The Wrong Way to Pressure Colombia

How an American Warning Unsettled Bilateral Ties

Bogotá, Colombia, November 2009. Jose Miguel Gomez / REUTERS

On September 13, U.S. President Donald Trump issued a memorandum rebuking a number of Latin American and Asian countries for their role in the international drug trade. Trump reserved a special warning for Colombia, which he noted had seen an “extraordinary growth of coca cultivation and cocaine production over the past 3 years.” Although the United States did not designate Colombia under section 706(2)(A) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act—a measure that would restrict some U.S. aid to the country—Trump said that Washington had “seriously considered” that step and would not rule out taking it in the future.

Trump’s warning sought to pressure Colombia to reduce coca cultivation, but it was a political mistake. Colombia, which is among the United States’ closest partners in the Western Hemisphere, will hold presidential elections in May 2018, and the U.S. president’s rebuke may have strengthened candidates who favor downgrading

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