UN: Colombia’s coca pro­duc­tion surges to record high

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

A United Na­tions re­port said Wed­nes­day that cul­ti­va­tion of the plant used to make co­caine has reached an all­time high in Colombia, adding pres­sure on Pres­i­dent Ivan Duque to re­sume an aerial spray­ing pro­gram sus­pended by his pre­de­ces­sor over health con­cerns.

An­nual data re­leased by the U.N. in­di­cates Colom­bian coca cul­ti­va­tion in­creased 17 per­cent to 171,000 hectares (660 square miles) in 2017. This could mean co­caine pro­duc­tion grew by an es­ti­mated 31 per­cent to 1,379 met­ric tons.

The find­ings, based on satel­lite im­agery and on-the-ground ver­i­fi­ca­tion, track with those of a White House re­port ear­lier this year.

Colombia is a top U.S. ally in Latin Amer­ica, but the boom in coca pro­duc­tion has tested re­la­tions be­tween the two na­tions. U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­cently threat­ened to de­cer­tify Colombia as a part­ner in the war on drugs if it failed to re­verse course.

Duque, when he took of­fice last month, iden­ti­fied the coca surge as a na­tional se­cu­rity risk. Of­fi­cials have since said they want to re­sume aerial spray­ing of her­bi­cide that was ended by for­mer Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos three years ago amid peace talks with leftist rebels who were heav­ily in­volved in the drug trade.

But jump­start­ing the pro­gram will re­quire tak­ing on a con­sti­tu­tional court rul­ing that places strict lim­its on the use of the her­bi­cide glyphosate.

Some drug pol­icy ex­perts have also ques­tioned the wis­dom of bring­ing back the costly pro­gram when drug pro­duc­tion has mi­grated to ar­eas off-lim­its to spray­ing, like na­tional parks.

“Our goal is to show dra­matic re­sults in the next four years,” Duque said Wed­nes­day af­ter a meet­ing with his top mil­i­tary com­mand.

One so­lu­tion un­der study by mil­i­tary of­fi­cials is the use of drones, which fly at a lower al­ti­tude, pre­vent­ing chem­i­cals from drift­ing and de­stroy­ing le­gal crops.

But longer term, ex­perts say, there is no sub­sti­tute for the costlier, more dan­ger­ous and time-con­sum­ing work of build­ing up state in­sti­tu­tions in long-ne­glected ru­ral ar­eas and pro­vid­ing peas­ant farm­ers with eco­nom­i­cally vi­able le­gal al­ter­na­tives.

As in years past, the bulk of coca pro­duc­tion in 2017 was con­cen­trated in Colombia’s south­ern re­gion. Coca cul­ti­va­tion in Narino prov­ince alone sur­passed 45,735 hectares — more than the en­tire amount found in Peru, the world’s sec­ond-largest co­caine sup­plier af­ter Colombia.

The UN said the in­creased sup­ply has so far not re­sulted in any ma­jor drop in co­caine prices glob­ally, although pu­rity lev­els have risen con­sid­er­ably. – AP

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