U.S., Colom­bia vow to in­ten­sify ef­forts

South Amer­i­can na­tion con­tend­ing with record coca pro­duc­tion surge

The Dallas Morning News - - Nation & World -

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.

Agence France-presse

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...

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