Colombia sees third straight year of increases in cocaine production

World Today

A new report by the United Nations suggests Colombia is now in retreat in the war against drugs.

According to a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in 2016 nearly 866 tons of cocaine was produced in the country compared to an estimated 649 in 2015.

CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports from Bogota.

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U.N. officials said this is linked to a substantial increase in coca crops- the raw material used for cocaine.

“The information shows an important increase in the cultivation of coca that went above the 96,000 hectares in 2015 to 146,000 hectares in 2016 — an increase by 52 percent, with respect to the previous monitoring,” says Bo Mathiasen, the UNODC representative in Colombia.

Coca production has been on a steady rise since 2013. Colonel Vladimir Materon, an anti-narcotics expert, believes the increase correlates with the end of aerial fumigation in 2014 over health concerns.

“Aerial fumigation is easier,” he explains. “You are able to reach a larger amount of hectares. In one day a group of people on foot can eradicate 20 to 30 hectares manually. Aerial fumigation can do that in 15 minutes.”

Despite the grim numbers, Colombian government officials at a U.N. press conference expressed optimism. In 2017, the government has put in place an ambitious plan to eradicate 100,000 hectares of coca by the end of 2017.

The forced eradication and voluntary substitution government program will be supported by FARC guerillas. With the signing of a peace deal to end 50 years of armed conflict, the FARC have renounced drug trafficking and promised to join government efforts to end coca cultivation.

Though now retired, Colonel Materon worked in Colombia’s anti-narcotics program as a commander of several divisions for 17 years. His experience through the highs and lows of the drug war has convinced him that the issue of demand needs to be addressed.

“Unfortunately, responsibility always falls on the producer and not the consumer,” Colonel Materon said.

“The programs for consumers do not seem to be efficient enough to show a reduction in consumers. This is simply an economic activity where supply meets demand.”

And according to recent studies, the demand for the white powder is only increasing.

The most recent United States National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that the number of young Americans who admitted to trying cocaine for the first time increased 61 percent from 2013 to 2015.