CALI, Colombia—During a meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque at the White House early last week, Donald Trump more or less ordered Colombia to wipe out coca plants—the main ingredient in cocaine—by spraying the controversial herbicide glyphosate from the air.
No, it’s not the infamous chemical Agent Orange used in Vietnam, but it’s bad enough, and likely to poison the people and the land beneath the toxic clouds.
“You’re going to have to spray,” Trump said in front of reporters. “If you don’t spray you’re not going to get rid of [the coca plants]. So you have to spray with regard to the drugs in Colombia.”
Duque, long under pressure from the Trump administration, has now agreed to an ambitious “bilateral” plan to eradicate half of Colombia's 212,000 hectares (523,863 acres) of coca by 2023. But Colombia remains the world’s leading exporter of processed cocaine, with about 90 percent of the finished product flowing north to the United State.
That doesn’t sit well with Trump, who has vacillated passive-aggressively between insulting Duque and threatening ominous repercussions for Colombia if cocaine production isn’t curbed.
In 2017, Trump threatened to decertify Colombia as a good-faith partner in the U.S. ”drug war”—a move that would lead to a cutoff of most foreign assistance to the nation. At the time, other leaders in Washington rushed to assure Duque that his country remained one of Washington’s most valued allies in the region. But Trump doubled down on his coercive threat again in 2018, and this time he made it personal.
“He [Duque] said how he was going to stop drugs. More drugs are coming out of Colombia right now than before he was president—so he has done nothing for us," Trump said.
This cocaine quid pro quo—eradication at all costs or risk losing humanitarian and military aid—has led directly to Bogotá’s decision to resume aerial spraying with glyphosate. Colombia had curtailed the practice back in 2015 due to health risks, including cancer.