Colombian President Iván Duque, U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary James Walsh, and U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Philip Goldberg reaffirmed the comprehensive holistic U.S.-Colombia counternarctics strategy, the Colombian government announced April 26.
“This new approach seeks to overcome the drug problem, but at the same time it seeks to overcome the vicious circle of poverty, structural gaps, and to hit the capacity of criminal organizations […], access to illegal revenues, and control of violent territory,” Sandra Álzate Cifuentes, vice minister of Defense and Security Policies of the Colombian Ministry of Defense, told Diálogo May 20.
Colombia and the United States “have agreed on this strategy […] based on three pillars: reduction of drug supply and security, development of rural areas, and protection of the environment,” Vice Minister Álzate said. The strategy developed by the two governments seeks to strengthen interinstitutional action, economic revival, increase and improvement of infrastructure, rule of law, access to public resources and services, increased connectivity, and guaranteed security, she added.
The counternarcotics plan prioritizes villages in the Integral Intervention Strategic Zones, which are regions most affected by illicit financial flows, the dynamics of criminal groups, and related violence. These municipalities account for 95 percent of the country’s coca, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In 2021, when the comprehensive holistic counternarcotics strategy was launched, security forces seized 670 tons of cocaine. With the reaffirmation of the strategy, authorities expect to surpass that figure in 2022, the Colombian government said.
During the meeting, Ambassador Goldberg said that they not only reaffirmed the “new project of a holistic effort against narcotraffickers, but also […] the commitment to lower drug consumption in the United States. All this because the two countries share the same values and democracy.”
As part of this partnership, INL also announced the delivery of 12 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which will be used by the Colombian National Police, the Presidency of the Republic said in a press release.
This support will improve Police capabilities to deploy a modern, safe, and effective fleet against narcotrafficking, better support citizen security, and implement the bilateral counternarcotics strategy, especially in the country’s rural areas, the statement said.
“This is a multi-million dollar contribution of defense capabilities and we continue to work hand in hand to protect our citizens,” President Duque said. “The fact that we have taken our relationship to a higher level is incredible because this is a very strong relationship and we will find a way to do that, Mr. President,” Walsh said.
“Colombia has established itself as one of the main strategic partners of the United States in the hemisphere, both in the fight against drugs and in the fight against different criminal phenomena that affect the stability of democracies,” said Vice Minister Álzate. “The […] strategy ratifies the intention to continue advancing along the path of cooperation and joint work to overcome common challenges.”
The new relationship between the two countries will also allow Colombia to be a priority recipient of Excess Defense Articles, to further strengthen its capabilities to fight transnational organized crime, especially narcotrafficking, Álzate said.