For Veteran Drug Warrior and Diplomat, Retirement Comes with Tinge of Regret; William R. Brownfield to Leave State Department – What Will that Mean? (E)
[…] The Trump administration’s talk of ramping up the drug war made [William R. ] Brownfield a leading candidate for the job of assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, the top U.S. diplomat in the Americas. Instead, he will retire this month after nearly 40 years in the Foreign Service, adding to the list of seasoned U.S. diplomats leaving the government.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has moved slowly to fill key high-level posts, and critics say multiple departures are further hollowing out the country’s diplomatic corps. Each of the State Department’s regional assistant secretary jobs — critical to crafting and implementing U.S. foreign policy — is held by someone in an acting role.
In 2012, U.S. cocaine consumption and the size of the illegal coca crop in Colombia were near a low point, and much of the praise in Washington went to those responsible for designing and implementing Plan Colombia. Among them was Brownfield, who served as U.S. ambassador in Bogota from 2007 to 2010.
Since then, Colombian farmers have been stuffing their fields with record amounts of illegal coca, coerced by trafficking groups or to qualify for cash handouts offered under crop-substitution programs linked to the government’s peace deal with leftist guerrillas. Colombia’s cocaine production ballooned to 710 metric tons last year, according to U.S. estimates, up from 235 metric tons in 2013.
The cocaine surge is fraying the U.S.-Colombia partnership that Brownfield worked so long to help build. Last week, Trump took the extraordinary step of threatening to blacklist Colombia as a nation that has “failed demonstrably” to meet its commitments as a partner in the drug war.
The mere idea of such a designation was unthinkable just a few years ago, and it would put Washington’s closest ally in Latin America in the company of Venezuela and Bolivia, nations whose relations with the United States are adversarial.
“For the past year, in our private discussions, both Colombia and the United States have emphasized the importance of drugs not becoming a negative element in the bilateral relationship between two friends,” Brownfield said. The president’s statement, he added, “reemphasizes that importance.” The Washington Post