Colombia’s Minister for Defense on Tuesday confirmed that coca production in the South American country continues to rise despite ongoing government efforts to curb it.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas responded to a US report by alleging that 188,000 hectares of coca was grown in 2016 by admitting that the government faces a “big challenge” in the struggle against coca cultivation and cocaine trafficking.
The latest figure flies in the face of the many programs put in place by the Colombian government to curb the trend including “Plan Colombia,” a massive US aid package that has provided billions of dollars to the fight since 2000.
“Since 2012 there is a phenomenon of growth that must be combated, with the combination of substitution and eradication, with a very strong policy of interdiction, especially of laboratories, precursor, pure cocaine and money derived from its sale abroad,” Villegas was quoted as saying by RCN News.
Villegas claims that the increase in coca production in 2016 is a result of some farmers stepping up coca cultivation in the hope that it will generate more economic security once crop substitution programs, combined with infrastructure projects, are rolled out across the country through the peace accord with the FARC rebels.
He also suggested that the suspension of aerial spraying that was affecting agriculture and the health of citizens may have also had a significant impact.
“This report is not a surprise, but a great challenge in the fight against narcotics, especially since in the post conflict the peasants are hoping to have new crops and more access to subsidies and state programs,” said the official, reported El Espectador.
According to figures from the Ministry of Defense, in the first months of 2017, 64 tons of coca were seized from the more than 100,000 hectares planned for eradication and replacement.
Colombia’s Marxist-inspired FARC guerrillas were traditionally a major player in the country’s drug trade but as they are now going through demobilization, the minister for defense admitted that the challenge lies with other criminal groups.
“In the early days of this second decade of the 21st century, there was a boost to illicit crops given by illegal armed organizations. Already today this promotion does not exist on the part of the FARC, but on the part of the ELN and organized crime,” he said.
Under the terms of the peace accord with the FARC, existing illicit crops are due to be replaced by legal ones but the failure of the government to provide security to farmers who are being threatened by drug trafficking armed gangs is likely to undermine the first pilot projects.