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Latin America Advisor - Is Colombia Taking Enough Action to Fight Drugs?

Q: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with his Colombian counterpart, Néstor Martínez, and a delegation from Mexico in Cartagena on Dec. 7, where they agreed to strengthen efforts against drug trafficking in Colombia. The country is grappling with record-high levels of cocaine production, and last year, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war on drugs unless it reverses coca production levels. Ahead of Colombia’s upcoming presidential election in May, what is the outlook for the U.S.-Colombia counter narcotics partnership? Will Colombia’s next leader take a different approach to addressing the country’s drug-related problems than has President Juan Manuel Santos? How likely is the United States to decertify Colombia as a partner on the issue, and what would result from such a decision? 

A:  Barry R. McCaffrey, president of BR McCaffrey Associates, a retired U.S. Army four-star general and former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy: “Colombia is facing a tsunami of coca production (In 2016, 866 tons of cocaine, worth some $1.4 billion, were produced.) which will inexorably destroy the rule of law and subvert the democratic fundamentals of this great nation. Action must be taken. Colombia is emerging from a 52-year nightmare of civil violence that killed 220,000 and displaced seven million people. The country is now at a turning point in history. Security has improved enormously. The controversial and widely distrusted peace accord with the FARC has seen some 7,000 fighters turn in their weapons. However, hundreds of FARC members have turned full-time to drug-related criminal activity. Extortion of businesses is rampant. The government is ill-prepared to deal with the 82,000 families who make their living from cocaine. The United States now faces a dilemma. Some 90 percent of cocaine in the United States comes from Colombia. Since aerial fumigation ended in 2014, there has been a massive increase in coca cultivation and drastically decreased manual eradication. The Trump administration suggested a disastrous 37 percent decrease in foreign aid and also threatens the decertification of Colombia as a noncompliant outlaw state. Colombia needs to recognize that empty words cannot reduce the binational impact of cocaine criminal activity. The United States must also talk and act like a steadfast ally. Colombia’s next president will need tough and courageous action. The United States needs to see its own national security interests as strengthened by close cooperation with the next Colombian administration.”

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