A top US anti-drug official has suggested Colombia’s peace process is hindering efforts to combat drug trafficking and production, an indication the US is growing wary over the impact negotiations are having on the explosive growth of coca cultivation in the country.
Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) William Brownfield made the comments on June 16 while testifying before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
“We have to acknowledge that as the peace process and its negotiations have developed over the last four years, one of the elements of Colombian government policy that has not been maintained at its previous level is counter-narcotics and eradication,” Brownfield said.
The Colombian government has been engaged in peace negotiations with rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) in Havana, Cuba since November 2012. According to White House figures, coca production in Colombia rose by 39 percent in 2014 and 42 percent in 2015.
“It is my view that it should be possible to pursue those negotiations…without having to walk the clock back to where we were eight or nine years ago in terms of drug cultivation and production in Colombia,” Brownfield said. “It should be possible to continue to eradicate or have the threat of eradication so that thousands of campesinos [farmers]…don’t believe that it’s open season on planting as much coca as they might wish.”
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The United States government has been a consistent supporter of Colombia’s peace talks. In February 2015, the administration of President Barack Obama appointed Bernard Aronson, US assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs, as a special envoy to the peace process. Earlier this year Secretary of State John Kerry visited Havana to meet with delegations from both the government and the FARC. Obama has also pledged more than $450 million in aid to help Colombia transition from decades of civil conflict to peace.
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Nonetheless, Brownfield’s comments suggest the US government is growing increasingly concerned about how the peace process is contributing to Colombia’s rising coca production. This may indicate the US is anxious for the Colombian government to wrap up peace talks so that it can focus more attention on supply-side drug reduction efforts.
Even if the peace process is successfully completed, the US and Colombian governments will still face major challenges in reducing coca crops. While Colombia has been a key US ally in the regional war on drugs, the Andean nation has recently backed off previous hard-line policies. In May 2015 the Colombian government banned the aerial spraying of coca crops, which for years had been a pillar of the US-backed aid program Plan Colombia.