Though government efforts to eradicate coca crops reportedly resulted in only 17,593 hectares being stamped out last year, officials have set an ambitious goal to increase that figure to 100,000 hectares in 2017, according to El Tiempo.
In an interview with the local newspaper, Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said that the eradication strategy will focus on promoting voluntary crop substitution incentives for rural farmers. Some 20,000 people will be deployed to the effort, including military police, the army, and officials who will try to convince farmers to plant and sell crops other than coca, the leaves that are converted into cocaine
Such programs, which Villegas called “crucial” to hitting the 100,000-hectare target, have already been underway in the country, and the administration of President Juan Manual Santos has trumpeted an expansion of this plan throughout its peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
In cases when substitution efforts fail, the government will turn to forced eradication. This will be carried out through new fumigation methods that have recently been tested in a pilot program, said Villegas, among other practices.
The now-ratified peace accord also mandates that former FARC guerrillas, many of whom were involved in drug-trafficking, cooperate with officials to provide information about coca crops. Villegas told El Tiempo that the intel gathered as the insurgents demobilize this year will be instrumental to finding production areas and understanding trafficking operations. “FARC must become a fundamental ally in the government’s efforts in the fight against drugs, providing detailed information,” said Villegas.
The nation will base its ramped-up fight from new “strategic operational centers” established in four coca-production hot spots: Catatumbo in the department of Norte de Santander, Tumaco in Nariño, Caucasia in Antioquia, and San José del Guaviare in Guaviare.
This 2017 target of eradicating 100,000 hectares seeks to destroy more coca than was produced in all of 2015, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The agency estimated Colombia’s crop to be 96,000 hectares that year, although sources told El Tiempo that this number spiked to 130,000 hectares in 2016 as cocaine prices soared and previously used fumigation practices were banned.
Beginning in late 2015, the government says it ceased the controversial aerial spraying of herbicide on coca crops. Based upon findings by the World Health Organization, Colombian and international observers had decried the practice due to fears that dropping the chemical glyphosate from aircraft could increase the risk of cancer for those living in nearby communities. The government responded by officially banning the practice.
This contributed to the government missing its 2016 goal of eradicating 20,000 hectares, and coming in under that low total has already led to questions that it can reach its 100,00-hectare goal this year.
To do so, new methods other than aerial fumigation, including the introduction of manual land-based spraying of glyphosate, will need to prove more effective than they were last year. Adding to the challenge are the ongoing hurdles facing the implementation of the peace process, which could lead to delays and difficulties in the FARC demobilization.
But a report by Medellín-based analyst and news organization Insight Crime suggests that, by prioritizing eradication and employing the assistance of the guerrillas, the government may be able to hit its big target. “While it will be difficult for Colombia to achieve its eradication goal, it may have more resources to do so, as former FARC members convicted of grave crimes will be expected to participate in crop substitution efforts,” wrote Mimi Yagoub of Insight Crime.
Photo credit: H. Zell