Colombia Cocaine Output Soars as Growers Eye State Handouts

  • Output of raw material for making cocaine rose 39% last year
  • El Nino led some farmers to switch to drought-resistant coca

Colombia’s production of coca, the raw material for making cocaine, soared to the most since 2007 last year as Marxist rebels encourage farmers to step up planting ahead of a peace deal, according to the government.

Coca output rose 39 percent to 96,000 hectares in 2015, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said, citing data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime due to be published Friday. Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are telling farmers that they’ll receive subsidies to switch to legal crops after a peace deal is signed, according to the ministry.

The government and the FARC last month agreed a cease-fire following four years of talks. The rise in coca output increases the risk of a struggle for control among drug traffickers in areas abandoned by the FARC, according to Adam Isacson, a Colombia specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America.

“If the FARC is gone, and they leave behind a vacuum of coca fields, there could be some violent competition,” Isacson said in a phone interview. “A vacuum will not be filled peacefully.”

The FARC has long used profits from cocaine production to fund its war against the state. The peace deal includes programs to substitute illegal drug crops and cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking. Once a full agreement is reached, the guerrillas will hand over their weapons during a 180-day period.

Peace Deal

The increase in illegal crops is also due to the suspension of aerial spraying with herbicides, and to organized protests against eradication, Villegas said in e-mailed comments sent by the Defense Ministry. A severe drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon also caused farmers to plant more coca, which is more resistant to dry weather than many legal crops, according to the ministry.

Cocaine output will fall once a peace deal is signed, Villegas said.

Colombia is the biggest supplier of cocaine to the U.S., and produces more coca than Peru and Bolivia combined. As well as ending aerial spraying, the government also cut down on programs to dig coca bushes up manually, which is dangerous and expensive, Isacson said.

“They haven’t replaced eradication with anything,” Isacson said. “They have made no move to go into these coca-growing areas and provide people with other alternatives. They took away the stick and didn’t do any carrot, and the result is a lot more coca.”

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