In unsettling news for the country’s peace process with the FARC guerrillas, Colombia registered a record-shattering 50 percent increase in coca-leaf cultivation last year, according to the latest report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The figures, released by UNODC’s Integrated Illicit Crops Monitoring System (SIMCI) and reported by Bogotá daily El Tiempo on Friday, show 146.000 hectares under coca cultivation in 2016, compared to 96.000 in 2015—actually a 52 percent jump.
And this is less than the 188,000 hectares detected by U.S. satellites, in figures released by the White House in April—which, if accurate, would break all previous records for area under cultivation.
However, the new UNDOC estimates arrive at a greater figure than the U.S. did for the amount of cocaine produced in the country last year—940 metric tons versus 700, also representing an all-time record.
By UNDOC’s reckoning, Colombian coca production peaked at the start of the last decade, when 160,000 hectares were under cultivation. Due to variable factors, such as the age of the coca bushes, cocaine production has not always strictly followed area under coca cultivation. UNDOC’s record estimate for cocaine production is 640 tons in 2015.
Colombian authorities have pledged to keep pace with eradication, despite resisting pressure from Washington to resume glyphosate spraying, suspended in 2015 over health concerns. The Defense Ministry plans to manually eradicate 100,000 hectares this year—half with the cooperation of the peasants under substitution programs, half through “forced eradication.”
And the eradication program is likely to remain integrated with counterinsurgency operations—against different armed groups.
The Colombian government says that “Bacrim” (“criminal gangs,” the official euphemism for remnant right-wing paramilitary forces) have now replaced the demobilized FARC as the power in control of coca production in the southern jungle department of Putumayo, one of the key production zones in the country. El Colombiano reports impending military operations to get Putumayo under control.
El Tiempo also reports Colombian government figures of 95 hectares under cannabis cultivation across the country in 2016—overwhelmingly (69 hectares) in the southern highlands of Cauca.
Eradication was stalled there because much of this cannabis-producing territory was under effective control of the FARC’s 6th Front until its dissolution. The government intends to target this territory for eradication too now.