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Will Coca Question Sabotage Colombian Peace Process?

Colombia

Conservative enemies of Colombia’s peace process have been dealt some handsome propaganda assistance by the fact that coca leaf production in the country has been soaring, as the long civil war with the FARC guerrillas has wound down.

Fears were enflamed by a March 12 Wall Street Journal report quoting U.S. State Department officials to the effect that Colombia now has an unprecedented 180,000 hectares under coca cultivation, with the supposed potential to produce an annual 700 tons of cocaine. The figures, said to be officially released by the State Department in the coming days, are double those for 2013. 

This development prompted a sobering response from the head of Colombia’s new Post-Conflict MinistryRafael Pardo (himself a former anti-guerrilla hardliner).

In an interview with Spanish daily El País, he warned: “If there is not a drastic reduction in coca cultivation, the peace will not be sustainable.”

Just as the State Department figures were reported, Colombia’s air force carried out its first air-strikes of the year—on a “dissident” FARC faction in the jungles of the eastern Guaviare region that has rejected the peace process. The FARC’s dissident 1st Front in Guaviare has long been locked in a struggle with the paramilitary-linked Clan Úsuga Cartel (also known as the Clan del Golfo) for control of the region’s cocaine industry.

But Bogotá’s El Tiempo reported on March 12 that authorities believe the 1st Front and their former narco-paramilitary enemies are now negotiating a pact to resist the government together.

And the Colombian government has announced a new campaign of forced eradication in Guaviare and the south of neighboring Meta. The newly formed National Coordinator of Coca, Opium and Marijuana Producers (COCCAM) issued a statement protesting that the resumption of forced eradication in the region violates provisions of the peace accord.

Weeks earlier, COCCAM led a peasant strike against coca eradication in the southern Nariño region, to press demands for a more enlightened policy, in line with the government’s own commitments under the accord—a reminder that the peace now breaking out in Colombia remains very fragile and tentative.

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