Colombia’s government announced on Thursday that it is going to combat drug traffickers and increase the eradication of coca cultivation in the northwestern border region of Catatumbo.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo announced the planned action on Thursday after visiting rural areas within the province of Norte de Santander, that borders with Venezuela.
According to the United Nations Office Against Drugs and Crime, Catatumbo’s coca cultivation expanded by 6,200 hectares between 2013 and 2014.
However, while the United Nations institution recorded an estimated 6,900 hectares of total cultivation in 2014, the army reported a much higher figure of 9,500.
According to Cristo, farmers have started to cultivate “very small” areas of illicit crops, which escape the control of the authorities.
“The government has recognised that the farmers who subscribed to the agreement to eradicate coca have been complying, but unfortunately in other parts of Catatumbo, cultivation has been increasing and the this expansion needs to be stopped.”
The government plan is to stop the growing of coca through combatting the narco-traffickers and their leaders and providing a cultivating substitute to the farmers with their agreement.
“Coca has been terrible for Catatumbo and it has brought all of the violence to the area. We need to persuade the farmers that illegality is not the way,” said Cristo.
The region has long been suffering state neglect, forcing a lot of farmers to choose the lucrative coca over legal crops, while both guerrilla groups and drug trafficking organizations settled in the area to promote and process the crop used for cocaine.
According to El Tiempo newspaper, the minister also acknowledged that Catatumbo suffers from such levels of cultivation due to it’s geographical border location with Venezuela, which allows a high flow of people informally entering and exiting the country, making drug trafficking difficult to control.
Cristo called on the Venezuelan government to help with the situation by stating that it is “with cooperation, and not with confrontation that we can fight these criminal gangs.”
In recent weeks, Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela declared a state of emergency at the border with Colombia, shutting down the border, ordering a mass roundup of Colombian immigrants and evicting Colombian’s from their homes.
In a a decree issued on August 21, Maduro stated that drug trafficking, illicit activity and violence along the border made it necessary to take away the basic human rights of Colombian’s residing in Venezuela.