Coca leaf crops in Colombia maintained their downward trend for the third consecutive year in the government of Iván Duque, after reaching historical highs. The Andean country has managed to reduce the hectares dedicated to the cultivation of the base product of cocaine by 7%, as the total area went from 154,000 to 143,000 hectares at the end of 2020, according to the annual report of the Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System of the United Nations (SIMCI), which was presented this Wednesday at the Casa de Nariño, the presidential palace in Bogotá. The world’s largest coca producer reached a record 171,000 hectares in 2017.
“It is very important that in the world the consumer countries also do their work and that in this co-responsibility they assume a greater pedagogical and police capacity to face this phenomenon,” said the president in a statement together with his ministers of Defense and Justice, as well as Pierre Lapaque, representative in Colombia of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in charge of the measurement, which is taken as the official figure for Colombia – above those published by the United States with a different methodology. The new reduction, added the president, “shows the valuable institutional effort and the heroic and titanic work of the members of the public force, the eradicators and other programs.”
In his three years in power, Duque has taken a turn in anti-drug policy compared to his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018). While Santos advocated changing the focus in the global fight against drug trafficking, and has asked to address the problem as a matter of human rights and public health from different international forums – as he did even in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for The agreement signed with the defunct FARC guerrilla at the end of 2016 – Duque has marked a tougher line and a return to prohibitionism.
The president, who opposed the negotiation with the FARC, has favored forced eradication to the detriment of the voluntary substitution agreed with the peasant communities. “The greatest enemy that peacebuilding has had in Colombia is drug trafficking,” Duque said this Wednesday, defending that his government has had a “multidimensional” approach. He did not mention the Executive’s purpose to return to aerial spraying with glyphosate, a controversial potentially carcinogenic herbicide.
Despite reductions in the area planted with coca leaf, cocaine production per hectare has increased, UNODC has warned. “Cocaine production does not depend only on the area planted with coca,” and it has continued to rise since 2014 despite the efforts of the security forces, warned Lapaque, the head of the UN office. “The increase in productivity has been recurrent in recent years,” he explained. In 2020, the production potential of pure cocaine hydrochloride reached 1,228 tons.
Norte de Santander, Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca and Antioquia, in their order, the five departments most affected by drug crops, concentrate 84% of all the coca in the country, Lapaque said. Colombia has 32 departments, and the other 15 where there are also illicit crops add up to just the remaining 16%. For five years, a trend towards the concentration of crops has been consolidated, particularly in border areas and in geostrategic zones for cocaine trafficking, the UNODC has pointed out among the relevant preliminary findings. Norte de Santander is on the border with Venezuela, while Nariño and Putumayo are on the border with Ecuador. The full report will be presented in July.
In its long fight against drug crops, Colombia managed to reduce the hectares of coca leaf from 168,000 in 2000 to 48,000 in 2012 and 2013, the lowest levels since there are records, according to the UN measurement. However, they later grew to 69,000 hectares in 2014, 96,000 in 2015, 146,000 in 2016 and found a ceiling of 171,000 in 2017. Since then, they have been reduced by 16%.
Subscribe here to newsletter from EL PAÍS América and receive all the informative keys of the current situation of the region.