Colombian authorities celebrated a “significant” drop in cocaine production Tuesday and attributed the success to ‘Plan Colombia,’ a program financed by Washington, which has announced a cut in funds and a shift in its anti-drug policy.
Colombian authorities celebrated a “significant” drop in cocaine production Tuesday and attributed the success to ‘Plan Colombia,’ a program financed by Washington, which has announced a cut in funds and a shift in its anti-drug policy. According to the chapter on Colombia in the worldwide Coca Cultivation Survey — released in Bogotá by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) — the area under cultivation with coca leaf fell 16% from 2008 to 2009, while the production of cocaine fell 9%. “The big news is that the policy of Democratic Security – Colombian president Alvaro Uribe’s flagship program – has had the result that today Colombia is no longer known to the world as the leading producer of coca leaf. Not only have we reduced the cultivated area, but this is also the least cocaine produced since 1992,” Justice and Interior Minister Fabio Valencia declared in celebration. Peru became the largest producer with 119,000 metric tons in 2009, according to the survey. Colombian president-elect Juan Manuel Santos applauded the announcement and said that this result “is the demonstration that Plan Colombia has worked.” “Drugs have been the source of financing for all the violence this country has suffered for so long, and we can’t let down our guard,” he added. “The results are there, and we hope that the whole world, in accordance with the principle of shared responsibility, will not only appreciate them, but will also contribute to continuously increasing the success of this fight against drug trafficking,” noted Santos, who served as Uribe’s defense minister. Colombia, the principal U.S. ally in the region, has received more than six billion dollars from the United States government since 2000 for the fight against drugs, as part of Plan Colombia. A month ago, the White House announced a new strategic plan for the fight against drugs that emphasizes reducing consumption as the way to greater policy success and implies a reduction in funds for Plan Colombia. At that time, Uribe’s administration applauded the change in strategy but urged that funds be maintained for manual crop eradication. The director of the police, Gen. Óscar Naranjo, said that the decrease in production has also come at the cost of lives lost: 61 peasants, 72 police, and 69 soldiers dead in the last six years, the majority of them as a result of the minefields that protect the illicit crops. Antonio Navarro, the governor of the department of Nariño, in southern Colombia — on the Ecuadorean border and the leading producer of coca leaf — told AFP that “it’s a source of satisfaction that Colombia is no longer first in coca-leaf production, but there’s still too much of it.” “In my department alone, 25% of the total is being grown, and this is scandalous (…) We need to insist on voluntary eradication, which is cheaper and more effective than spraying,” he added. According to the UN, 79% of coca-leaf cultivation is concentrated in the departments of Nariño, Guaviare, Cauca, and Putumayo (in southern Colombia), Caquetá and Meta (in central Colombia), Bolívar (in northern Colombia), and Antioquia (in northwestern Colombia). Arline Tickner, a researcher at the University of the Andes, a private institution, recalled that during the first years of Plan Colombia – focused on spraying – the program was widely criticized and was even suspended along the border with Ecuador as a result of that country’s complaints. “Quito alleged in December 2006 that spraying was affecting the health and livelihoods of its inhabitants on the border due to the use of the herbicide glyphosate, which was harming their crops. Colombia yielded and began to use voluntary eradication, which is now showing good results,” she indicated.