President Trump has threatened to sanction Colombia for failing to prevent cocaine trafficking, but Bolivian leader Evo Morales claims it is a covert move to subvert the new Colombian peace agreement.
On September 13, the White House published its annual Presidential Determination on Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries. In this document, President Donald Trump threatened to designate Colombia as “a country that has failed demonstrably to adhere to its obligations under international counternarcotics agreements due to the extraordinary growth of coca cultivation and cocaine production over the past 3 years”.
According to the US’ Foreign Relations Authorization Act, if a president designates a country as having “failed demonstrably” in its drug war goals, then the United States will immediately limit any financial or logistic assistance that it provides.
Cocaine production has indeed increased significantly in Colombia, a country considered by many to be the US’ primary ally in Latin America. Earlier this year, the White House reported that the rate of cultivation rose by 18 per cent between 2015 and 2016.
Despite this rise, there is speculation that Trump’s threats have not been spurred by coca cultivation, but rather by a desire to undermine the ongoing peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC, a left-wing guerilla movement that has been classified as a terrorist organisation by the US government, officially ended anti-government hostilities in June 2017 and became a political party.
Bolivian President Evo Morales denounced the United States for “blackmail” in its threatened designation, during a speech in the city of Cochabamba. He claimed that Trump was threatening to withdraw funding and support from Colombia because it opposed the recently-established peace deal between the government and FARC. Morales argued that the US covertly seeks continued violence in Colombia so that it can justify an increased military presence in the Latin American country and its neighbours.
Leading Colombian political figures have not alluded to Morales’ claim, and have instead pledged to continue upholding their counter-narcotic efforts with the US.
In a series of tweets on September 14, Colombian Vice President Oscar Naranjo claimed that his government was working hard to reduce trafficking – with a focus on "fighting the mafia" and eradicating or substituting illicit crops. He urged US authorities to continue collaborating with their Colombian counterparts to ensure a suppression of the drug trade.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas used the opportunity to boast of Colombian authorities counter-narcotic prowess: “for every ton seized by the US we seize 44, with a 1000th of the military, police and judicial capacity that country has,” he declared.
This is not the first time that differences in opinion have arisen between the two countries in regards to recent drug policy. As TalkingDrugs reported in June, the Trump administration is pushing Colombia to reintroduce the aerial fumigation of coca crops, despite scientists labeling this practice as "probably carcinogenic for humans".
It is yet to be seen if Trump will follow through with his threat, but Colombia may have to make some significant concessions – either political or logistical – if it seeks continued US support for its drug war.