Op-Ed

Scott: Colombia’s new president reflects that country’s desire for a new era of conservatism

As Governor of Florida, I had the honor of attending the inauguration of the new Colombian President, Iván Duque.

And just last week, I traveled to Colombia to discuss the issue of narco-trafficking and our shared goal of freedom and democracy in Venezuela with President Duque and other leaders.

Duque’s election reflected the country’s desire for a new era of conservative government.

Under President Duque’s leadership, Colombia serves as an example of what can be accomplished under a democracy that supports individual freedom and economic prosperity for all of its people.

During my meeting with him last week, we spoke at length about his efforts to fight narco-terrorism and his commitment to the extradition relationship with the United States.

Since his inauguration, President Duque has taken strong measures to support freedom and democracy in Latin America, improve Colombia’s economy, and continue the progress made in tackling the drug trafficking problem.

He has been an invaluable ally during the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Colombia has taken in millions of refugees, by some estimates, who are fleeing the oppression of the brutal Maduro regime.

And in less than a year, President Duque has intensified efforts on all fronts to contain the growth of illicit crops and to reduce drug supply and consumption. He has made great progress.

Between August 2018 and February 2019, the Colombian government eradicated 40,000 hectares of illicit crops, an average of 5,747 hectares per month.

This represents the highest monthly rate since the beginning of manual eradication.

The seizure of marijuana and cocaine also increased from 197 to 250 tons and from 390 to 450 tons respectively.

In addition, from August 2018 to February 2019, the Colombian government seized the equivalent of 227 tons of cocaine hydrochloride.

These seizures represented losses for drug trafficking organizations of approximately 6.7 billion U.S. dollars.

In December, President Duque presented the “Camino al Futuro” plan, which, among other goals, commits to reducing the cultivation and production of cocaine by 50 percent by the year 2023.

President Duque’s efforts mean less drugs coming across the United States border and for that, I am grateful for his efforts.

But, there is still more to do. The drug problem is not only a Colombian problem.

Because of Florida’s location, the state remains one of the main sites for international drug trafficking and money laundering.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2018 Drug Threat Assessment, the levels of coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia, the primary source for cocaine seized and tested in the United States, has widened the cocaine market, leading to increased domestic abuse.

Simultaneously, the increasing presence of fentanyl in the cocaine supply, likely related to the ongoing opioid crisis according to the DEA, is exacerbating the re-merging cocaine threat.

During my time as Governor of Florida, we took significant action to support Florida communities and families battling the national opioid epidemic, including investing more than $65 million in 2018 and directing the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding in 2017.

However, we must continue to do everything we can to fight this growing epidemic.

Now more than ever, the United States and the international community must work together to confront drug trafficking.

Although President Duque’s fight has just begun, I hope that Colombia and the United states can work together so we can finally see a lasting reduction in this decades-old problem.

Rick Scott is a Republican senator from Florida. He previously served as the state’s 45th governor from 2011 to 2019.

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