Coca cultivation in Colombia has skyrocketed to levels unseen in the history of cocaine trafficking, the country’s defense minister admitted on Thursday.
According to the SIMCI measuring system that is operated by the national government and the United Nations, 179,000 hectares were used to cultivate the base ingredient for cocaine.
This is a 23% increase compared to last year when the government kicked off two ambitious counter-narcotics strategies to put the brakes on the illicit industry.
The number are expected to be confirmed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime within months.
Does nothing work?
According to the Defense Ministry, 50,000 hectares were forcibly eradicated in 2017. The post-conflict ministry said that another 16,750 hectares were eradicated voluntarily since May last year.
Nevertheless,, coca cultivation has nearly quadrupled since 2013. Farmers simply replace forcibly eradicated crops with new ones. Only the voluntarily eradicated crops are monitored to prevent recidivism.
Coca cultivation in Colombia
The increase in coca cultivation is a major blow for the country’s peace process with demobilized FARC guerrillas.
The revenue coming from drugs and other illegal activity like gold mining is fueling the rearmament of paramilitary groups and dissident FARC groups that could undo progress made by demobilizing and disarming the guerrillas.
Funding the next war?
The FARC controlled much of the territories where coca is grown and has actively been helping farmers to remove their coca crops, sow legal crops and join the legal economy.
Rival groups and drug traffickers, however, have violently opposed the strategy. More than 200 coca farmers have been assassinated over the past year alone, according to their federation.
Colombia’s security forces are in shambles. They have failed to assume control over abandoned FARC territory and are unable to confront the guerrilla and paramilitary groups that rule the countryside.
The war on drugs once declared by former US President Richard Nixon appears to be over, and the narcos seem to have won.
The long-term strategy
Bogota and Washington DC have known since last year that their joint counter-narcotics strategy was failing, and has been for decades according to some.
The United Nations began working with Colombia last year in an attempt to improve living condition in the impoverished coca-growing areas and allow farmers to take part in the legal economy through crop substitution.
To support this effort, US and Colombian officials formulated a five-year plan during which they hope to reduce coca cultivation in half, taking to account international efforts to reduce coca through development and crop substitution.
Unlike the failed “Plan Colombia,” which sought to eradicate coca through aerial fumigation and forced eradication, the two countries have been developing a long-term strategy that seeks to reduce coca cultivation in half before 2023.
While continuing to pursue repressive methods like aerial fumigation and forced eradication, the US has vowed to also invest in rural development and increased efforts to dismantle the transnational drug trafficking and money laundering organization that make up key elements of the drug trade.