Friday, July 3, 2015

Coca production grows by 44 percent in Colombia, UN report (July 3, 2015)

The area planted in coca in Colombia grew last year by 44 percent, from 48,000 to 69,000 hectares (120,000 to 173,000 acres), and potential cocaine production rose from 290 metric tons to 442 metric tons, a 52 percent increase, according to a U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report released yesterday.

The Colombia Coca Study says that the value of coca leaf production and coca derived farm products (coca paste and cocaine base) also climbed by 40 per cent, from $292 million in 2013 to $408 million in 2014. This is the equivalent of 0.3 per cent of Colombia's GDP and three per cent of the share of GDP related to agriculture.

The increase raises concerns about a resurgence in cocaine trafficking after years of steady declines backed by billions of dollars in aid from Washington, notes the Wall Street Journal.

El Tiempo reports that the government was already aware of the increase and is working on a new integral plan to combat coca cultivation, especially in light of a controversial recent decision to suspend aerial fumigation of crops, a program that was a cornerstone of the U.S.-backed war on drugs in Colombia.

The program used glyphosate, which the WHO found to be "probably carcinogenic." Many experts documented health impacts in populations affected by sprayings and critics noted that the system was an inefficient way of fighting cocaine production. (See May 15th's post.)

The notable increase will likely provide fodder for critics of the decision to end aerial spraying. "The figures are striking and will likely add pressure to the Santos administration to come up with an alternative approach to spraying to reduce coca production," said Michael Shifter, the president of the Washington, D. C-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank in the WSJ.

In fact, as Colombian authorities debated continuing the aerial spraying program, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy released preliminary findings in May that already pointed to the increase in coca cultivation. (See May 5th's briefs.)

During the presentation of the report in Colombia yesterday, the Colombian Justice Minister Yesid Reyes said that the figures show that "repression of the illegal drug economy is an insufficient tool that provides ... unsustainable results over time," reports EFE.

The UNODC director for Colombia, Bo Mathiasen, urged "voluntary manual eradication" of the coca crops by peasants, according to EFE.

In a Brookings Institution's report in May, Colombian drug policy advisor Daniel Mejía recommended Colombian authorities switch to manual eradication of coca fields. He admitted that the spraying campaigns have been successful in battling the drug trade -- coca cultivation was reduced from 160,000 hectares to 48,000 hectares between 2000 and 2013 -- but says manual eradication is more cost effective and has fewer health and environmental side effects. In addition, he recommended centering eradication policies on alternative livelihood programs and anti-drug strategies on areas where the most value is added to the product, such as large cocaine production facilities and large cocaine shipments. (See May 4th's post.)

In the WSJ piece Mejia said the increase in the coca crop shouldn’t be attributed to the government’s decision to end fumigation, pointing out that the U.N.’s data actually shows that spraying increased 18% last year compared with 2013. The increase has more to do with the government’s promise to provide coca farmers with subsidies if a peace deal is reached with the FARC, he said.
In addition to subsidies, El Tiempo says that peasants in some areas believe that the more hectares they have sown with coca the more aid they will obtain from the government with crop substitution programs.

Among the possible reasons for the increase in coca cultivation, Mathiasen pointed to the profitability of coca leaf, the price of which rose 42 percent in Guaviare province, and "expectations" of the peasants who cultivate it.

As the region increasingly rejects the decades old War on Drugs approach to fighting illicit drug trade (See May 1st's post), there is an increased sensitivity towards traditional practices. Semana has a feature on traditional uses for coca leaves by Colombian indigenous groups. A Colombian judge determined two weeks ago that indigenous tribes have the right to consume and market coca-leaf based products such as topical lotions and tea.

(Stay tuned next week to see if Pope Francis actually chews coca leaves during his upcoming Bolivia visit!)

News Briefs

  • A new report by a Mexican human rights group the Mexican soldiers who killed 22 people last year in Tlatlaya had been ordered by their superiors to “take out” criminals at night, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.) The new report on the case by the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center brought to light military documents that the group says show a direct order to kill, rather than arrest, suspected criminals.
  • A Mexican court ordered the release of the Ruben "El Menchito" Oseguera, son of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel and alleged second-in-command of the gang. He was already arrested last year and released over a lack of evidence, reports AFP.
  • The day after narrowly rejecting lowering the age of criminal majority for violent crimes, the Brazilian House of Representatives approved a watered down version of the same bill. (See Wednesday's post.) The approved bill would lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 for crimes such as kidnapping, intentional homicide and bodily injury followed by death. The proposal legislators rejected only 24 hours before had also included drug trafficking, terrorism, armed robbery and torture, reports Folha de São Paulo. Between the first and second votes 28 lawmakers changed their mind. The bill must pass a second vote in the lower chamber of Congress and then pass to the Senate. 
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her U.S. counterpart announced hat their nations had agreed to sharply expand electricity generation from renewable sources, earlier this week. Brazil is among the world's top ten carbon emitters, reports the New York Times. The announcement marks a modest step forward in President Barack Obama’s effort to elicit agreements from world leaders in advance of a December meeting in Paris where he hopes to complete a global accord, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The European Union would be willing to implement a two-speed free trade agreement with the Mercosur block, reports the Buenos Aires Herald. This would mean that some Latin American countries would implement the deal faster than others.
  • More than half of Honduras' prison population is in pre-trial detention according to a study by CONADEH, a local NGO, reports InSight Crime. Using prisons for pre-trial detention has led to severe overcrowding, in addition to other problems such as lack of a proper diet; poor medical attention; lack of professional attention for prisoners; deficient police and prison security guards; the presence of drugs, alcohol, and weapons; and, violence.
  • The head of Guatemala's electoral tribunal says the only way to change the dates for September's presidential elections is through legislation, in response to rumors that requests from opposition parties and civil society to delay polls in order to pass election reform law, reports Prensa Libre.
  • In the midst of sky-high violence in El SalvadorPRI has a piece on a cluster of murder-free towns in the northwestern part of the country. Chalatenango was the site of a horrific massacre in 1980, during the country's civil war -- the memory of the violence from conflict and war have marked the region and keep the current violence away, say some residents.
  • Eight people were wounded in Colombia in two bomb attacks that appeared to be aimed at a private pension fund, reports the AP. Officials said none of the wounded suffered serious injuries. Nobody claimed responsibility for the blasts. Though rumors linked the bombs to the FARC, which has stepped up attacks in recent months, Colombia's criminal gangs are known to detonate small explosives as a way to intimidate extortion targets, reports the AP.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' urban popularity has plummeted. A Colombia Reports piece says that according to the latest Gallup poll he has the approval of only 28% of Colombians living in cities, a drop that can be attributed to the FARC's escalation of violence in recent months. No more than 12% of Colombia’s urban dwellers is optimistic about Santos’ dealing with guerrilla groups like the FARC and the smaller ELN. A staggering 77% disapproves of the government’s policy.
  • InSight Crime argues that the HRW report on Colombia's extrajudicial killings (see last Wednesday's post) "further illustrates how the criteria used to measure success in the fight against criminal groups can lead to widespread abuse -- a phenomenon seen elsewhere in Latin America." In Mexico, for example, former President Felipe Calderon's administration emphasized the capture of cartel leaders, which gave the impression of progress and excitement. Yet the approach was accompanied by widespread human rights abuses by Mexican security forces, including last years's Tlatlaya massacre. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Pope Francis's rockstar South America trip will include highlights such asa visit a notorious Bolivian prison, a riverside Paraguayan slum populated by rural migrants, and the assassination site of an activist Jesuit priest killed in 1980 by Bolivia’s military dictatorship, reports the Wall Street Journal. He will drop in on a 91-year-old friend in Ecuador, and celebrate Mass in El Alto, the impoverished, Amerindian sibling city of Bolivia’s capital, La Paz. The pope's agenda is part of his rehabilitation of the core-tenets of Liberation Theology, a doctrine that urges the church to take an activist role in helping the poor to help themselves.
  • Google executives are proposing to expand Cubans' access to internet quickly, using wifi connections and cell phones, but authorities are skeptical of the proposal, reports the Miami Herald. Cuba has one of the lowest Internet access rates in the world. Sources in the piece say Google offered to pay for most of the cost of the plan.
  • Argentina's La Nación has an interview with Cuba's Yoani Sánchez, who says that "Cuban society expects magical solutions from the United States, but nobody from outside is going to fix the country. People imagined that the process was going to be faster, and now one can perceive insatisfaction. I think the frustration is increasing due to lack of real change.
  • U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has earned Mexico's ire after saying that Mexican immigrants are "rapists" who bring drugs and crime to the U.S. South of the border he's been turned into a piñata and businesses, media companies and celebrities are rushing to divest from his interests. (See yesterday's briefs.) "But, whatever his chances of coming to power, Mr. Trump, like others before him, seems to have tapped into a vein of resentment in American society. It is a popular narrative, after all, that those who cross the border into the United States are fleeing into the embrace of safety, prosperity and opportunity," reports the New York Times.
  • Lots of drug news this week. A Huffington Post piece argues that the U.S. War on Drugs plays into Mexican drug cartels' interests by keeping illicit drug prices artificially high. It quotes Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who said that the United States' best bet for dealing with drug cartels is maintaining a healthy relationship with Mexico and urging the country's government to make necessary changes itself.
  • Reform might not be so close. The International Drug Policy Consortium has a report on the  58th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and its Special Segment on preparations for the UNGASS, which took place in March. The international drug control regime is facing the most profound challenge of its existence. Member states have for some time been experimenting with new responses to the ‘world drug problem’; however, the advent of legally regulated cannabis markets has resulted in a ratcheting up of these challenges to expose the system to new levels of strain, argues the report. Yet pre-UNGASS debates remain structured by the current drug regime system, says the report. Most countries want to maintain the current drug conventions as "cornerstones" of drug control, and stop far short of calling for convention reform. On the other side of the debate, many states -- including the African Group and the Russian Federation -- were critical of any potential deviation from the prohibitionist ethos at the heart of the current conventions.
  • Newsweek has a piece on weed legalization in the hemisphere and mentions Uruguay's legalization of marijuana, medical marijuana bills in Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica, as well as Jamaica's decriminalization of personal possession and regulation for medical and religious use earlier this year.
  • The New Yorker reviews Don Winslow's new novel "The Cartel," which takes place mostly in Mexico."The point of view skitters among a half-dozen or so characters—all narcos, apart from the novel’s ostensible hero, D.E.A. agent Arturo (Art) Keller—as each pursues his or her own interests through a byzantine web of allegiances, double crosses, devious stratagems, vendettas, and regime changes."

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