A top US anti-drug official has cautioned that “bilateral political problems” could result from differences of opinion between the United States and Colombia about how to deal with rising cocaine production in the context of the ongoing implementation of a peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla group.
At a US congressional hearing on August 2, State Department official William Brownfield offered strong but controversial recommendations on how to curb Colombia’s booming cocaine production, which stand in contrast to the Colombian government’s planned approach to the issue.
According to the assistant secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and former ambassador to Colombia, the United States has a “limited window of opportunity to roll back the recent troubling narcotics trends” in Colombia, which he said had experienced a 200 percent increase in cocaine production over the past three years.
Brownfield stated that cocaine use has simultaneously been rising in the United States, with 2015 seeing the highest number of cocaine-related overdose deaths in almost a decade.
The assistant secretary laid out the main aspects of Colombia’s new drug policy as outlined in the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), which focuses on substituting coca with legal crops and developing infrastructure in rural areas. He explained that legal and political obstacles prevented the United States from backing those elements of the accord.
“The United States is not currently supporting the Colombian government’s voluntary eradication and crop substitution program because the FARC is involved in some aspects of the program and remains designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under several U.S. laws and sanctions regimes,” he said.
“If we don’t reach an acceptable solution for both countries … we’re going to see bilateral political problems” – William Brownfield
Brownfield also pointed to the resource limitations of Colombia’s strategy.
“We are strongly encouraging the Colombian government to limit the number of voluntary eradication agreements they negotiate and sign to make implementation feasible,” he said. “Voluntary eradication agreements must also have expiration dates so the security forces can forcibly eradicate in farms where coca growing communities fail to meet their obligations.”
Colombia aims to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca crops by the end of the year through a 50-50 mix of crop substitution and forced eradication.
Moreover, Brownfield argued that the “Colombian leadership must find a way to implement a robust forced manual eradication effort” to encourage farmers to abandon illicit crops.
Following the hearing, Brownfield told the press, “If we don’t reach an acceptable solution for both countries reasonably soon, we’re going to see bilateral political problems and this is what I want to avoid.”