Colombia has announced a new anti-drug strategy emphasizing manual eradication of coca crops, but it may not be enough to rein in the country's flourishing coca production.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said a core focus of the plan would be increasing manual coca eradication in light of Colombia's decision to cease fumigating the crops by air.
As a result, the government will increase the number of manual eradication teams from 16 to 60, reported El Tiempo.
The plan also involves creating at least four command hubs in coca-rich zones, where the armed forces will collaborate with other agencies responsible for development projects.
According to El Tiempo, the Ministry of Defense is still researching ways to continue aerial fumigation without using glyphosate, a herbicide that the World Health Organization (WHO) has said may cause cancer.
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Colombia is currently struggling with rising rates of coca cultivation and cocaine production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It is doubtful that plans to increase manual eradication are enough to reverse this trend.
Authorities have steadily increased their reliance on manual eradication versus fumigation over the past decade, as demonstrated by the chart below. However, in recent years they have been severely hindered by two obstacles; the landmines guerrilla groups and criminal organizations frequently plant around coca plantations, and mobilizations of coca growing communities preventing the advances of eradicators.
Infographic by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
In some ways, this new anti-drug strategy looks better suited for a post-conflict Colombia, in which the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who are the custodians of much of Colombia's coca, have committed to ceasing its involvement in the drug trade and helping to remove landmines. During the ongoing peace talks with the FARC, both the rebels and the government committed to a new drug policy that emphasizes manual eradication. The FARC and coca farmers have called for this agreement to be implemented even before the conflict has formally ended, and to some degree, that may already be happening.
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It is also possible this new strategy has less to do with appeasing the FARC and more to do with coming up with something -- anything -- that makes it look as though Colombia has a serious plan for slowing down cocaine production. But in this too, the government will likely fall short. Colombia generally produces less cocaine for every hectare of coca compared to Peru and Bolivia as its coca plants often do not reach full maturity. With aerial eradication out of the picture, Colombia's coca plants have a chance to mature fully, and next year may see the country's cocaine production rate go through the roof even without further increases in the number of hectares planted.