This week, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, defended the anti-drug policy of Colombian President Iván Duque.
Pompeo pointed out that there is still much to be done, but recognized the efforts that the Duque government has been making in the fight against drugs in the context of increased coca cultivation in the country. The United Nations presented a report in which it places Colombia as the main producer of cocaine in the world. Coca cultivation in the country has steadily increased since 2013, from 48,000 hectares in 2013 to 171,000 in 2017.
“President Duque is making a sincere effort to reduce coca cultivation in the country…Although the result is still not where we want it, 60 percent more coca has been destroyed in these four months of the year than what had been destroyed last year in the same period,” said Pompeo during a hearing convened by the Committee for the Control of Narcotics in the US Senate.
Pompeo pointed to a sharp increase in the number of manual eradications, and that the government’s effort has quadrupled with respect to forced eradication programs that had been abandoned.
“The support of both parties of the Congress of the United States is fundamental if Colombia is to win in the fight against drugs in the country.”
He also said that the United States sees aerial fumigation as a key tool when it comes to counteracting the proliferation of crops in the country.
Glyphosate, the controversy in the fight against drugs
The Colombian government agrees with the Trump administration that the only way to eradicate the coca boom and control cultivation is through the spraying of glyphosate. However, this fight has not been easy. Duque has encountered major setbacks in the territories that are producing the greatest coca crops.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended suspending the spraying of illicit crops in the country, labeling the herbicide as “potentially carcinogenic.” In light of this contention, the Constitutional Court, ruled in a case that was brought by a community in the department of Chocó that reported negative effects from the spraying. The ruling established a series of requirements for spraying glyphosate. One of the main requirements demanded by the high court is that it be scientifically proven that this activity does not pose risks to the health of the population in areas where the aerial fumigation takes place.
Politicians of the governing party, Democratic Center, have pointed out that the reactivation of FARC guerrillas in the mountains and the attacks against the public security forces is partly due to control of various black market sectors by organized criminal elements, including coca cultivation.
Álvaro Hernán Prada, Representative to the House for the Democratic Center, has stated that aerial spraying with glyphosate should be resumed urgently: “We do not put the soldiers of the country at risk and we eliminate the narco-crops with greater efficiency.”
Last March, three soldiers died after an explosive was detonated during their work to eradicate coca crops in the village of Mata de Plátano in the municipality of Tumaco, Nariño, in southwestern Colombia. The former Vice Minister of Justice, Rafael Nieto, said that the death of the soldiers was “because of the Constitutional Court, because they banned glyphosate, as a precaution,” he said.
The PanAm Post spoke with the drug policy analyst, Sergio Uribe, about US support for President Duque expressed by Pompeo and about the war on drugs being led from Colombia. In his opinion, what is expressed is a political manifestation in the midst of chaos.
For the US, “Duque is more important for Venezuela than for his actions against drug trafficking. I do not think it is relevant in the midst of the failure of Colombia’s actions,” he said. On the other hand, some experts agree that Colombia should lead a negotiation between the illicit crop producing countries and the United States to rethink how achievements are measured and how to achieve more lasting and effective objectives.