Colombia is set to miss its 2013 coca eradication target by a considerable margin, largely due to actions by FARC guerrillas who target spray planes, leave booby traps to kill or maim eradicators, and pressure local communities into blocking access to coca fields.
So far this year, manual eradication has destroyed 17,000 hectares of coca -- less than half the 35,000 hectare target -- while aerial fumigation has destroyed 70,000 hectares, against a target of 100,000 hectares, reported El Tiempo.
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The failure to reach the aerial fumigation target comes after spray planes were grounded for two months after two aircraft came under ground fire while flying though territory controlled by the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in September. La Silla Vacia reported that the United States is carrying out a security review in the wake of the two planes crashes, which killed one US pilot and injured another.
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The decline in manual eradication is in part the result of guerrilla tactics in the coca growing areas. InSight Crime field research in the southern department of Putumayo found that local communities were blocking eradication teams and their security force escorts by forming human shields around coca fields, as well as preventing helicopters carrying troops and eradicators from landing by running around the landing sites.
The news that both manual and aerial eradication have dropped considerably means that a year after reporting a 25 percent decrease in cultivated hectares between 2011 and 2012, Colombia may see a rise in the amount of coca produced recorded in the next report.
The news will provide ammunition for the country's right-wing political opposition, which has accused President Juan Manuel Santos of going soft on security. This is a particularly sensitive moment for the government, which has just begun a new phase of peace negotiations with the FARC, discussing the drug trade, even as the campaign for next year's presidential and congressional elections gets under way.
The news from Colombia stands in contrast to the region's other two coca producing nations. In Peru, the government reported surpassing its 2013 eradication goals, while Bolivia was earlier this year reported to be on track to exceed its 2012 eradication figures. Nevertheless, despite both Peru and Bolivia reporting positive results, their eradication efforts continue to fall far below those of Colombia, a particularly significant fact given Peru is now the world's principal cocaine producer.