The top US diplomat in charge of anti-drug policies abroad attempted to mend bruised relations with key Latin American partners, but instead succeeded in highlighting the confusion in Washington over how to handle drug-related security issues in the region.
William Brownfield, the outgoing assistant secretary of the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, held a press conference with regional media outlets on September 22, just over a week before he is set to leave his post. (InSight Crime obtained a rough transcript of the conversation from the State Department.)
Against a backdrop of strained diplomatic ties between the United States and its primary Latin American anti-drug partners, the career diplomat appeared to try to mend relationships, emphasizing the quality and importance of regional cooperation on the drug issue.
For example, Brownfield skirted a question about the shortcomings of the US-backed, militarized anti-crime strategy adopted by Mexico. When asked if US-Mexico cooperation had failed -- given rising violence in Mexico and a rise in drug-related overdose deaths in the United States -- Brownfield said that he "hoped not" for the sake of the bilateral relationship, which he unconvincingly described as "positive" under the Trump administration.
Brownfield portrayed Mexico's spiking levels of violence as the result of efficient government action, even as he admitted that criminal groups have undermined government control of many areas of the country. He also insisted on maintaining bilateral coordination on anti-drug issues based on the two countries' shared security interests.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Security Policy
The outgoing diplomat made similarly reconciliatory comments about Colombia, another crucial US anti-drug partner in the region. Seemingly contradicting recent statements he made during testimony before the US Senate, Brownfield described Colombia's current drug control policy as "an excellent strategy," and said US-Colombian anti-narcotic cooperation is a regional model that should be replicated.
When asked if this view contradicted President Donald Trump's recent threat to name Colombia a major drug producing and trafficking country, Brownfield answered that he believed Colombia's eradication efforts to be efficient, but with room for improvement. The outgoing official said he believes that only a combination of traditional interdiction and eradication policies with more progressive, preventative measures would be successful in combatting drug-related security issues.
InSight Crime Analysis
Brownfield's statements suggest that confusion and lack of consensus remain within top US government circles concerning the direction of US anti-narcotic policies in Latin America under the Trump administration. His comments not only appeared to contradict what he has said in the past, but also seem to be at odds with Trump's views.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy
It is understandable that Brownfield would attempt to paper over the very real differences of opinion between the US and longtime anti-drug partners like Colombia and Mexico as he prepares to leave office. However, those tensions are sure to linger in the transition period before Brownfield's successor is approved. And some experts believe that Trump may choose a replacement with less diplomatic experience and more "loyalty" to the president, as he has been counseled to do with other key diplomatic posts.