Drugs, Peace, and Venezuela: Duque Outlines Colombian Agenda on Key Issues During U.N. Assembly, Trump Meeting
Colombian President Iván Duque addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, reiterating his commitment to crack down on illicit coca production, strengthen the country’s peace process, and help find a solution to the economic and political crisis in Venezuela.
Photo: President Donald Trump participates in a bilateral meeting Colombian President Iván Duque Marquez at the U.N. headquarters in New York. (Photo credit: White House / Shealah Craighead)
Duque’s address, his first before the General Assembly, capped off a week that also included his first sit down with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The following are some of the highlights of the week so far.
Colombian Peace Process
President Iván Duque told the UN General Assembly that he hopes to “have the financial support of the international community” to “strengthen” the implementation of the peace accords reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 to end a half-century-long armed conflict that killed at least 220,000 people and displaced some seven million.
Currently, the implementation of the peace accord is at a critical juncture.
Duque said his government will abide by its obligations under the agreement with former guerrilla fighters who have laid down their arms. But he stressed that it is Colombia’s “duty” to make an example out of “those who remain” in arms.
As of July, at least 1,200 fighters have reportedly deserted the peace process to join illegal armed groups, known as FARC “dissidents,” according to Colombia’s Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas.
It is not clear how many dissidents there are. Villegas put the number at 1,200. But other estimates range from around 1,300 to 2,800 combatants. And the government may be underestimating how many dissidents are out there, according to Insight Crime, a Medellín-based research organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
To make matters worse, former FARC combatants and social leaders have been murdered at alarming rates since the deal was agreed to in principle in mid-2016.
In May, former President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that 40 former FARC members had been killed since the peace deal was signed. However, Colombian newspaper El Colombiano, citing a government report, said that 58 former FARC combatants and 18 family members of former rebels had been killed during the same time frame.
The spate of killings, along with the murders of 343 social leaders and human rights advocates between January 1, 2016, and August 22, 2018, have stoked fears that a lack of safety for former FARC members and other people in the areas once controlled by the FARC could drive more people to join the ranks of the dissidents or other armed groups.
Duque, however, said during his address to the United Nations that his government will abide by its obligations under the agreement with former guerrilla fighters who have laid down their arms. But he stressed that it is Colombia’s “duty” to make an example out of “those who remain” in arms.
Crisis in Venezuela
During his speech on Wednesday, Duque also called on the international community to demand the “immediate release of political prisoners” in Venezuela and determine what measures should be taken solve the crisis in the country.
“We are living through the most egregious migratory and humanitarian crisis in the recent history of the region,” said Duque, “due to a dictator who has obliterated freedoms…The world must act and unite so that this tragic exodus comes to an end and a nation can see hope flourish. This is a global challenge. The end of a dictatorship, the return of democracy, and liberty are the only possible path.”
“We are living through the most egregious migratory and humanitarian crisis in the recent history of the region due to a dictator who has obliterated freedoms.” – Iván Duque
More than 2.3 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2014, according to U.N. estimates. And at least one million Venezuelans — an estimated 37,000 each day — have entered Colombia since 2017, a Red Cross official told AFP in May.
Venezuela has been beleaguered by a crumbling economy, food and medicine shortages, and soaring hyperinflation, which the International Monetary Fund has predicted could reach 1,000,000% this year. Additionally, Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro has held what many have called “rigged” elections, locked up political opponents, and brutally repressed protestors.
On Tuesday, Duque met with Trump on the sidelines of the General Assembly, and the two leaders “discussed ways the two countries will work together to bring about the restoration of democracy in Venezuela,” according to a statement from the White House.
Trump has said in the past that he has considered taking military action in Venezuela, a comment that drew wide condemnation among public officials in South America.
“We have many options for Venezuela, and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” he told reporters in 2017.
On Tuesday, Trump called Venezuela “one of the truly bad places in the world today” and said that his administration is “looking very strongly at Venezuela.”
Trump, however, rebuffed questions about sending troops to Colombia or Venezuela, saying that he didn’t want to tip his hand.
“It’s a regime that, frankly, could be toppled very quickly by the military if the military decides to do that,” Trump told reporters during a joint press conference with Duque.
Combating Coca Production
President Iván Duque reiterated his commitment to cracking down on illicit coca production on Wednesday in his address to the U.N. General Assembly, calling drug trafficking a “global threat.”
Colombia, which has long been one of Washington’s staunchest allies in the so-called U.S. “War on Drugs” and has received more than $10 billion USD in aid from the United States since 2000, has come under pressure as coca production soared last year and reached an all-time high, according to a report released on September 19 by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
According to the report, coca cultivation jumped by 17% in 2017, reaching 171,000 hectares — an area of land more than twice the size of New York City.
“If [Duque] comes through, we think he’s the greatest. If he doesn’t come through, he’s just another president of Colombia.” – Donald Trump
“The incremental trend over the past five years cannot continue, as these harvests have become the fuel and an incentive for dangerous organized armed groups,” said Duque during his address.
On Tuesday, Duque assured Trump that he “will not drop the towel” when it comes to eradicating coca harvests. “We want to continue the efforts against illegal drugs,” he said during a joint press conference with Trump. “It’s not only prevention, but it’s also dismantling the cartels.”
Trump, for his part, has put pressure on Colombia to curb coca production. The U.S. leader has gone as far as threatening to “decertify” Colombia in the drug war, citing “the extraordinary growth of coca cultivation and cocaine production over the past three years, including record cultivation during the last 12 months,” according to a memorandum signed by Trump just 12 months ago.
Additionally, Trump said he “seriously considered” adding Colombia to the list of countries that were not complying with their responsibilities to combat drug production and trafficking. The only two countries on the list were Venezuela and Bolivia.
Trump, however, praised Duque this week for his tough stance on drugs.
“Newly elected President Duque…campaigned on an anti-drug platform, and won a very, very impressive victory,” Trump said on Monday at an event to promote the U.S.-led anti-drug initiative. He added that “we look forward to partnering with his new administration to eradicate coca production in his country.”
The U.S.-led initiative, dubbed the “Global Call to Action on the World Drug Problem” was signed by nearly 130 countries, including Colombia. The signing countries pledged, among other things, to develop national action plans to “reduce demand for illicit drugs through education, awareness, and prevention of abuse” as well as to “cut off the supply of illicit drugs by stopping their production.”
However, Trump ratcheted up the pressure on Duque during a press conference on Tuesday. “Now, if [Duque] comes through, we think he’s the greatest,” said Trump. “If he doesn’t come through, he’s just another president of Colombia.”