The Colombian Army destroyed nearly 5 million coca plants in 29 seedbeds located in different parts of the department of Guaviare, southern Colombia, in operations conducted from January to June 2018. “These efforts hindered coca cultivation in 477 hectares,” Colombian Army Colonel Federico Alberto Mejía Torres, commander of the 22nd Jungle Brigade deployed in Guaviare, told Diálogo.
The area transitions between the Amazon jungle and the eastern Colombian plains, where certain geographical conditions favor the presence of narcotrafficking groups. “The department of Guaviare attracts a variety of criminal organizations that intend to profit from illicit drugs,” Col Mejía said.
The Apaporis, Guaviare, Inírida, and Vaupés rivers run through vast and sparsely populated territories and rugged national parks, such as Nukak and Chiribiquete. The inhospitable area makes permanent government control difficult. Organized crime groups use rivers as corridors that become outlets to ship drugs to other Colombian departments and border countries, such as Venezuela and Brazil.
“There are four main mobility corridors in Guaviare. Due to geographic location and lack of logistics and operational reach from units of the Army and Navy, these areas are difficult to access,” Col. Mejía said. “Major drug traffickers use these strategic corridors.”
According to its Survey of Territories Affected by Illicit Crops 2016, the United Nations indicated an 18 percent increase in coca cultivation in Guaviare department from 2015 to 2016. “This increase resulted in high production indexes [in the department of Guaviare], and the area becomes a fertile ground for [criminal] organizations to grow, precisely because the corridors allow for products to circulate freely,” Col. Mejía said.
“On May 16th, we found [the most recent] two seedbeds: one with 500,000 plants and another with 400,000 plants in the area of Guanapalo, San José del Guaviare,” Colombian Army Major Carlos Francisco Reyes Rodríguez, commander of the 77th Land Operations Battalion Héroes de Arauca, told Diálogo. “We started at 3:00 a.m. and walked about 15 kilometers, because destination points were in isolated areas in the middle of the jungle. Sixty men from Buffalo Company led by Capt. Forero, carried out the operation. They reached the objective at 5:00 p.m., and destroyed the seedbeds the next day.”
Authorities perform the eradication manually. Plants are extracted and bundled together before being crushed with pickaxes. Plants are then set on fire to ensure complete destruction.
“What we’ve done is reach the epicenters, which troops couldn’t reach before. We found the seedbeds, the starting point of the drug trafficking chain,” Maj. Reyes said. “We found well-organized seedbeds, equipped with shading mesh and organized, fertilized furrows, with plants 25 to 30 centimeters tall, ready to fill the fields or territories deforested for coca crops.”
The Colombian government implemented the National Comprehensive Program for the Substitution of Illicit Crops in Guaviare, as was done in other areas affected by the armed conflict. The program consists of a government offer to farmers, both in kind and cash, under the condition they commit to substituting their illegal crops with legal, alternative, productive crops. “The goal of the project is to discourage the production of coca leaf through the implementation of new subsistence economies that provide farmers with alternatives, so they can continue to live in these areas,” Col. Mejía said.