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Colombia is the Western Hemisphere's best ally in the war on drugs, president says

Key Points
  • Colombia is facing international pressure to implement tougher measures to reverse a record boom in cocaine production.
  • The U.S., frustrated by surging cocaine exports in Colombia, has encouraged Duque to resume the controversial practice of aerial spraying on Colombian coca fields.
  • Colombia's president has pledged to relaunch the aerial spraying of coca crops with herbicides over the coming weeks.
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Colombia leading fight against drugs in Western hemisphere: President

Colombian President Ivan Duque believes no country in the world has been able to match the Andean nation when it comes to the war on drugs.

His comments come at a time when the South American country is facing international pressure to implement tougher measures to reverse a record boom in cocaine production.

The U.S., frustrated by surging cocaine exports in Colombia, has encouraged Duque to resume the controversial practice of aerial spraying on Colombian coca fields. Coca is the raw ingredient in cocaine.

"When you look at the seizures that Colombia has made in the last 10 months, they are the equivalent in terms of market value of the profits of Goldman Sachs and BP in 2018," Duque told CNBC's Joumanna Bercetche in London on Tuesday.

"And when you look at the size of our seizures, for every ton the U.S. seizes in its borders, Colombia seizes 18 tons. That means Colombia is the number one partner for all of the Western Hemisphere in the fight against drugs," Duque said.

Colombia's president has pledged to relaunch the aerial spraying of coca crops with herbicides over the coming weeks, not to please any third country but because it is the country's "moral duty" to act.

The process has been heavily criticized by farmers for devastating legal crops as well as illicit plantations.

Narco-trafficking is an 'engine of violence'

In 2015, Colombia suspended the aerial fumigation of coca after the World Health Organization (WHO) linked the herbicide glyphosate to cancer.

The area under coca cultivation in Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine, climbed to its highest ever recorded figure of 171,000 hectares in 2017, according to a recent report published by the United Nations. That represents an increase of 25,000 hectares from 2016.

An anti-narcotics police officer stands as a police helicopter flies over a coca field during an operation in Tumaco, Narino department, Colombia, on Tuesday, May 8, 2019.
Nicolo Filippo Rosso | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Duque told CNBC on Tuesday that his administration had eradicated more than 60,000 hectares of coca cultivation during his 10 months in office. He estimated this "more or less" amounted to the area of Chicago.

"Our seizures are the equivalent of something more than 50% of all the seizures in the Western Hemisphere so there is no country in the world that is doing what Colombia is doing against drugs," he said.

"But we don't do this to please any specific countries, we do this because this is our moral duty. We do this because we see narco-trafficking as an engine of violence so that's why we will keep on doing our best and we will keep on achieving results that are visible for the whole international community."

Duque was sworn in as president of Colombia in August 2018 after standing as a candidate for the Democratic Center, a right-leaning conservative party. Elected at the age of 42, he is one of the country's youngest presidents in modern history.

Duque has been accused of having little political experience as he studied law and spent 12 years of his career working at the Inter-America Development Bank among other advisory roles. He became a senator in 2014, however, and was in that role before running for president. He is widely seen as the protege of former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe who founded the Democratic Center party.

On his election, Duque called for unity and promised to fight corruption and cocaine production. He also pledged to modify and toughen up the terms of a fragile and controversial 2016 peace deal overseen by former president Juan Manuel Santos with the left-wing guerrilla movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

— CNBC's Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report.