The US State Department has issued a statement following bilateral talks with a Colombian delegation headed by Colombian President Ivan Duque that recently visited Washington, D.C. During the first three years of Ivan Duque’s term, cocaine production has reached new records, even exceeding the era of the cartels in the 1980s and 1990s. Armed mafias are also becoming more brazen, as illustrated by the recent attempt by gangsters to shoot down the Presidential helicopter.
Ivan Duque is approaching his last year in office, so the meeting could be interpreted as an attempt to establish continuity going into the next administration after 2022 elections. In the statement released after talks, the US admitted that the bilateral counternarcotics strategy must become broader to address the lack of security in rural areas, protect the environment, and provide development. Forced displacement of rural population and violent crime against rural and indigenous communities continues, often by groups involved in narcotics production and trafficking. Ongoing protests in Colombia are among several other issues, against the Duque administrations failure to adequately respond.
Relationships between the Duque and Joe Biden Administrations could be better; several congressional members in Duque’s Centro Democratico political party openly campaigned against Joe Biden and for Donald Trump, even as Trump threatened to yank Colombia’s certification as a cooperating partner in antinarcotics efforts.
Both governments, along with other international actors must share blame for failures in narcotics eradication in Colombia. Existing policies have failed, though much of that failure can be attributed to a lack of execution, insufficient political will, and even corruption. The US government issued the following statement after talks with Colombian counterparts concluded.
Within the framework of the Counternarcotics Working Group, the U.S. and Colombian delegations discussed avenues to further strengthen the bilateral relationship, renewed their commitments to counternarcotics cooperation, highlighted the close collaboration and progress achieved during the Administration of President Iván Duque, and agreed to a broad framework for a new bilateral counternarcotics strategy. The delegations committed to finalize and release more details of the new strategy in the coming months.
The discussions focused on the need for a holistic approach to strengthening our counternarcotics strategy along three pillars: integrated supply reduction, comprehensive rural security and development, and environmental protection. This comprehensive approach will include close coordination of actions to promote greater stability in rural areas, establish an effective and sustainable national government presence, accelerate comprehensive rural development, guarantee the protection of human rights, and strengthen rule of law. The two sides agreed that the new strategy should be first implemented in three prioritized municipalities: Tumaco, Cáceres, and Sardinata.
In addition to programs that expand the presence and the services of the state, the discussions focused on improving citizen security, interrupting drug trafficking supply chains, sustaining coca eradication, and interdicting chemical precursors and cocaine. To reduce money laundering and strengthen asset forfeiture, the two sides also agreed to focus on reducing illicit cash transactions, prioritize arrests, prosecutions, and extraditions of key traffickers and their enablers, and strengthen the judicial system.
Both governments underscored the importance of Colombia’s integrated security and rural development program, as well as the reduction of illicit crops, which combines not only supply reduction, but also the creation of licit opportunities and strengthening of roads and productive infrastructure to contribute to the rural development with an emphasis in the Territorial Development Plans areas (PDETs). Both sides also expressed support for the “Future Zones,” a development and security approach that contains a long-term vision for territorial transformation, a culture of lawfulness, licit economies and advancing rural Colombia’s transition to peace.
The delegations agreed to strengthen efforts to protect the environment from exploitation by criminal groups, reducing drug use and its negative consequences, and improving technical capabilities for detecting coca cultivation and assessing cocaine production. The delegations also discussed plans to establish additional tools and metrics by which they can measure the success of interconnected counternarcotics, security, and development interventions.
The U.S. and Colombian representatives discussed the new Colombian National Police transformation and innovation plan, and agreed the plan’s focus on accountability, transparency, and human rights would strengthen police institutional capacity to counter narcotrafficking and organized crime.
The meeting also advanced preparations for the next High-Level Dialogue between the United States and Colombia, which is the main forum to discuss all aspects of the bilateral partnership. This High-Level Dialogue facilitates coordination on wide-ranging issues, such as economic development, security, reducing drug trafficking, educational exchanges, environmental protection, human rights, and health, among other areas of shared interest.
Both sides reaffirmed the strong counternarcotics partnership, which is critical to disrupting the cocaine supply chain. As the ongoing discussions demonstrate, Colombia and the United States recognize that complex problems, such as drug trafficking, are a shared responsibility that require long-term solutions and a comprehensive, sustained political response.
Above photo: US Embassy Bogotá