Vice President Mike Pence made an urgent plea to President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia on Monday to act to reduce record cocaine production in that country during a visit to Bogotá Monday.
Colombia recently became the world’s top producer of the illicit drug, again, after years of U.S.-supported progress in combatting coca leaf cultivation. According to the U.S. government, the record cocaine production in Colombia is contributing to increased availability in the United States and a rise in deadly overdoses.
“Our greatest concern … is the dramatic increase in cocaine production, which has now reached an all-time high in Colombia,” declared Pence during a joint press conference with Santos on Sunday. “This worsening crisis requires swift action to protect the people of both our countries.”
“The drug trade is a wellspring of violence, crime, and corruption, victimizing the Colombian people. And in the United States, illegal drugs coming from Colombia have poisoned our children, torn apart our families, and devastated too many communities,” he added. “Mr. President, this must end, and this must end soon.”
Pence went on to say that President Donald Trump’s administration is committed to addressing the United States’s demand for illegal drugs “with border security, internal enforcement, and a renewed effort to remove dangerous criminals, gang members, and drug dealers from the streets of our country.”
Pence and Santos also discussed the ongoing implementation of Colombia’s peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The United States has officially deemed the FARC a terrorist organization and the largest drug trafficking organization in Colombia.
In testimony to the U.S. Congress earlier this month, a top State Department official blamed the skyrocketing cocaine production in Colombia on the country’s peace agreement with the FARC.
Referring to record highs in coca cultivation and cocaine production, William Brownfield, the under secretary of state for international narcotics affairs, told American lawmakers, “If we don’t reach an acceptable solution for both countries reasonably soon, we’re going to see bilateral political problems, and this is what I want to avoid.”
Colombia fuels nearly all of the cocaine use in the United States, where thousands of people are dying from use of the illegal drug.
“After years of progress in combatting coca cultivation and cocaine production, Colombia is once again the world’s largest producer of cocaine and is the origin of approximately 90 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States, according to the DEA Cocaine Signature Program,” revealed Brownfield.
“Cocaine use and overdose deaths in the United States also are on the rise. Following a dramatic decline in cocaine overdose-related deaths in the United States since 2006, this figure has steadily increased since 2012, reaching 6,784 overdose-related deaths in 2015, the highest on record since 2006,” he added.
Brownfield criticized the Colombian government’s decision to end U.S.-supported aerial fumigation of coca fields, suggesting it was a concession to the FARC to ensure the implementation of the peace process.
Coca cultivation in Colombia has more than doubled, from 80,500 hectares (ha) in 2013 to 188,000 ha (about 725 square miles) last year with the help of the FARC.
“Perhaps more troubling, pure potential cocaine production surged by more than 200 percent in the same time period [2013-2016], from 235 metric tons produced in 2013 to 710 metric tons in 2016,” declared Brownfield while testifying earlier this month.
“We are cognizant that illegal crops have increased in recent years, and that is a shared concern because we have a shared responsibility,” Colombian President Santos said on Sunday, noting that he has implemented a plan to reduce cocaine production in the country.
The Marxist FARC will launch its official political party in the country on September 1, which opponents fear will receive significant funding from the group’s cocaine trafficking activities.