Although global fentanyl production represents lower manufacturing costs and increasing demand, Colombia continues to be considered one of the world’s largest exporters of cocaine, and demand continues to grow and enter new markets.
“What you see globally in terms of demand for cocaine is that it continues to grow despite new drug phenomena such as fentanyl. The demand for cocaine continues to be stable or growing and entering new markets,” Ana María Rueda, coordinator of the Research and Analysis Unit of the Drug Policy think tank at Colombia’s Ideas for Peace Foundation, told Diálogo on January 3. “We have markets today for cocaine that we didn’t have before, where demand continues to be very strong.”
Spain’s National Police and Tax Agency had already warned about the growing demand for cocaine following the December 12, 2023 seizure of 11 tons of cocaine from Colombia, Colombian news channel NTN24 reported. The seizure was a major blow to narcotrafficking networks that control distribution in Europe from Colombia and Ecuador, Spanish channel Antena 3 reported.
“There is overproduction compared to the demand that has been stable and is growing at an international level. They discovered methods to produce cocaine more efficiently. There is an oversupply of coca leaf compared to demand,” Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the Belgium-based think tank International Crisis Group, told Diálogo. “But this has more to do with the overproduction that has been taking place in Colombia in recent years.”
This steady growth in cocaine production stems from the increase in coca cultivation areas, technological advances to achieve higher crop yields, and new methods to refine coca base paste. The year 2022 remains a landmark year in which Colombia reached a production of 1,738 tons, InSight Crime, an organization dedicated to the study of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated.
The Balkan Cartel, made up of Albanian and Serbian gangs, is capitalizing on the increase in production. The indicator of the latter is the drop in prices, from $36,000 per kilogram to $20,000, according to police sources quoted by Argentine news site Infobae.
“The other dynamic is the power accumulated by the groups that market the product internationally. As soon as the drug is at sea it enters a chain separate from the dynamics of the Colombian conflict,” Dickinson added. “That means that the buyers, who pay for the product at sea or at Colombian borders, have more power to decide where they are going to buy, what the price will be, and which groups are more reliable in delivering the drugs.”
While drug trafficking is changing with the entry of synthetic hallucinogens, cocaine continues to be the most seized drug in Colombia. The Attorney General’s Office noted that between January 1 and December 20, 2023, Colombian military and police forces destroyed 2,273 drug processing laboratories. In addition, they seized 374 tons of cocaine, 223 tons of marijuana, 704 tons of solid chemical precursors, and 3,850 liters of liquid precursors.
“Drug consumption in the world and in each country is very diverse, so it is not accurate to predict that one drug is going to co-opt the total market of another. Producers and traffickers adjust to new trends and may generate new consumption, but they will continue to innovate to maintain and promote markets for natural and traditional drugs such as cocaine,” Rueda said. “The fentanyl market may eventually insert itself into the illicit drug production model in Colombia, but I don’t think it will replace the demand for cocaine, which could only go down or disappear if global consumption were to decrease or disappear.”
Ecuador, where the drugs for the Balkan Cartel allegedly came from, is stepping up the fight against organized crime. The Armed Forces are cooperating with the National Police to help combat head-on drug, arms, and human trafficking, money laundering, terrorism, illegal mining, extortion, intimidation, and organized crime thanks to a partial reform of Article 158 of the Constitution, which the National Assembly approved on December 21, 2023.
For its part, the Ecuadorian Police reported that between January 1 and December 14, 2023, it had seized more than 206 tons of drugs in 8,600 antinarcotics operations.
These figures placed Ecuador in third place worldwide among the countries that seized the most drugs behind Colombia and the United States, according to Ecuadorian newspaper La Hora.