Amid heated discord between the United States and Colombia regarding surging drug production in the South American country, Colombian officials are making it clear that they are not buckling under US pressure to harden the country’s new, less draconian anti-narcotic strategies.
In his September 19 address to the United Nations’ General Assembly, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reiterated his view that hard-line anti-drug strategies had failed, and that more progressive policies would yield better outcomes.
“I have said on many occasions that the war on drugs has not been won and neither is it being won, that we need new approaches, new strategies,” Santos told the UN.
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The president also mentioned the need to “have an open mind … to be more intelligent, more innovative” regarding drug policy, likely referring to Colombia’s voluntary crop substitution programs, which US officials have critiqued in the past.
The United States has been ramping up the criticism of its long-time ally to an astonishing degree recently. On September 13, US President Donald Trump announced that his administration had “seriously considered” downgrading Colombia to a list of states failing to combat drug trafficking, alongside Venezuela and Bolivia.
Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas responded to the warning by stating that Colombia is well on its way to achieving its ambitious drug crop eradication goal. He also said that the United States should be pulling more weight in terms of law enforcement. According to Villegas, in 2016 Colombia seized 44 times the amount of cocaine intercepted by US authorities.
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Santos’ comments, which echo those he has made in the past, must be viewed in light of Colombia’s ongoing clash over drug policy with the United States, perhaps its most important global partner.
While top US officials under Trump have recognized their country’s responsibility as a key drug market, the rhetoric about how to tackle this problem has been inconsistent, and has so far translated to domestic policies that focus more heavily on traditional anti-drug strategies rather than more progressive approaches.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy
This preference for a heavier hand in counternarcotics efforts has also been seen at the international level, causing tension not only with Colombia, but also with Mexico, another key US partner.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government has stood firm in defending its new policies, including its controversial pivot away from old, ultimately ineffective strategies such as aerial crop fumigation. And for now, the Santos administration has shown no intention of abandoning its new priority — voluntary crop eradication — despite the United States affirming it will not support the program.
Nevertheless, Santos’ administration is coming to an end. If other political factions come to power in next year’s presidential elections, they may be more willing to accommodate US interests.