While desperately trying to meet coca eradication targets, Colombia’s government appears to be cooking the books on the human casualties and inventing resowing statistics.
According to newspaper El Tiempo, policemen, soldiers and civilians have eradicated 99% of the 80,000 hectares of coca the government set as target at the beginning of the year.
This will allow President Ivan Duque to claim success at the end of the year while concealing the human cost and ignoring the fact that, according to the UN, 80% of the removed hectares will be replanted by the end of the year.
Meeting targets vs finding a solution
At the beginning of the year, the government had said it would eradicate 80,000 hectares of coca this year.
When in June it became clear that this target was not going to be met, President Ivan Duque surprisingly said that the government would resume aerial fumigation “within weeks.”
After the Constitutional Court upheld its ban on this controversial method a month later, the defense ministry dramatically stepped up manual eradication, but with tremendous human cost.
Former Defense Minister Guillermo Botero told El Tiempo in October that “twelve uniformed officials have been assassinated during this government and 85 have been injured, mainly mutilated by the activation of landmines.”
Last week, El Tiempo reported that nine eradicators were killed and and 45 were injured in the same period, apparently without noticing that three dead and 40 injured had disappeared from the books.
Additionally, the newspaper reported that the defense ministry would tell Duque that the replanting rate is between 35% and 40% while, according the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it was 81% in 2018.
Basically, Duque is going to claim to have successfully eradicated 80,000 hectares while, in fact, the area planted will have effectively been reduced by an estimated 15,000 hectares.
Nobody will know how many policemen, soldiers and civilians have died or been maimed in the process.
“It’s demotivating,” several soldiers and civilian eradicators told Caracol Radio on a government-sponsored media outing to an eradication operation in September.
Of course it’s demotivating. The civilian eradicators get paid $17 a day while narcos and landmines kill or maim their colleagues every other day, just so politicians in Bogota and Washington can claim success without solving anything.
The aerial fumigation disaster
In October, Botero told El Tiempo that “the planes are all up and running” and “the pilots’ contracts will take force in the next few days” to begin aerially fumigating.
Trujillo said the government was still considering aerial fumigation, but was considerably less convincing.
Multiple sources have said that Bayer, the producer of the herbicide glyphosate, pulled out of the aerial fumigation pipe dream amid mounting lawsuits over the health effects of its product. In other words, Washington and Bogota may have spent millions on airplanes, but don’t have a chemical to fill the tanks with.
According to El Tiempo, the Defense Ministry and the US Embassy are now studying the use of tracked vehicles that reportedly would be able to eradicate 2.7 hectares in six hours. Last year, they were studying drones that would be able to eradicate 3 hectares a day, but that turned out to be a failure.
Is the strategy that does work picking up?
While Trujillo and US ambassador Philip Golberg are looking at novel ways to justify their budgets, post-conflict councilor Emilo Archila finally seems to have some budget to substitute voluntarily eradicated coca, the counter-narcotics strategy which, according to almost every expert, actually works.
According to the UNODC, 2,877 hectares of coca were voluntarily eradicated in October, considerably more than the 2,300 hectares that were eradicated in the preceding eight months.
This so-called PNIS program, which is boycotted by the US government, has a replanting rate of only 0.4%, according to the UNODC.
If Archila is able to keep this up, his contribution to Colombia’s peace process will effectively have eradicated more coca than the US government and the Defense Ministry combined without, killing anyone at the end of 2020.