The White House “Drug Czar’s” office has now posted its estimate of Colombian coca cultivation last year. The official number is about 157,200 hectares (388,400 acres) under cultivation in 2006, slightly more than the 156,000 that Colombian President Ãlvaro Uribe reported last Friday. This is about 13,200 hectares more than the U.S. government detected in 2005.
The official release offers some interesting observations and alarming proposals.
- The U.S. government acknowledges that coca cultivators have found ways to get around fumigation. “Rapid crop reconstitution, a move to smaller plots, and the discovery of previously unsurveyed coca growing areas, have posed major challenges to the techniques and methodologies used to understand Colombiaâ€™s coca cultivation and cocaine output. After losing one-third of the estimated coca cultivation to herbicidal spraying between 2001 and 2004, traffickers and growers implemented the widespread use of techniques such as radical pruning and replanting from seedlings.”
- A subtle push to expand spraying into nature preserves and along the Ecuadorian border. “Moreover, farmers appear to be focusing on expanding cultivation into areas off-limits to the spray program, such as national parks and the area along the border with Ecuador, where Colombia suspended spraying in 2006 due to protests from the Ecuadorian government.”
- An admission of uncertainty about how much cocaine is actually being produced in Colombia. “Building on joint research aimed at understanding the yield of the coca bush, the U.S. Government and the Government of Colombia will work in advance of next yearâ€™s estimate to better reflect the impact of coca eradication on cultivation estimates and estimates of the output of finished cocaine.”
- On the other hand, a surprising degree of certainty about how much the FARC is profiting from the cocaine trade. “According to a U.S. government study, FARC drug profits declined from $90â€“150 million in 2003 to $60â€“115 million in 2005. The FARCâ€™s overall profit per kilogram of cocaine declined from a range of $320â€“460 in 2003 to $195â€“320 in 2005.”
- No information whatsoever about how much paramilitaries – current and former – are profiting from the cocaine trade. Not a mention of paramilitaries at all, even though many coca-growing areas (significant amounts in Antioquia, CÃ³rdoba, Meta, NariÃ±o and elsewhere) are in paramilitary-dominated zones.
- A proposal to spray more in areas where the Colombian government is trying to increase state presence. “[T]he U.S. Government, working with the GOC, is shifting the focus of its aerial eradication in coordination with Colombian civil and military efforts to target the areas of most intensive coca cultivation. Complementing Colombiaâ€™s Democratic Security Strategy, which seeks to bring security, as well as increased availability of health care, transportation, justice and education services to isolated parts of the country, the U.S. Government will seek to work with the Government of Colombia to increase the tempo of spraying, to help counter the growing tendency toward pruning and replanting.”
But if security and government services are being established, why not make voluntary, manual, permanent coca eradication a part of that? Why intensify the spraying?