BOGOTÁ (HPD) — Coca leaf crops increased substantially in Colombia in 2021 and reached the historic level of 204,000 hectares planted, breaking the downward trend of the last three years, the United Nations Office on Drugs revealed Thursday. and Crime (UNODC).
The increase in the planted area was 43%, thus exceeding the 143,000 hectares registered in 2020 and the highest point in the historical series that had been documented so far in 2017, with 171,000 hectares.
Candice Welsch, UNODC regional director for the Andean Region and the Southern Cone, pointed out when presenting the report that the potential to produce cocaine hydrochloride grew by 14%, reaching 1,400 tons per year, maintaining the upward trend that has been consolidating since 2014 in the country.
“Once again the highest figure in the 22 years of UNODC monitoring,” Welsch stressed.
The Colombian Minister of Justice, Néstor Osuna Patiño, assured that the report is an evident example of the “failure of the war on drugs” speaking in the same sense as President Gustavo Petro has done, who proposes reformulating the fight against drug trafficking .
Osuna emphasized that the new drug policy that the government is formulating does not include the legalization of cocaine. Instead, he will prioritize the pacification of territories, the non-criminal treatment of coca-growing peasants, and the voluntary substitution of illicit crops.
The commitment to the voluntary substitution of crops that are replaced by legal productive projects, the minister specified, corresponds to the level of success that it has compared to when it is forced with the public force. When it is voluntary, the replanting of illicit crops is 0.8%, while when it is forced it rises to 40%.
Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the International Crisis Group, told The Associated Press that the report shows that the strategy of the previous government of Iván Duque (2018-2022) did not work despite obtaining historic levels of cocaine eradication and seizures, which which opens the possibilities for the Petro government, whose strategy could give greater stability to the peasants by offering them a life project.
The challenge for the Petro government would be to reach quick agreements with the communities where there are crops to prevent them from continuing to expand, as part of the dialogue that is being promoted recently, and to regain the trust of the communities that have committed to abandoning coca, as explained by Pedro Arenas, an expert on drug issues and part of the non-governmental organization Viso Mutup, who also believes that continuing forced eradication should be reconsidered given its low effectiveness.
Coca crops continue to be located in the same historically affected territories. 62% of them are in the departments of Nariño and Putumayo, bordering Ecuador, and Norte de Santander, on the border with Venezuela.
The increase in the productivity of illicit crops is due, according to the report, to the greater efficiency in the use of agrochemicals, the decrease in the costs of agricultural production, the ease of access to labor and the strategic location they have for the traffic in border territories or with access to the sea.
Welsch pointed out as important factors that are creating new conditions for the production of coca in Colombia the increase in the global demand for cocaine, the economic crises and an incomplete implementation of the peace agreements signed in 2016 between the Colombian State and the Revolutionary Armed Forces. of Colombia (FARC), which was the oldest guerrilla in Latin America.
In recent years the illegal armed groups have changed their role, they have diversified, they are no longer a predominant few but dozens of organized criminal structures and traffickers.
The report also warned that illicit crops continue to threaten biodiversity. Nearly 50% of the coca is in special management areas, that is, in national natural parks, forest reserves, and indigenous and Afro-descendant community reservations.