Officials in the U.S. have confirmed that under the current Trump administration, the US$450 million in aid to Colombia promised by former President Barack Obama could be cut. As the biggest producer of cocaine in the world, Colombia will not only have to adjust its anti-drugs efforts as peace is rolled out, but also a potential decrease in aid.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker and Vice Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield confirmed rumors that under the new U.S. administration there would be a review of the aid budget.
The announcement comes after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised speculation over the matter, when he said during his Senate review process that he would look to “review the details of Colombia’s recent peace agreement and determine the extent to which the United States should continue to support it.”
In Feb. 2016, Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the new Plan Colombia package, rebranded as “Peace Colombia,” with Obama promising US$450 million, but its funding still needs approval from the U.S. Congress.
“The White House's first presentation for the 2018 budget represents a rather severe cut in resources for international aid programs, a cut of up to 37 percent for the State Department,” Brownfield said, according to Colombia's Semana.
Brownfield said that the vagueness around the aid package is due to the Colombian government transitioning towards peace and the U.S. transitioning to a new administration. Brownfield added that there was potential for the aid to be reduced. “The picture is yes, a bit worrisome, but not crisis. This time it is more a conversation than a threat.”
Both Brownfield and Whitaker met with Santos in Bogota to discuss strategies for Colombia tackling coca cultivation, which has recently included crop substitution programs. For years, Colombia has traded spots with Peru as the world’s largest producer of cocaine, while the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer.
Indeed, the annual report from the INL suggests that despite years of U.S. funding totaling billions of dollars through Plan Colombia, cultivation could actually be increasing. The report shows that globally the amount of cocaine trafficking has increased and that in Colombia the potential pure cocaine production from the most recent data in 2015 increased by 60 percent, “the largest single-year increase of coca cultivation in Colombia ever.
While 2016 figures on production have not yet been released, Colombian media estimates that last year could have been the largest on record.
“The United States estimates that the area devoted to coca cultivation in Colombia increased 42 percent in 2015 to 159,000 ha from 112,000 ha in 2014, returning to cultivation levels last seen in Colombia in 2007,” the report continued.
The INL report said that recent increases in production and cultivation areas could be due to more people rushing to plant crops before the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government takes full effect.
Brownfield said he believed that the increase in production was due to the abandoning of aerial crop fumigation. As of 2015, Colombia no longer carries out aerial fumigations of coca crops, after the WHO deemed that the pesticides were likely to cause cancer. Brownfield said that the U.S. will not challenge Colombia’s decision.
While Plan Colombia has been viewed as a success by the current Colombian government and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the militarized approach of Plan Colombia has been criticized for prolonging the conflict and fueling human rights abuses.
Nevertheless, Colombian officials have regarded the rebranded aid package – with its heavy focus on drugs, crime and security – as important funding for implementing peace in the country.