During a year in which countries around the world placed citizens under strict lock downs and international commerce ground to a halt with heightened trade controls, criminal organizations were quick to adjust to coronavirus restrictions by “flooding communities with dangerous drugs,” remarked the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency’s Acting Administrator Christopher Evans during the release on Tuesday of the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment.
The law enforcement official highlighted current threats, including methamphetamine and cocaine, that worsened “both in volume and reach, with traffickers selling increasing amounts outside of traditional markets.” The high volumes of stimulants and sales of over-the-counter prescription opioids resulted in 83,000 drug-related overdoses in a twelve-month period ending July 2020, and a significant increase from 70,000 deaths in 2019.
While the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic witnessed “fluctuations in pricing, availability, transportation, and distribution of illicit drugs,” Mexican cartels continued to supply the U.S with fentanyl, heroin and counterfeit oxycodone. And according to the report Colombian-origin cocaine continues to dominate the domestic market with export networks intact. Overall coca cultivation in Colombia yielded in 2020 “higher farmer profits per hectare” claims the report. The DEA also reveals that the vast majority of Colombian cocaine transits through one or multiple countries, and that less than 1% percent of documented cocaine movement is shipped directly from Colombia to the United States.
“Colombian transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) generated and received as much as US$10 billion annually through the sale of drugs in the United States, Central America, and Mexico,” reads the report, adding that the Gulf Clan is the most significant TCO to impact the U.S drugs market. Considered by authorities as a “highly structured and centralized criminal enterprise,” the Gulf Clan (also known as Los Urabeños, Clan del Golfo, and Clan Úsuga) operates from the Urabá region in northwest Colombia. The report refers to FARC dissent factions as a TCO.
The new data was released a day after the U.S administration of President Joe Biden certified Colombia as a key ally in the fight against illegal drugs, and given the cooperation, recipient of 20% (US$25 million) of the State Department’s annual budget to fund eradication and interdiction efforts. “The Duque government achieved surprising results in 2020 despite the challenges of Covid-19 and a six-month confinement,” read the official statement. “An integrated eradication strategy that includes targeted aerial spraying is essential to achieve the joint goal of reducing crops by 50% or 2017 levels.” In 2017, President Donald Trump threatened to decertify Colombia given a surge in coca cultivation. Trump’s rebuke was made the same year the post-conflict with FARC was implemented by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos.
Last month with the United Kingdom under strict lockdown, England’s National Crime Agency (NCA) seized a 2.3 ton shipment of cocaine hidden inside banana crates and estimated to be worth US$250 million. The drugs seizure was one of the largest in the UK and amounts to more than half the quantity of Colombian cocaine seized during an average year by the police.