Sun, Jul 16, 2017 - Page 4 News List

Colombia producing more cocaine than ever: UN

The Guardian

Colombia has spent years trying to shake off its reputation as the cocaine factory of the world, but the country is producing more of the drug than ever before, according to new figures from the UN.

An estimated 866 tonnes of cocaine were produced at clandestine labs across the country last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said.

In 2015 the estimate was 649.

In terms of the area planted with coca, the raw material used for cocaine, Colombia is back at the same levels as in 2001, when a massive US-backed anti-narcotics effort known as Plan Colombia was just getting underway.

Coca crops covered 146,000 hectares last year, up 52 percent from 96,000 in 2015. Higher yields from mature plants mean more cocaine can be produced per hectare planted.

The results of the study “show a complex panorama,” UNODC Colombia representative Bo Mathiasen said.

Colombian National Police Narcotics Division head General Jose Angel Mendoza Guzman, said Colombia faces “a difficult historical moment,” adding that the figures were from Dec. 31 last year.

Since then, the government has put in place an ambitious plan to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca by the end of the year. Half of that amount is to be forcibly eradicated and the other half removed through crop substitution agreements with coca farmers.

The substitution program is part of a peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, who renounced drug trafficking as part of their demobilization deal.

During much of the group’s 53 years as an armed insurgency, they financed their fight through the drug trade. Former combatants have committed to work with the government to convince farmers to replace coca crops with another way to make a living.

“The history of drug crops is divided in two: before and after the beginning of the post-conflict period,” Colombian Minister of Justice Enrique Gil Botero said.

Already 40 percent of the goal of forced eradication has been met, and 86,000 families — who account for as much as 76,000 hectares of coca — have signed on to crop substitution programs in exchange for about US$11,000 per farmer over the course of two years, the government said.

“Having the FARC on the side of substitution and not on the other side makes a difference,” said Rodrigo Pardo, who heads the government agency in charge of implementing the peace agreement.

However, the deal on crop substitution announced before the peace deal was finalized last year also provided an incentive for farmers to grow coca, knowing they would later be awarded subsidies.

Cocaine production began increasing in 2013, rising steadily every year since. In 2014 the government ended aerial fumigations in over health concerns. A significant rise in the number of hectares planted with coca had already been reported by the White House, which uses its own measurements.

The US estimated the country produced 700 tonnes of the drug last year.

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