Photographer: Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images

politics

Tillerson Says U.S. Must See Decline in Colombia's Coca Output

  • Secretary, in Bogota, does not guarantee continued aid
  • Trump threatened to ‘stop aid’ to drug-producing nations

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. expects Colombia to start reversing sharp increases in production of coca this year, pointedly declining to guarantee continued aid if those efforts fail.

Tillerson didn’t go as far as President Donald Trump, who threatened last week to “stop the aid” to countries that don’t cut off the flow of drugs. Still, Tillerson made clear that the U.S. -- which spent $325 million in assistance to Colombia in 2016, according to government figures -- must see progress in tackling coca output, which has tripled in five years.

Cocaine is made from the leaves of the coca plant.

“Our expectation is that Colombia is going to make significant progress this year in reversing these trends and we want to support that reversal,” Tillerson said at a briefing in Bogota alongside President Juan Manuel Santos. “In the end, we need to see results.”

Tillerson’s trip to Mexico, Argentina, Peru and now Colombia this week has been overshadowed from the start by Trump’s comment on Feb. 2 - made while the secretary of state was in Mexico City -- that some countries were unable to stem the illegal narcotics trade despite getting billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

A senior State Department official later said the comments weren’t helpful, particularly since the key message of Tillerson’s trip has been to work more closely with regional countries to combat narcotics.

Tillerson has taken a far more moderate tone, though his comments also suggested he had delivered a stern message to Santos during their meetings on Tuesday. The secretary heads to Kingston, Jamaica, Wednesday before returning to Washington.

“One of the things that’s important about this relationship is, because we are so close in terms of the bilateral partnership, is that we can speak very openly and very frankly about the things that are of concern to both of us,” Tillerson said.

Peru and Colombia are key producers of coca and the U.S. has spent billions of dollars trying to eradicate the crops there. The biggest portion of U.S. assistance to Colombia goes to drug eradication efforts and security assistance, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In his comments last week, Trump said countries where drug production continues unabated are “laughing” at the U.S., though he did not offer any examples.

Supply, Demand

“I don’t think that President Trump is referring to Colombia because Colombia is not laughing at the U.S.,” Santos said at the briefing. “On the contrary, we think we are working together on a problem and a challenge that needs cooperation from both countries.”

Santos emphasized that the burden was not only Colombia’s, a point Tillerson acknowledged.

“There is no supply without demand and no demand without supply,” Santos said.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut off aid to countries or organizations that have angered him. He followed through in recent months by cutting security assistance to Pakistan over its failure to crack down on terror groups.

Tillerson stressed that the U.S. will keep working closely with Colombia to counter narcotics production and develop programs that offer farmers sources of income beyond coca cultivation.

“We need to see the seizures going up,” Tillerson said. “We need to see those metrics going in the correct way and that’s all President Trump wants as well.”

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