Fri, Sep 21, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Coca plantations in Colombia rise to record level

‘VERY WORRYING’:A UN representative said that he was concerned about the amount of money involved in illegal drugs, reported to be US$2.7 billion for cocaine

AFP, BOGOTA

Illegal coca plantations in Colombia last year reached record levels following a 17 percent increase from 2016 to about 171,000 hectares, the UN said on Wednesday.

The UN Office on Crime and Drugs (UNODC) said that translated to a potential 31 percent increase in cocaine production from last year to almost 1,270 tonnes.

Coca leaf is the primary ingredient in the production of cocaine and current plantations generate 33 percent more leaves than they did in 2012.

“I want to express my deep concern about the amount of money that is moving around illicit drugs,” UNODC representative to Colombia Bo Mathiasen told a news conference in Bogota.

Colombia remains way ahead of the rest of the world in terms of illegal coca plantations, while it is also the top producer of cocaine, much of it destined for the US, the biggest consumer of the white powder.

“The report presented today by the UNODC is really very worrying,” Colombian Minister of Justice Gloria Maria Borrero said.

The worst affected region is Narino on the border with Ecuador. On its own, Narino has more farmland dedicated to coca plantations than Peru, the country with the second-largest area of such fields, at almost 44,515 hectares.

Riddled with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas as well as drug trafficking gangs, Narino is one of the nation’s most dangerous regions.

The UNODC report said that the “potential production of cocaine has a value of [US]$2.7 billion in the local market” and warned that those proceeds “could undermine peacebuilding efforts, weaken the culture of lawfulness, strengthen armed groups and delegitimize democratic institutions through corruption and illicit financial flows.”

Colombia’s border regions with Ecuador to the southwest and Venezuela to the east and north east are the principle theaters of armed conflict between government forces and a combination of drug gangs and Marxist rebels.

Efforts to halt cocaine production are increasing.

Cocaine seizures last year increased by 20 percent to 395 tonnes, while 4,820 laboratories were destroyed, up 12 percent.

However, the UNODC said that those figures remained below the “increase in potential production” of cocaine.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, who was inaugurated on Aug. 7, has vowed to wipe out at least 141,640 hectares of coca plantations during his four-year mandate.

Duque has criticized his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos’ policy of encouraging the voluntary substitution of coca plantations through agreements with local farmers.

Santos’ government blamed the increase in drug culture on compromises made in negotiations with FARC rebels to sign a peace accord in 2016.

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