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Trump Tries to Renew Coca Crop Eradication in Colombia – Despite Its Ineffectiveness

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By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security

The U.S. government has been looking for ways to reduce the importation of cocaine from Colombia for decades. It has traditionally used a multi-pronged approach, including interdiction at our land borders and at sea, as well as cooperation with Colombian authorities to mitigate drug manufacturing and trafficking before processed cocaine leaves the country. The strategy of marijuana and coca crop eradication has been used since the 1970s in Central and South America without any real impact on the drug trade. However, despite these failures—and evidence that the eradication chemicals cause cancer—President Donald Trump wants the Colombian government to reinstate the program.

Trump Meets With Colombian President

According to InsightCrime.org, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Congress that Trump spoke to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, likely during his visit to Washington, DC in May, about reinstating fumigation efforts “as a result of booming cocaine production in the South American country.” During June 13 testimony, Tillerson told Congress, “We have told [the Colombian government], ‘No, we’ve got to get back to the spraying, we’ve got to get back to destroying these fields, that they are in a very bad place now in cocaine supply to the United States.’” Unfortunately for Trump and Tillerson, reinstating such a program is much more complicated in Colombia than just preventing cancer.

The Colombian program was terminated in October 2015, six months after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), reviewed the scientific literature and determined that glyphosate, a commonly used herbicide, is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The Colombian government was stunned because for the previous 20 years, a U.S.-backed program was spraying 4.34 million acres of remote rural territory where small farmers grow coca with glyphosate. Since the ban, both the United States and Colombia have discussed the use of an alternative herbicide with less health or environmental risks, and Colombia’s national police force is in the process of searching for a viable product, according to Colombian daily El Tiempo.

The FARC Factor in Colombia

The problem remains that crop eradication is fundamentally ineffective at sustainably reducing illegal drug production in countries where the programs exist, and ultimately don’t affect the volume of illegal drugs being moved across borders into the U.S. Part of the challenge is the ongoing peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), narco-terrorist group that controls roughly 70 percent of the country’s coca crops. The government is hesitant to start fumigating FARC-controlled territory for fear of disrupting the process—one where the FARC has made clear it intends to support the right of local farmers to grow coca. Even in places where eradication efforts have been successful, farmers have just dispersed and started growing new crops in more isolated areas.

The best solution so far has been to provide Colombian farmers with alternatives to growing coca that bring in sustainable income. Unfortunately, this program has fallen far short of its goals. In June 2016, the Colombian government announced that crop substitution would be a top priority, but these programs have only benefitted 32 percent of coca-growing areas. Trump likely wants to reinstate the program as a tangible way to demonstrate the U.S. government is doing something about the rise in cocaine production. However, unless Colombian coca growers are provided with enough incentive to stop growing coca for the FARC, these farmers will continue to meet U.S. demand for cocaine.

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