that the quality of our democracy is being eroded, because the resources from narco-trafficking help finance electoral campaigns and buy judges and government officials.

Narco News: How can Ecuador resolve these problems?

Fernando Buendía: If we don’t resolve the problem of poverty, we aren’t going to be able to attack the structural causes of the problem of drug consumption…

The other issue that goes to the heart of the matter is foreign policy. We have to begin constructing an international arrangement that would be more balanced in the face of this unilateralism (of the United States), and in this context falls the issues of decriminalization of the drug trade. For this reason, it is important that we construct spaces of alliance among the Latin American countries, of the countries from the South…

We think that we’re on the offensive and that in the coming years there will be important changes in Ecuador, in Brazil, in Venezuela and even in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, which are behind the others, but whose social movements are beginning to make important advances.

Narco News: What can Ecuador do in the face of the U.S.-promoted “Plan Colombia”?

Fernando Buendía: “Plan Colombia” is the form in which the conservative ideology is taken advantage of to channel interests that don’t have to do with the problem of drug production, but more specifically with the imperial efforts to control the Amazon region.

Narco News: Will Ecuador take any action in opposition to “Plan Colombia” or in favor of drug legalization?

Fernando Buendía: Ecuador is 0.04 percent of the world economy. The government wouldn’t last a week if it legalized drugs. For example, look at the (U.S. military’s) Manta airbase. We suspect the United States has come to stay for a good while and they’re here to extend their presence until they convert this base into the one they lost in the Panama Canal. The capacity of the runways is being increased, for example. The asphalt has been raised 25 centimeters and the extension of the runway to 1.5 kilometers. What (drug) interdiction plane needs so much space for this type of runway? Only the Galaxy. And the Galaxy is not a toy plane. It is the biggest plane in the world and it transports heavy war machinery.

We are at the point at which what happened to Panamá under Noriega could happen to us. The Galaxies land, they unload combat vehicles and in eight hours they are in Ecuador’s capital overthrowing the government. Our sovereignty, our capacity of movement is very determined by the broader context.

I was in the meeting with the International Monetary Fund, after the president had resolved to choose the route of negotiation with the IMF. I was conscious that we could demand, criticize and even shout, but we had to reach an agreement with the IMF. If not, the country would become economically unviable. That is, the government didn’t have the money to pay the teachers’ salaries that month. This is a process that has established itself over time. We have a state with limitations on its economic and political sovereignty. The influence that the United States and the international organizations have in this country is huge. (You are) obliged to negotiate because you have a knife to your throat, but it is quite another thing to adopt policies of such a worn-out economic model, of the neoliberal model.

Narco News: How do you evaluate these first weeks of President Lucio Gutiérrez’s administration?

Fernando Buendía: The initial moves by Lucio are very conflictive, from the perspective of economic policy, foreign policy and also as regards political reform. The Pachakutik Movement characterizes this government as transitional. It is not a popular government nor is it a government that is going to make deep changes… In general, the Pachakutik Movement is not content with the policies of President Gutiérrez. They don’t correspond with the accords of the alliance we formed with the government… Now, the president wants to dissolve Congress any way possible, whether it is in according to the Constitution or outside the Constitution. This runs the risk of becoming a new Fujimorazo... Lucio comes from a military tradition. He believes more in presidential systems, in the executive being above all other powers of the state.

Full Disclosure: The author wishes to acknowledge the material assistance, encouragement, and guidance, of The Narco News Bulletin, The Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, publisher Al Giordano and the rest of the faculty, and of the Tides Foundation. Narco News is a co-sponsor and funder of the international drug legalization summit, “OUT FROM THE SHADOWS: Ending Prohibition in the 21st Century,” in Mérida, Yucatán, and is wholly responsible for the School of Authentic Journalism whose philosophy and methodology were employed in the creation of this report. The writing, the opinions expressed, and the conclusions reached, if any, are solely those of the author.

Apertura total: El autor desea reconocer la asistencia material, el ánimo y la guía de The Narco News Bulletin, La Escuela de Narco News de Periodismo Auténtico, su Director General Al Giordano y el resto del profesorado, y de la Fundación Tides. Narco News es copatrocinador y financiador del encuentro internacional sobre legalización de las drogas “Saliendo de las sombras: terminando con la prohibición a las drogas en el siglo XXI” en Mérida, Yucatán, y es completamente responsable por la Escuela de Periodismo Auténtico, cuya filosofía y metodología fueron empleadas en la elaboración de esta nota. La escritura, las opiniones expresadas y las conclusiones alcanzadas, si las hay, son de exclusiva responsabilidad del autor

Abertura Total: O autor deseja reconhecer o material de apoio, o propósito e o guia do Boletim Narco News. a Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, o editor Al Giordano, o restante de professores e a Fundaçáo Tides. Narco News é co-patrocinador e financiador do encontro sobre a legalizaçao das drogas Saindo das Sombras: terminando com a proibiçao das drogas no século XXI em Mérida, Yucatan, e é completamente responsável pela Escola de Jornalismo Autêntico, cuja filosofia e metodologia foram implantadas na elaboraçao desta reportagem. O texto, as opinioes expressadas e as conclusoes alcançadas, se houver, sao de responsabilidade do autor.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America