If it were up to the Colombian government, it will get rid of 75% of all the country’s coca, the plant to produce cocaine. Some 50,000 hectares are supposed to be eradicated in the country’s most ambitious counter-narcotics operations ever.
In total, the government wants to remove 100,000 hectares of coca, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told newspaper El Tiempo last month.
The ambitious goal is five times higher than the 20,000 hectare goal the government set for itself, but failed to reach, in 2016.
According to El Tiempo, 17,593 hectares were eradicated last year, but this was when the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, was still in arms and violently protecting coca fields under their control.
However, the guerrillas are currently demobilizing and expected to disarm within half a year.
As part of the peace agreements, the guerrillas vowed to help plant alternative crops for coca farmers, who have been promised these crops and major investment in the countryside’s infrastructure.
With this program, the government hopes to be able to voluntarily replace 50,000 crops, a strategy that has already been proven successful in Peru, another major coca producer.
The remaining 50,000 hectares of coca will be eradicated either by hand or the controversial manual spraying of Montanso chemical glyphosate, an operation with an estimated price tag of $31.5 million.
In order to coordinate this massive operation, the government will construct four Strategic Operation Centers (CEOs), mainly in areas where coca growth is most prevalent.
The CEOs that will be put in place are located near four of Colombia’s five major coca regions; Tumaco in Nariño, the north of the Antioquia province, the Catatumbo region in Norte de Santander and San Jose del Guaviare on the border of the Meta and Guaviare provinces.
According to Villegas, counter-narcotics authorities will use several methods to get rid of the coca.
Police will be in charge of the manual spraying of coca fields, the military will be in charge of the manual removal of plants after which the roots will be poisoned with glyphosate to prevent the plants from growing again.
In other cases, authorities will simply root out the illicit crops.
The new strategy to eradicate coca, one of the main fuels of violence in Colombia, will begin next week, the minister said.
Over the past 15 years and under pressure from the United States, Colombia used aerial spraying of glysophate to combat coca cultivation. However, apart from hardly being effective, the aerial spraying is also expected to be a health hazard for locals living near coca plantations and has been accused of killing all crops.