Colombia breaks records in coca crop and cocaine production

0
5953
Coca harvest in Cauca, with members of the National Police. Photo: Policia Nacional

Colombia, the world’s leading producer of coca leaves and cocaine, has reached unprecedented figures in the cultivation of coca plants and cocaine production, according to the annual report published by the United Nations Integrated Illicit Crop Monitoring System (SIMCI).

In 2022, the total area dedicated to drug crop cultivation expanded by 13%, soaring to a staggering 230,000 hectares. Simultaneously, the production of cocaine hydrochloride reached a record 1,738 tons annually, marking a 24% increase.

These figures pose a significant challenge to the government of Gustavo Petro, who advocates ending the almost three-decades-long war on drugs.

The three border departments – Norte de Santander, Nariño, and Putumayo – are focal points for coca cultivation, accounting for 65% of Colombia’s total. Norte de Santander, bordering Venezuela, houses the largest productive enclave in Catatumbo province, with 22,000 hectares dedicated to coca cultivation. Following closely are Tumaco in Nariño and Puerto Asís in Putumayo. The year-over-year increase in cultivation is primarily driven by the addition of nearly 20,000 hectares in Putumayo alone, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Candice Welsch, regional representative of UNODC for the Andean region, emphasized during the presentation of the 2023 UN report that illegal groups prioritize profit over territorial control, facilitating production and trafficking in strategic areas along the borders of Nariño, Catatumbo, and Putumayo. Colombia’s Justice Minister Justice Néstor Osuna noted that while Putumayo saw significant growth in the coca harvest, the rest of the country  shows signs of stabilization.

These statistics emerge as the Colombian government introduces its new drug policy, calling for a reevaluation of anti-drug efforts in Latin America. Colombia’s Ministry of Justice aims to cripple drug-trafficking cartels while providing support to farmers in remote areas through the rule of law and social subsidies. This comprehensive policy, crafted through dialogues with affected communities, is set to unfold over the next decade, with a goal to reduce cocaine production by nearly 40% during Petro’s administration’s remaining three years.

Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first left-wing president has argued for a paradigm shift in the fight against illicit drugs by calling on the international community to cease criminalizing coca growers – and instead – target criminal organizations such as FARC dissidents, and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla, in profiting from drug-trafficking. President Petro claims that illegal armed groups are expanding their influence in the region, reaching countries like Ecuador, where drug-related violence has destabilized a presidential election. The Colombian leader has staunchly criticized the US-led “War on Drugs” as a “genocide” that has claimed a million lives.

In his pursuit for “total peace” – or renamed “national reconciliation” – Petro’s wants to engage different armed groups in peace talks simultaneously. The five largest illegal groups operating in the country, among them Gulf Clan or AGC, have forged alliances with multi-national drug cartels.

Despite the surge in the coca harvest, sources in Washington believe the US State Department will certify Colombia’s anti-drug eradication and interdiction efforts.