HomeNewsAnalysisRawFeed: Fuzzy Math in State Department Report
ANALYSIS

RawFeed: Fuzzy Math in State Department Report

COLOMBIA / 9 MAR 2011 BY ADAM ISACSON* EN

(Originally published 3 March, reprinted with permission from Adam Isacson and Just the Facts.)

The State Department has just released its annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), which details foreign countries’ efforts, both U.S.-aided and otherwise, to halt the production and transit of illegal drugs.

While a generally useful document, the report paints a confusing picture of cocaine production. The numbers don’t seem to add up.

Note these three excerpts from the report. The first two are two paragraphs apart.

Crediting sustained aerial and manual eradication operations [in Colombia] in 2009, the USG also reported a decline in pure cocaine production potential of 3.5 percent, from 280 metric tons (MT) in 2008 to 270 MT in 2009 - a 61 percent drop from the 700 MT estimated production potential in 2001.

According to the Colombian government, Colombia in 2010 seized over 225.9 MT of cocaine and cocaine base. (Later, the report gives a 2009 seizure figure of 205.85 tons. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime assumes a 1-to-1 conversion rate between a kilogram of cocaine and a kilogram of cocaine base.)

There are approximately 250 metric tons of cocaine transiting through Venezuela annually, according to USG cocaine-movement estimates.

This language gives the reader the impression that Colombia potentially produced 270 tons of cocaine in 2009, of which 206 tons were interdicted, leaving about 64 tons.

Yet then, somehow 250 tons apparently got shipped through Venezuela alone. And incidentally, U.S. guards at the Mexican border seized another 61 tons, and the U.S. Coast Guard 93 tons, in 2009. Where are all these tons coming from, if not Colombia’s net 64 tons?

In fact, add those four figures together:

  • Colombia’s 2009 interdiction (206 tons)
  • U.S. border interdiction (61 tons)
  • Coast Guard interdiction (93 tons)
  • Venezuelan transshipment (250 tons)

That’s 610 tons of cocaine. But let’s add two more, from the 2010 INCSR:

  • Panama’s 2009 interdiction (52 tons)
  • Ecuador’s 2009 interdiction (44 tons)

That gives a total of 706 tons of cocaine seized or transshipped from these six sources alone in 2009: more than 2 1/2 times the 270 tons that the INCSR estimates Colombia produced that year. If the State Department is right, these six statistics alone would account for all of the INCSR’s estimate of world cocaine production for 2009 (690-710 tons).

In other words, according to the INCSR, all cocaine produced in the world in 2009 was either seized in four countries (Colombia, the United States, Ecuador, and Panama), or it passed through Venezuela. This is obviously ridiculous.

There are some possible answers, but they are unlikely to make up for this huge statistical confusion:

  • Some cocaine seized in Colombia and elsewhere may have been produced from coca grown in Peru, and possibly Bolivia, which according to the INCSR produced 420-440 tons in 2009, much of which went to Brazil and Europe. Because of Colombia’s geographical position, it is the source of the vast majority of cocaine that actually gets shipped to, and consumed in, the United States.
  • Cocaine seizure numbers may be inflated because the product may be less than pure – narcotraffickers “cut” the product with other substances (baking soda, sugars, other drugs) in order to stretch their supplies, and the seizure statistics may be counting the weight of these fillers. However, most of this “cutting” occurs after the product reaches the United States, as international smugglers are unlikely to waste scarce weight and volume.
  • Some of the seizure volume could be stockpiles of cocaine from previous years. It’s unlikely – there is very little evidence that cocaine traffickers maintain stockpiles to overcome supply volatility – but not impossible that stockpiles might increase total cocaine supplies by a small amount.

These are likely only very partial explanations for the numbers not adding up. The State Department needs to clear up the strong and erroneous impression its report leaves: that every last bit of cocaine produced these days is either seized before it reaches users, or passes through Venezuela.

*Isacson is a Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office on Latin America.

    share icon icon icon

    Was this content helpful?

    We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

    DONATE

    What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

    We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

    Was this content helpful?

    We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

    DONATE

    Related Content

    COLOMBIA / 29 MAY 2011

    A group of U.S. and Colombian think tanks found little progress in Tumaco, a region on Colombia's Pacific…

    COLOMBIA / 26 OCT 2011

    The Washington Post argues that Mexico's policy of deploying the military to address violence and insecurity has taken the…

    COLOMBIA / 15 APR 2011

    From Colombia there is news of the latest feud over security issues between President Juan Manuel Santos and high ranking…

    About InSight Crime

    THE ORGANIZATION

    Apure Investigation Makes Headlines

    22 OCT 2021

    InSight Crime’s investigation into the battle for the Venezuelan border state of Apure resonated in both Colombian and Venezuelan media. A dozen outlets picked up the report, including Venezuela’s…

    THE ORGANIZATION

    InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

    15 OCT 2021

    In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

    THE ORGANIZATION

    InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

    8 OCT 2021

    In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

    THE ORGANIZATION

    Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

    1 OCT 2021

    InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

    THE ORGANIZATION

    Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

    24 SEP 2021

    At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.