Colombian President Faces U.S. Counter-Narcotics Stress Amid Refugee Disaster

Colombian President Faces U.S. Counter-Narcotics Pressure Amid Refugee Crisis

His nation is struggling to deal with the inflow of greater than 1.7 million refugees who’ve fled the political and financial disaster in neighboring Venezuela, however Colombian President Iván Duque was given a brand new directive on Monday throughout a go to to the White Home: step up the struggle on cocaine. President Donald Trump informed Duque that Colombia, the world’s largest producer of the drug, ought to resume spraying herbicide on coca crops from the air to stem the movement of narcotics into the U.S. “You’re going to should spray,” Trump informed Duque at a joint press convention. “If you happen to don’t spray, you’re not going to do away with them.”

All aerial spraying was halted by the Colombian authorities in 2015 after the World Well being Group linked glyphosate-based fumigation to most cancers. Since then the nation has relied on eradication groups that rip the coca crops out by hand—final yr the federal government destroyed 247,000 acres of coca crops that method—funded partly by $400 million from the U.S. However total manufacturing spiked after spraying stopped, and Colombia is working towards resuming aerial spraying with the identical herbicide beneath new security situations set by the nation’s constitutional court docket this yr.

The dual crises—surging coca manufacturing and the large refugee disaster—are simply two of the challenges confronted by Duque, 43, a U.S.-educated technocrat who in 2018 grew to become the youngest elected President in Colombia’s historical past. Rolling again coca manufacturing, Duque says, is vital to offering stability to his South American nation, which struck a landmark peace deal in 2016 with the nation’s foremost insurgent group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. (The Marxist guerrilla group was accountable for an estimated 70% of Colombia’s coca crops when it disbanded.) On the similar time, Duque is managing the rising political and financial prices of the large humanitarian disaster in neighboring Venezuela which continues to spill throughout the border into his nation.

After his go to on the White Home with Trump and numerous cupboard members, Duque sat down with TIME. Following is an edited and abridged transcript of the dialog.

The President talked about aerial spraying at present. Have been you caught off guard by that?

No, we positively have thought-about since Day One the opportunity of having aerial spraying. However we see it not as a silver bullet. We see it as a vital instrument inside a toolkit the place we have now guide eradication, substitution, various improvement. And clearly precision aerial spraying, contemplating the entire environmental and social precautions that we have now to take to observe the constitutional court docket ruling, for us is necessary.

There are various locations within the nation the place we have now landmines, or snipers that may assault the people who find themselves doing the eradication work. And you may see by the data that when the aerial spray program was stopped, mainly the manufacturing of coca skyrocketed. It grew exponentially yr over yr, and really it was in our administration the primary months that for the primary time in eight years we received the exponential development to cease.

It’s taking numerous effort to get the discount. In order that’s why having as a lot instruments as attainable is so necessary for us.

When do you suppose that’ll start once more?

We’re working very, very onerous to have it as quickly as attainable.


Months. As a result of we’re speaking about having all of the environmental necessities fulfilled, the social necessities fulfilled, the well being necessities fulfilled. And as I say, we simply need to be very efficient with the mix of instruments. And we hope that having guide, aerial with precision, substitution, and various improvement can enable us to get to the target that’s to scale back by greater than 50% the coca crops in Colombia by 2022.

What do you want from the Trump Administration to get there?

We now have been analyzing not solely the army, however the logistical, intelligence, and satellite tv for pc assist that we have now acquired till now. But in addition it’s good that we see these areas the place you might have the authorized crops with the opportunity of altering to different crops which might be going to permit the peasants to get a sustainable revenue over time. So there’s an amazing curiosity to have a program in Colombia that enables these peasants to maneuver to various crops. There’s cocoa, there’s fruit, or different crops, and even the cost for environmental providers. However be capable to get these folks to maneuver to a distinct authorized and sustainable revenue.

What’s the largest problem you see there in bringing these numbers down?

It’s acceleration. Pulling down these numbers is a very powerful factor that we will do with a purpose to restrict the capability of the [rebel] teams, and likewise destroy the constructions they’ve. These guys are killing social leaders in lots of areas of Colombia as a result of the social leaders are telling the neighborhood to not be recruited by these teams. So we have now to downsize severely and quickly these numbers. And by that I’m certain that we’ll defend social leaders’ lives, and we’ll forestall that these teams change into influential politically talking in cities in Colombia which might be near the Pacific Basin.

So this can be a should. That is a very powerful ethical battle that I’ve embraced since I took workplace. And I’ll proceed to maneuver ahead.

The UN simply issued a report about a number of the social leaders that you just had been speaking about. And it criticized your authorities about the way you had been going about that. What’s your response?

There was a report that got here out from the Workplace of the Excessive Commissioner of Human Rights. I don’t have any downside the place there’s criticism. And particularly when the criticism relies on details. Some statements aren’t based mostly on details, and that ought to generate the fitting debate. I labored on the United Nations, and I believe it’s good that generally there’s a dialogue of issues which might be mentioned in these experiences. However for instance, that report made the reference on the productive initiatives within the areas that we name various improvement or regional centered improvement plans. We now have a contradiction as a result of the verification that the U.S. does in Colombia on these initiatives is saying that there was an incredible progress. And then you definitely see the report saying there’s no progress.

And by way of the social chief killings, since I took workplace, and in my oath of workplace speech, I mentioned that was one of many main challenges we face. And I’ve additionally mentioned that we have now to behave quickly and integrally. We launched an motion plan to reply. We now have been within the territories doing particular person and group safety. We now have seen a few of these numbers come down. I don’t really feel completely happy a few discount of ten, fifteen, or sixteen p.c as a result of it has to go to zero. However we have now made progress. And I believe the report was not honest sufficient recognizing the efforts that we have now achieved.

Are you able to inform us slightly bit concerning the nature of the dialog with President Trump and whether or not he was asking for something specifically?

We now have been working collectively for a very long time in numerous fronts. Colombia has 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants which have reached our nation within the final three years. That’s essentially the most dramatic migration disaster we have now seen in latest Latin American historical past. Colombia is spending virtually $1 billion per yr in well being, schooling, consideration, vitamin and early childhood vitamin consideration [for Venezuelan migrants]. And we’re getting 5 thousand folks per day. So that is actually a disaster.

What has triggered the disaster? A dictatorship that has brutalized the nation, that has destroyed the financial system, that has destroyed free press, and that’s having folks dying out of starvation. You may have a minimal wage that doesn’t even get to $2. And you’ve got a minimal wage in Colombia that’s $300. So there’s all the time that incentive to maneuver to Colombia or to Peru simply to search out alternatives.

However we have to do one thing on the price. As a result of the capability of our international locations to soak up such a shock is just not everlasting. And it’s positively not sustainable. So I believe the coalition that we have now constructed that has acknowledged [Venezuelan opposition leader Juan] Guaidó [and] has acknowledged the meeting, I believe the coalition must get stronger, and that there needs to be all of the pushes which might be essential in order that we have now that transition happening.

And while you examine the scenario in Venezuela to different migration crises, you’ll see that the quantity of sources which have been mobilized to attend the Syrian migration disaster, it’s within the hundreds per migrant. Within the case with Venezuela we haven’t even gotten to $118. So we additionally want the worldwide neighborhood to bear in mind and to mobilize these sources. And I’m grateful with the US as a result of by means of USAID we have now acquired funds, we have now acquired drugs, we have now acquired assist, we have now acquired The [USS] Consolation, the ship that has offered medical consideration to migrants.

I genuinely consider that President Trump has taken a robust and essential stand for this case. However I additionally see it as one thing constructive that there’s bicameral and bipartisan assist in the US to construct that transition in Venezuela.

What’s the Trump Administration asking Colombia to do?

This isn’t a problem that may be solved by a person nation. This answer entails us all. And what I spotlight about the best way we have now been managing this case is that we have now constructed the strongest coalition ever in Latin America, diplomatically and politically talking, to combat a dictatorship. We by no means noticed one thing of this nature within the ‘70s, ‘80s, the ‘90s. That is actually an enormous diplomatic coalition.

I believe we actually should strengthen the coalition and carry on increasing the coalition. We now have to establish extra sanctions that actually harm dangerous the dictator and his internal circle, and we have to acknowledge that the change needs to be made and it needs to be made quick. In any other case the large humanitarian disaster goes to be uncontrolled.

Did you get assurances at present that extra sanctions can be coming?

We’ll carry on evaluating them. As I say, this isn’t a gathering simply to say, ‘Okay, it’s essential to do that, it’s essential to do the next.’ No, it’s a gathering the place we consider what are issues taking place, and the way have we labored to make issues even higher, and the way we name different international locations and the way we work within the multilateral area. However it’s necessary for all of us to know that this is a matter the place the clock is ticking. We now have already 3% of our inhabitants or extra in migrants. We have to mobilize sources from the worldwide neighborhood.

Are you able to wait till after the U.S. presidential election for the rise in stress that you just’re hoping to see on Venezuela?

I’d moderately to not make any feedback on U.S. elections and timing concerning elections. What I see actually, and I believe it has the worth, is that the place the U.S. has taken on Venezuela is bipartisan. There’s a robust management by the White Home and President Trump that we reward, and there’s a huge management that we have now additionally seen in congress to approve payments or choices which might be useful for the Venezuelan folks. So all I can say about that is we have to work quick and collectively, not nearly Colombia and the US, the entire coalition in order that we will get that free election and that transition happening in Venezuela.