The United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) expects coca cultivation in Colombia to increase in 2017 in spite of government efforts to remove 100,000 hectares this year.
The agency released its 2017 drug threat assessment on Monday and was pessimistic about ongoing counter-narcotics efforts that are part of a troubled peace process in the South American country.
According to the Center for Disease Control, some 1.9 million Americans used cocaine in 2015, 25% more than the year before
Almost 6,800 Americans died of a cocaine overdose in 2015, according to the health agency.
The DEA reiterated claims that the registered increase in demand for cocaine in the US was due to increased production in Colombia.
Some 95% of the cocaine consumed in the US is from Colombia, the agency said. It is unclear how much of Colombia’s potential cocaine production is sold in other major markets like Europe and Brazil.
The DEA said the price of cocaine in the US has dropped and confirmed UN claims that the price paid for coca in Colombia has gone up.
Colombia’s coca cultivation is likely to expand in 2017, partly due to increased coca farmer profits. Average farmer profits increased more than 120 percent between 2012 and 2016. A Colombian coca farmer tending a mature quarter-hectare field realized some $1,200 in profits in 2016. This rise in potential profits provides the coca farmers with a strong economic incentive to grow more coca.
Coca vs peace
Increased coca cultivation is causing major public security issues in Colombia that is going through a historic peace process with Marxist FARC rebels.
The government has promised to forcibly remove 50,000 hectares and replace another 50,000 hectares this year.
The FARC controlled much of the coca-rich regions until they disarmed and became a political party earlier this year.
Other illegal armed groups and drug traffickers are now vying for abandoned FARC rackets.
As part of the peace process, the Colombian government and the UN have promoted a new strategy that includes rural development and crop substitution.
According to international observers, this program is out of funds and violently opposed by drug traffickers. Colombia’s prosecutor general has said it will likely not meet its target this year.
The US ambassador has rejected aid for the rural investment and crop substitution programs, claiming this would benefit the FARC.
The DEA accused the demobilized guerrillas of promoting coca cultivation ahead of the peace deal signed in December last year.
Independent observers have said the FARC is trying to make political gain from the social programs.
US officials have expressed a preference for military strategies like forced eradication and aerial fumigation that is strongly opposed by farmers.
Human rights groups have warned that the aggressive counter-narcotics operations fuel violence and threaten Colombia’s delicate peace process.
Violent incidents during counter-narcotics operations in the South American country have left at least one policeman and seven civilians dead this month.
The administration of President Donald Trump has pressured Colombia to lower coca cultivation levels. The Colombian government has urged the US to lower the demand.
The US is the world’s largest cocaine consumption market, according to the United Nations, which is helping Colombia execute the crop substitution program as part of the peace process.
Domestically, the United States shows some indications cocaine availability and use are beginning to rise after remaining relatively stable over the past five years. DEA has documented a historical correlation between increased Colombian coca cultivation and increased cocaine use in the United States. In addition to recent Colombian coca cultivation and cocaine production increases, north-bound cocaine movement from South America has increased, indicating higher supply of cocaine in the United States and other countries around the world.
President Juan Manuel Santos has called for a change in strategy for years. According to the Colombian president, the US-led “War on Drugs” is “perhaps more harmful than all the wars in the world combined.”
The Colombian leader has been advocating abuse prevention and health care and has not ruled out the legalization of cocaine.
Santos has, however, failed to obtain the funds for his more liberal counter-narcotics policy.
Colombia has been the world’s largest coca producer since the mid-1990s and is producing more cocaine than ever in spite of decades of US counter-narcotics efforts.
The government in Bogota has failed to effectively control its national territory, leaving much of the country at the mercy of illegal armed groups.