U.S., Colombia vow to intensify efforts
South American nation contending with record coca production surge
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — U.S. and Colombian officials vowed Thursday to redouble efforts against drug trafficking as the South American nation contends with a record surge in coca production.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with his Colombian counterpart, chief prosecutor Néstor Martínez, and a delegation from Mexico in the Caribbean city of Cartagena on Thursday.
In September, President Donald Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war against drugs unless the South American nation reverses a rise in coca cultivation.
Cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine rose in 2016 to levels unseen in nearly two decades of U.S. eradication efforts, according to a White House report. The prosecutors also discussed money laundering and human trafficking, two issues frequently intertwined with the illegal drug trade.
In a short statement after the meeting, Martínez said the three nations would “strengthen cooperation among each other to effectively battle this scourge.”
“We’re going to make progress,” Sessions said.
Colombia is the United States’ staunchest ally in the region and one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid. The U.S. has spent more than $10 billion in counter-narcotics work in Colombia over the course of nearly two decades.
The amount of land devoted to coca cultivation had steadily declined but began rising again in 2014, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The biggest jump was seen last year, when the agency registered a 52 percent increase in the area where coca is grown.
The rise coincided with both a decision by President Juan Manuel Santos to stop the use of crop-destroying herbicides due to health concerns in 2015.
Colombian officials have vowed to eradicate about 247,00 acres of coca this year through a combination of forced and voluntary destruction of the plants.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (from left), Colombia Chief Prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez and Mexico Deputy Attorney General for International Affairs Alberto Elias Beltran said Thursday they would strengthen efforts to combat the rise in coca production.