Colombia's President Cites Affect on Climate as Among Issues With Cocaine Production

Colombian President Iván Duque stated that environmental impact is among the many issues with cocaine production.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Duque stated that he has high hopes for the medical marijuana industry in Colombia and the promotion of such is "a different story" than cocaine.

He stated the production of cocaine has "a very high carbon footprint" along with the usage of a lot of gasoline and cement. Processing chemicals are also dumped in the forest. "In order to plant one hectare of coca in Colombia, two hectares of tropical jungle are destroyed," Duque said.

Cannabis, Duque stated, is an opportunity for innovation, with Colombia and Israel, a country that approved marijuana exports in 2019, collaborating to make the world a better place.

Duque's stance on cannabis is out of place, considering his past actions against drugs. Duque took office decreeing that drugs "destroy" families. He signed a decree banning the possession of drugs in public spaces, which challenged a ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia that allowed Colombians to carry small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs.

Additionally, Duque has committed to resume the aerial eradication of coca crops. Legal challenges and farmers protesting in remote areas have caused him to struggle in reaching that goal.

In terms of the environment, Duque created the country's first national anti-deforestation council, as well as committed to zero deforestation by 2030. He also supported a bill that increased sanctions for environmental crime.

He pledged to turn 30 percent of the country's land into protected areas by the end of his administration at the recent U.N. climate change summit in Glasgow. Currently, around 15 percent of the country's land is national parks and government-run reserves.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Colombia, Iván Duque, Cocaine Production, Climate
Colombia's President Iván Duque Marquez speaks to The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Duque said that climate was among the many issues of cocaine production. Ariel Schalit/AP Photo

In addition to the environmental impact of cocaine production, there's also the murderous drug kingpins — one of whom was nabbed just last month on a U.S. warrant— cartel violence and the scattered remnants of the FARC rebel group who have fought on despite a landmark peace agreement reached five years ago.

But fresh from the U.N. climate summit, where Colombia pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and the opening of a Colombian innovation center in Jerusalem, Duque was keen to discuss how Colombia and Israel — self-styled "start-up nations" — could work together.

"Innovation is probably the solution to most of our problems. Even those created by innovation, they will still need to be solved by innovation," said Avi Hasson, the CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, which connects governments and international businesses to Israeli entrepreneurs, and which hosted Duque for a panel discussion on Tuesday.

In July, Colombia lifted an export ban on dried cannabis flower. Duque said his country is looking to harness derivatives for everything from medical treatments and food production to cosmetics. "We're seeing a lot of international investment coming to Colombia," said Duque, who will be replaced following a presidential election next year.

Israel might be able to lend a hand. Medical marijuana was legalized years ago, and more than 100,000 Israelis — out of a population of over 9 million — are licensed users. Israel approved marijuana exports in 2019, becoming only the third country to do so.

Israel boasts more than 110 cannabis tech companies, mostly in the health sector, that have attracted nearly $350 million in investment since 2015, according to Start-Up Nation Central. Israel is also among the largest importers of medical cannabis flower.

Duque says there's a difference between harnessing beneficial components from drugs and lifting prohibition completely.

"We're not using cannabis for recreational purposes. We're using it for medical purposes," he said.

In the years since the peace deal, newly disarmed rebels have abandoned the remote areas where they sheltered for decades under the jungle canopy. Cattle ranchers, loggers, miners, subsistence farmers and criminal groups have moved into the void, according to a report earlier this month from the International Crisis Group.

Colombia lost 747,000 hectares (2,885 square miles) of forest during the four years that followed the 2016 peace deal — an area about 10 times the size of New York City, according to the National Institute for Environmental Studies. That compares to approximately 562,000 hectares (2,170 square miles) of forest loss in the four years leading up to 2016, when many parts of the country where the FARC was active were off limits.

Colombia is also among the most dangerous countries in the world for environment defenders. Some 65 were killed in 2020 alone, accounting for nearly a third of the global total of 227, according to Global Witness, a human rights group.

He blamed the attacks on environmental defenders on the cartels, including the one led by Dairo Antonio Úsuga, a drug lord known as Otoniel whom Duque has likened to Pablo Escobar.

"One of the most dangerous criminals in the world, and especially in Colombia, who had ordered the killing of environmental leaders, was Otoniel, the kingpin we captured two weeks ago," he said.

Climate, Iván Duque, Cocaine, Colombia
Colombia's President Iván Duque Marquez speaks to The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. Duque stated that he has high hopes for the medical marijuana industry in Colombia and the promotion if it is different from cocaine, which is harmful and has a high carbon footprint. Ariel Schalit/AP Photo