US anti-drug officials reportedly believe Colombia's coca cultivation will continue to increase significantly this year, a trend that is likely to continue so long as conditions for coca farmers remain unchanged.
Jorgan Andrews, the head of the narcotics section at the US Embassy in Bogota, told the Washington Post that coca cultivation is expected to continue rising dramatically in Colombia.
According to a report released earlier this year by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Colombia already saw coca cultivation increase by 44 percent between 2013 and 2014, the last year for which figures are available. As a result of this development, Colombia has now surpassed Peru as the world's largest cultivator of coca.
Andrews also told the Washington Post that rising coca cultivation is apparently linked to peace talks with Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In anticipation of peace, the guerrillas are looking to generate as much revenue as they can before they have to give up the drug trade. And if peace talks collapse, they'll be in a good position to continue funding their insurgency, Andrews added.
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Andrews' comments imply that in some sense, the US has a pessimistic outlook when it comes to Colombia's coca production -- one that is undeniably rooted in reality. Arguably, some could interpret the rise in coca production as undermining US investment in curtailing Colombia's drug trade, given the more than $9 billion that the US has spent on Plan Colombia -- a program aimed at combating drug traffickers and left-wing insurgent groups.-- since 2000.
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Colombia's decision to halt aerial fumigation of coca crops -- due to concerns over potential health risks -- will also likely contribute to the expected rise in coca cultivation.
Nevertheless, policymakers would do well not to fixate on coca cultivation numbers as the primary indicator of progress against Colombia's drug trade. Notably, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) still considers Mexican cartels, not Colombian, to be the most important threat facing the US.
The US would do well to continue partnering with Colombia in taking a more long-term view of anti-drug policy -- ultimately, coca farmers will not give up the trade, so long as market forces make coca more profitable and appealing than other livelihoods. The Colombian government plans to entice farmers away from coca with alternative crops and development programs, but this will take years. As a result, in the short-term, Colombia's coca cultivation may simply continue to rise.