This past August, Vice President Mike Pence had a successful visit to Colombia, our closest ally in the South America. The Vice President's visit to this Andean nation (whose capital, Bogota, is only a three-hour flight from Miami) demonstrates the Trump administration's commitment to Colombia as a strategic partner.
Colombia recently ended its multi-decade internal conflict fueled and funded mostly by deadly narcotics, but the nation once again faces a turning point with consequences for America's neighborhoods and communities already battling the opioid crisis.
In the 1990s and through recent years, the U.S.' Plan Colombia assistance package of approximately $10 billion helped Colombia (in particular, the Colombian police and military) beat back the mighty drug-funded narco-terrorists like the FARC and the big drug cartels. The hard dollars and military equipment paid for by U.S. taxpayers helped to bring some version of peace to Colombia by directly tackling the drug threat and taking the fight to the cocaine fields.
The U.S. assistance package also prevented an even greater destabilizing influence from taking hold in Colombia in the form of a narco-state. U.S. companies saw the investment Congress made in Colombia through the assistance package and the U.S. Colombia free trade agreement as a signal that legitimate trade benefitting both countries could thrive and prosper.
The key to the U.S. assistance was to knock out the narcotics industry (deadly cocaine and heroin) that not only funded the chaos and terrorism from within but threatened the U.S. and other nations via the deadly international narcotics trade. One of the primary tools was aerial spraying of the enormous coca crop before it was converted to deadly cocaine for smuggling to here and Europe.
Sadly, some of our European friends worried primarily about dubious environmental concerns more than the devastating effect of cocaine and heroin production on our citizens and the local environment. They successfully lobbyied the Colombia's current president, Juan Manuel Santos, to stop coca eradication through the spraying of the herbicide Roundup. Roundup has long proven safe and worked wonders under Plan Colombia.
Europeans thus unwisely helped put an end to spraying coca leaf. The result we have seen is an alarming rise in coca production and tons and tons of a new cocaine and heroin available for export. Cocaine use is rising for the first time in years, up 8 percent in some surveys in the U.S. due to this increased, deadly, and cheap supply. We can ill afford a return to cocaine crisis at home in light of the already existing opiate meltdown we face now. Also, the crisis next door in Venezuela means we need a strong and stable Colombia now even more than ever.
The Trump administration has rightfully made it clear that we are not happy with the direction Colombia is headed on the coca and heroin front. The billions in illicit monies narco-traffickers will again use to poison and corrupt any effort at lasting peace in that long-troubled nation, will spell disaster for both the Colombian people and the U.S. as well.
The Trump administration deserves credit (instead of scorn from some foreign policy elites) for the direct message to President Santos. For the sake of both countries, Colombia needs to change its current approach to fighting narcotics traffickers or face a drug crisis from within, without a full-fledged U.S. partner this time around.
William Burlew is Executive Director of the U.S. Colombia Business Partnership and a former Congressional staff member who worked on Plan Colombia.
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