As a democratic stronghold in a region synonymous with political instability, Colombia is a critical ally for the United States in Latin America. However, for years, negotiations surrounding a peace deal between the Colombian political establishment and narco-terrorist organizations like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have polarized the nation and hindered relations between leading Colombian officials.
This division was on full display at the Concordia Americas Summit in Bogotá, where former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana delivered a stern, critical address on the state of the nation just hours before current President Juan Manuel Santos vigorously defended his peace plan in a reassuring speech on the deal the has championed from its inception.
Until recently, discussions over the terms of the deal have diverted attention and resources away from necessary efforts to combat drug trafficking, a longstanding problem that has inhibited Colombia’s quest for peace for decades.
Now that the deal has been approved, Colombia should use this moment as an opportunity to revive its crackdown on the narco-trafficking industry that has made peace so elusive for so long.
For decades, a vision dubbed “Plan Colombia” has guided American policy toward Colombia.
The initiative, which was developed by Presidents Bill Clinton & Pastrana, mastered by Bush & Uribe, and maintained by Obama & Santos, has long been the cornerstone of an aggressive stance on drug trafficking, corruption, and more of Colombia’s most pressing issues.
Recently, however, its areas of emphasis have taken a backseat to the country’s peace negotiations, enabling a re-emergence of narco-trafficking during which potential cocaine production in Colombia skyrocketed 46 percent between 2014 and 2015 according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
This staggering rise has given Colombia’s coca farmers the ability to produce an estimated 646 metric tons of cocaine annually, a majority of which would make its way to American streets and threaten the livelihood of our communities.
In the words of William Brownfield, former ambassador to Colombia and an expert on narcotics production, “[the United States has] to acknowledge that as the peace process and the negotiations have developed for the last four years, one of the elements of the Colombian government policy that has not been maintained at its previous levels is counternarcotic and eradication efforts.”
With the election of President Donald Trump, American involvement in Colombia is “being evaluated,” according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Going forward, the U.S. should offer financial support for the implementation of the peace deal contingent upon one major commitment from Colombia: a strong reaffirmation and reinstatement of Plan Colombia’s aggressive policies combating narco-trafficking and cocaine production.
As Colombia’s biggest customer in the drug trade, America should work to help eradicate the nation’s production of narcotics. Doing so will protect the security of our nation and that of the Western Hemisphere, and will help America retain a stable ally in a critical neighboring region.
With the approval of the peace deal, Colombia is uniquely positioned to emerge as a leader in Latin America and a model for resilience in the implementation of democracy.
No doubt elements of the peace deal, like integrating the FARC into the Congress, will remain highly controversial.
The new American president has many competing priorities vying for his attention at home and abroad, but in our own hemisphere there lies a chance for America to underscore the importance of fundamental values like democracy, freedom of the press, and economic opportunity for all.
Equally important, however, is a chance for America and Colombia to resume a crackdown on narco-trafficking that will be instrumental to lasting peace across Latin America and the protection of American families from illicit drugs.