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The bilateral relationship has revolved around drugs and Venezuela, while the peace process is treated with disdain. Will something change if Trump doesn’t win the election this year?
2020 will be a crucial year for the United States, because in November the very controversial President Trump will be re-elected or replaced by another ruler who undoes his government work.
But it is unlikely that Colombia is a priority on the agenda or that something radically changes in drug policy this year:
- If Trump wins reelection, he will continue to support President Duque’s hard-handed agenda against drugs in Colombia.
- And if he does not win, the panorama can be favourably inclined towards the execution of the peace agreement, but without radical changes.
When Trump’s term began, Latin America was not a priority. However, as his government progressed, the US president discovered the political value of the region to develop his extreme agendas on migration, drugs, and opposition to Cuba and Venezuela.
Unlike his predecessors, Trump does not have a clear strategy for the region. In addition, his behavior is unpredictable, which has forced his subordinates to repair the destabilizing effects of his untimely statements, as happened in March last year when Trump suddenly attacked his ally, President Duque.
Even so, Trump has not had obstacles to impose his preferences in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, or to maintain the support of his allies like Colombia.
On drug issues, Trump does not differ radically from previous administrations, but under the Obama administration, support for the peace process had gradually decriminalized the bilateral relationship with Colombia. This has changed in the last three years; The bilateral relationship has been re-drugged, and revolves around the situation in Venezuela.
The electoral context for Trump
After the vote in favour of revocation ( impeachment) Trump in the House of Representatives last December, the process remains highly politicized and stalled in the Senate. This makes it unlikely that Trump will be removed from office.
Trump has the lowest approval ratings in recent US history. But a firm electoral base supports Trump, while Democratic candidates and voters remain divided, which makes him likely to be re-elected, as Marcela Anzola said in the last edition of this magazine.
Latin America has not been a priority in the election campaign of the Democrats. The mentions of Colombia are rather scarce. Progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders reject interventionism in Venezuela and the war on drugs, but in general allusions to Latin America in the debates have been more substantial when they refer to migration issues.
Latin America serves Trump to maintain his base with extreme positions in matters of migration and drugs. And its zero tolerance position in Cuba and Venezuela is popular with the floating electorate of South Florida, which can help secure a victory in November.
Therefore, there will be no radical changes in the Colombia-United States relationship. It will continue to focus on hard-handed policies against drugs, ignore the peace process, and support the Duke government, which remains the best ally against the repressive Maduro regime.
The recent evolution of drug trafficking
The bilateral drug landscape in 2019 had no major changes, although without a doubt it is still a problem of enormous proportions.
- In fiscal year 2019 there was a significant increase in cocaine seizures by the Border and Customs Agency (CBP), with approximately 45,000 kilograms
- Much of this increase is associated with what, according to the CBP, was the largest seizure in the agency’s history: 17.5 tons seized in June 2019 at a port in Philadelphia on a ship with the flag of Liberia coming from Chile he had made stops in Peru, Colombia, Panama and the Bahamas.
- Seizures of methamphetamine and fentanyl also increased in 2019. Traffic in methamphetamines has grown rapidly over the past five years.
- According to the most recent survey of drug use and health in the United States, cocaine use has been stable for the past three years. The percentage of young adults who used cocaine in 2018 is higher than that reported between 2010 and 2014, but is similar to the percentages between 2015 and 2017. The number of new consumers in 2018 is higher than between 2009 and 2013, but similar to that reported. between 2014 and 2017.
- In 2017, 237 deaths due to overdose were reported . Of these, 47,600 are opioid overdoses. Overdoses that involve prescription opioids are greater than heroin opioids.
- Cocaine overdoses (13,942) increased, but those involving only cocaine are relatively stable. The biggest increase is the overdose of cocaine mixed with opioids or synthetic drugs.
These figures show neither an extreme crisis nor a substantial improvement, but can be presented to justify a fragmented drug policy that shows no substantial or beneficial change.
President Trump, who manipulates and alters data to justify erratic decisions, can argue that seizure increases represent a crisis, although this ignores the great seizure in June, which skews the trend.
The US government will also continue to connect the problem of cocaine overdose with production in Colombia, although this ignores that supply and demand feed each other and that cocaine consumption figures do not have a clear relationship with production in Colombia.
The governments of both countries can also present the stabilization of coca crops in 2018 – and surely 2019 – reflecting the efforts of the Duke government. But stabilization shows more market saturation and lower prices, and hides huge variations. As Juan Carlos Garzón wrote in Public Reason , coca re-planting is huge and local conditions have not been transformed.
The Trump administration will continue to support fumigation with glyphosate. A day after the Duque government published the draft decree to restart fumigation, the State Department celebrated it in a statement, stating that “cocaine production causes deforestation, spills of toxic chemicals, proliferation of violent drug trafficking groups, and a growing tendency to use cocaine, creating chaos in the daily lives of Colombians. ”
Meanwhile, the disdain of the United States in the face of Colombia’s security and social problems is rampant. For example, at the beginning of September it was clear that President Trump was not aware of the official call for rearmament made by Iván Márquez.
The US government has no interest in supporting the peace process or a broader security strategy. This position is convenient for Duke, who has left the Agreement in limbo.
In addition, the United States condemns human rights violations and repression in Venezuela and Cuba, while ignoring repression of protests in Colombia, or the unstoppable attacks on social leaders.
On December 20, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Foreign Minister Claudia Blum, and discussed what the State Department described as an excellent bilateral relationship. The meeting referred to the anti-narcotics collaboration, the support for the National Dialogue proposed by Duke, and the gratitude for Colombia’s help with the refugees from Venezuela. Nothing was said about the peace process, which is also not mentioned in the budget requested from Congress for the Western Hemisphere.
None of these factors favor a long-term strategy to reduce drug trafficking, move forward in the peace process, or face new security challenges in Colombia. A dire possibility would be for the United States to continue connecting political risks in Venezuela with criminal economies in Colombia to support military operations in areas such as Catatumbo, as was done by connecting terrorism and drug trafficking around the FARC since the 1980s and especially under the Colombia Plan.
But there are hopes for factors that create spaces to change the course of security and drug policy: internal social pressure, the change in local power correlations in Colombia, and the fact that the U.S. foreign policy in 2020 It has started and will surely remain focused on other regions and issues.
If Trump does not win the election, priorities may change, although not radically. No doubt other candidates may be more likely to support the peace process. Hopefully at the end of 2020 this is the picture.
Source: Razon Publica