U.S. President Donald Trump is sending a formal delegation to attend next week’s inauguration of President-Elect Iván Duque in Colombia, according to the White House.
The team heading to Bogotá will be led by cabinet member Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Photo: Nikki Haley, pictured here during her tenure as South Carolina governor, will be joined by Kevin Whitaker, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, and Kirsten Madison, a high-level drug enforcement official. (Credit: Staff Sgt. Jorge Intriago)
Haley, who formerly served as governor of South Carolina and was appointed by Trump to her high-ranking diplomatic role in January 2017, will be joined by the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Kevin Whitaker, and Kirsten Madison, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.
Colombia has long been one of the closest U.S. allies in Latin America, but ballooning cultivation of coca, the key ingredient used to make cocaine, has strained the relationship since Trump took office.
Following years of public encouragement and billions of dollars in aid to pursue peace and development by former U.S. President Barack Obama, the new head of state in Washington has taken a hardline tone and repeatedly said that Colombia must cut coca production levels.
Just nine months into his tenure, Trump even threatened to decertify Colombia as a formal partner in the so-called U.S. “war on drugs.” Trump said that after considering the removal of the Andean nation, he opted not to in part because Colombian law enforcement has improved its interdiction capabilities in recent years, seizing a record amount of cocaine during the previous year.
But coca cultivation hit a new record high of 921 metric tons in 2017, according to U.S. figures. The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), in a report issued in June, also found that the area used to produce coca increased by 11% from 2016 to 2017 to some 209,000 hectares.
“President Trump’s message to Colombia is clear: the record growth in cocaine production must be reversed,” said Jim Carroll, deputy director of ONDCP, when the report was released.
Duque has pledged to be more aggressive in his efforts to eradicate coca production once he takes office.
Citing health concerns, his predecessor, outgoing President Juan Manual Santos, halted the previously widespread aerial fumigation practice in which the herbicide glyphosate (which is the active chemical in Roundup brand weedkiller) was dropped on crops from planes.
Duque said during his campaign that he would return to some aerial spraying while also using drones to drop herbicide on known coca crops.