U.N.: Colombia's coca cultivation area increased 52% from 2015 to 2016

By Allen Cone  |  July 15, 2017 at 12:05 PM
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July 15 (UPI) -- Areas of coca cultivation in Colombia increased 52 percent from 2015 to 2016 -- before the South American nation commenced a plan to cut down farming of the raw material to make cocaine, according to a U.N. report.

Coca crops covered 360,774 acres in 2016 from 237,221 acres in 2015, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The potential production of cocaine for 2016 was an estimated 954 tons, an increase of 34 percent from 2015's 712 tons.

The most recent levels for coca returned to those from 2001, when a U.S.-backed anti-narcotics effort known as Plan Colombia was just beginning.

The largest growth was located along borders, specifically Narino, Putumayo and Norte de Santander. Those departments are also the regions with the biggest coca crop area, according to the 2015 survey.

The prices of coca leaf in 2016 were 43 percent greater than 2013 prices, when the recent spike in coca cultivation began, the report said.

Despite the rise, seizures increased 49 percent from 279 tons confiscated in 2015 to 417 tons in 2016.

"The conditions in the country are favorable to reaching a sustainable solution since the country's strategy is moving from a crop-based intervention to one focusing on the transformation of the territories," the U.N. wrote in a news release accompanying the report. "The government of Colombia and local communities are building trust to reach effective and sustainable solutions. This will require coordinated, localized and comprehensive actions that address illicit economies and organized crime, allow communities to make decisions without the pressure of illegal armed groups, and promote legal alternatives to guarantee the development of territories."

Jose Angel Mendoza, the head of Colombia's counter-narcotics police, told the Guardian that Colombia faced "a difficult historical moment" but since the end of 2016, the government put in place a plan to eradicate about 247,000 acres of coca before 2018. The plan involves both seizing and destroying crops, as well as introducing substitute crops to local farmers.

The government has reached a peace deal with FARC rebels, who have since renounced drug trafficking and instead are working with the government to persuade farmers to replace coca crops with another way to make a living.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he looked forward to working with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on drug trafficking after a meeting May 18 at the White House.

"I affirmed the United States' willingness to assist Colombia's strategy to target and eliminate drug trafficking networks, illicit financings, coca cultivation and cocaine production, of which there is far too much," Trump said in a statement. "The drug epidemic is poisoning too many American lives, and we're going to stop it many different ways. One of them will be the wall."

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