From Monday’s edition of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor (PDF).
Q: The U.S. State Department’s annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released in March said Colombia is the world’s top producer of cocaine and that the cultivation of coca has increased by record amounts for the past two years. What is the reason for the increase in coca cultivation and cocaine production in the country? How will cocaine eradication strategies change as the government and the FARC rebel group implement their peace agreement? What will cooperation with the United States against drugs look like during the Trump administration? How are policies toward coca cultivation and drug trafficking in neighboring Bolivia and Peru likely to affect Colombia’s role in illicit drug production and trafficking?
A: Adam Isacson, senior associate for the regional security policy program at the Washington Office on Latin America: “Colombia has a bumper crop of coca. The U.S. government estimate of 188,000 hectares planted in 2016 is the fourth increase in a row, and is 141 percent more than in 2012 (78,000 hectares). I see seven reasons why this is happening. Colombia halted aerial herbicide spraying, citing health concerns, in 2015, and did not replace it with a new strategy. It slowed forced manual eradication, too, due to costs and dangers. But until this year, it has not increased investment in governance and alternative development. Meanwhile, the price of gold dropped, making illicit mining a less enticing alternative to coca. The dollar rose, making farm-gate prices appear greater in pesos. Word spread that farmers with coca would receive benefits under the FARC peace accords, creating a perverse incentive to plant. And in the middle of peace talks, the government was less willing to use force to confront coca growers. Today, the Colombian government has a plan for new investment and voluntary eradication in the stateless areas of the countryside where coca is grown. The November 2016 peace accord commits former FARC members to help carry out this plan. The U.S. government should support Colombia’s new effort with patience, avoiding an aggressive push to resume policies, like fumigation, that did not solve the problem before. While waiting to see if this can work, though, we must closely monitor the Colombian government’s effort. We must verify it is getting the resources, inter-agency coordination and high priority that bringing governance to coca-growing zones requires. Coca cultivation in Peru and Bolivia has been stable in recent years, ranging around 50,000 hectares in Peru and 35,000 in Bolivia, including legal coca. Trends in those two countries won’t have as much impact on Colombia’s coca boom as the seven factors discussed above.”