United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday shocked Colombia by threatening to decertify the country as a partner in the controversial war on drugs.
Trump made the surprise threat during the annual White House designation of nations deemed major drug producers or transit hubs.
After years of increased cultivation of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, Colombia has begun working with the United Nations rather than the US to lower coca production as part of a peace process.
Trump said he had “seriously considered” decertifying Colombia, but had not done so because of the South American country’s military partnership with Washington DC.
The US government seriously considered designating Colombia as a country that has failed demonstrably to adhere to its obligations under international counter narcotics agreements due to the extraordinary growth of coca cultivation and cocaine production over the past 3 years, including record cultivation during the last 12 months.
US President Donald Trump
A decertification would put Colombia in the same category as Venezuela and Bolivia, the two countries that have openly defied US foreign policy and refuse to cooperate with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The last time Colombia was decertified as a partner in the mid-1990s after it became public the now-defunct Cali Cartel had financially supported the election campaign of President Ernesto Samper.
The Colombian government has since teamed up with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to kick off a counter-narcotics strategy that involves crop substitution rather than aerial spraying long promoted by the US.
Furthermore, it has prioritized a peace process with the country’s largest and longest-running Marxist guerrilla group, the FARC, over coca cultivation, to end more than half a century of war.
Santos received a Nobel Peace Prize last year for these efforts that have since led to negotiations with two other major illegal armed groups, the ELN and the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.
While Trump has tried to negate the existence of the peace process, Colombia’s renewed counter-narcotics efforts have received the support of US Congress and the US Embassy in Bogota.
Under US pressure, Colombia had already stepped up forced eradication efforts, but this has spurred violent resistance from the mainly poor coca farmers in former guerrilla territory.
Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called Trump’s threat a “huge mistake” as it could alienate international partners, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The message to the rest of the region is that no matter how many years you collaborate with the US, if you deviate from our preferred strategy for a moment, we’ll publicly humiliate you.
Adam Isacson via AP
“They’re taking the bilateral relationship to its worst place in two decades,” Isacson told AP.
Colombian officials did not immediately respond to Trump’s comments.
Santos is set to meet his US counterpart on September 19 during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.