Fri, Jan 04, 2019 - Page 7 News List

US troubled by coca surge: Pompeo

WAR ON DRUGS:The US secretary of state said the US would work with Colombian President Ivan Duque to cut coca cultivation and production by 50% before 2023

Reuters, CARTAGENA, Colombia

The US is deeply concerned about an increase in coca cultivation in Colombia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, but plans to work with the Andean country to cut production of the raw material for cocaine in half by the end of 2023.

Pompeo met with Colombian President Ivan Duque on a brief visit to the coastal city of Cartagena.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about the surge in coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia since 2013,” Pompeo told reporters after the meeting.

Colombia has long been ranked as the world’s top producer of cocaine, for which coca is the base ingredient, but figures compiled by the UN for 2017 showed the largest potential output since the organization began keeping records, with cocaine production at 1,379 tonnes.

“We will continue to work with you Mr President, side-by-side to achieve our joint objectives to cut coca cultivation and coca production by 50 percent between now and 2023,” Pompeo said.

In 2017, land in Comumbia covered by coca expanded 17 percent to 171,000 hectares, the UN said.

The uptick was due to increased productivity and growers eager to expand in the hopes of receiving more aid to switch to legal crops.

The Colombian government wants to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca crops this year.

Eradication for last year would total more than 80,000 hectares of illicit crops, Duque said last month.

The US commitment to helping Colombia dismantle organized crime groups is “vital,” Duque said.

Aerial fumigation with the herbicide glyphosate, suspended in 2015 after being linked to cancer, could be reinstated if it can be made to comply with judicial conditions, Duque has said.

Duque and Pompeo also discussed the crisis in Venezuela, where hyperinflation, and food and medicine shortages have spurred more than 3 million people to flee over the past several years, including more than 1 million who now live in Colombia.

Pompeo commended Colombia for its support of Venezuelan migrants, and said that he and Duque had discussed how to collaborate on aid with regional and international bodies.

“All countries that defend democracy, all countries that share the value of democracy should unite to reject the Venezuelan dictatorship,” Duque said.

The US has placed sanctions on Venezuela’s debt and on some officials in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which it accuses of corruption and human rights violations.

Maduro blames Venezuela’s economic problems on US sanctions and an “economic war” led by political adversaries.

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