Thursday, July 26, 2012

Colombia Sees First Expansion in Coca Crops in 5 Years

The area under coca cultivation in Colombia has increased slightly for the first time in five years, according to the latest UN report.

The international body reports that the area of coca crops rose to 64,000 hectares in 2011, up 3 percent from 62,000 the previous year. The UN said that this meant the overall picture was “stable.”

Some 62 percent of coca cultivation took place in the provinces of Nariño, Putumayo, Cauca and Guaviare. The first three sit in the southwest, close to the Pacific coast and the Ecuadorian border, while Guaviare is in the jungle interior of the country, southeast of Bogota. The biggest growth in cultivation was in Putumayo and the neighboring province in Caqueta, which together saw a rise of 80 percent to 13,280 hectares.

Despite the increased area under cultivation, the country’s potential cocaine production dropped slightly to 345 tons from 350, as the yield per hectare is down. This is likely due to farmers using less fertilizer and other chemical aids.

As the Miami Herald notes, the report found that 23 percent of the country’s coca crops are close to the borders with Venezuela and Ecuador, “where national parks, indigenous reserves and bilateral treaties have hampered aerial fumigation efforts.”

At a press conference in Bogota, a representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said that it would not be known whether Peru was ahead of Colombia in cocaine and coca leaf production until August, when that country’s coca survey is released, reports the LA Times.

The Colombian figures were revealed last month by newspaper El Tiempo, which reported that the publication of the survey was delayed because the government and anti-organized crime bodies asked the UN to review their analysis, particularly for Putumayo.

As InSight Crime noted, the UN figures will be politically problematic for the administration of Juan Manuel Santos, as they back criticisms of the government being made most forcefully by former President Alvaro Uribe, who says that Santos is letting security in the country slide.

In response to the UN report, the government has announced a new plan to combat the replanting of coca crops, to be launched Friday by the Ministry of Defense, reports El Tiempo. This will focus on the province of Tumaco, in Nariño, which has the highest coca concentration of any municipality. The strategy will involve stationing the security forces in an area during and after eradication, and putting in place food security and development projects to make the eradication of the crop last. The rate of replanting is currently some 55 percent, according to the UN figures.

News Briefs

  • Cuba’s National Assembly met on Monday and approved plans for further liberalization of the economy, which will allow the formation of private, worker-owned cooperatives in sectors outside of agriculture. The scheme will begin with 222 pilot cooperatives, which will be allowed to operate in sectors including food services, transport, and “personal services,” reports EFE. The government will invest some $100 million in helping them get set up. President Raul Castro said that this would allow the government to move out of managing these sectors, and concentrate on the “fundamental means of production.” Economy czar Marino Murilla warned that “The most important part of our economy will be the socialist state enterprise. Don’t think that all of a sudden the private-sector workers will generate $40 billion, $50 billion in GDP,” reports the AP. The moves are a continuation of Castro’s economic reforms, which have already meant that 390,000 Cubans are now self-employed, compared to around 233,000 in 2010, reports Bloomberg.
  • Also on Cuba, the Global Post asks whether the island can “bear another martyr,” in the wake of the death of dissident Oswaldo Paya in a car crash. Ofelia Acevedo, Paya’s widow, reportedly told press that a friend told her one of those caught in the incident had sent messages saying the car crashed after being repeated rammed by another vehicle, reports the Miami Herald. The newspaper says, however, that Spanish media have reported that the man driving said he had failed to slow down at a curve, and hit a tree. The BBC has an interview with a boxer who defected from the island in 1996, who describes his struggles and suicidal feelings after leaving his homeland. Professional boxing is banned in Cuba due to the high risk of injury.
  • The Associated Press reports that Paraguay’s new president is doing surprisingly well, following his controversial ascent to power through the widely-criticized impeachment of predecessor and former ally Fernando Lugo. In his first five weeks in office, Federico Franco “has racked up accomplishments past administrations had tried but failed to implement, such as advancing land reform and pushing the country’s first personal income tax.”
  • The fallout from Mexico’s presidential elections continues, with second-place candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador threatening to release the names of more than 4,000 people who sold their votes to the winning PRI party, reports the AP.
  • Venezuela Politics and Human Rights looks at the work of the country’s Ministry of Penitentiary Services, a year on from its creation. It was established in response to the month-long stand-off in El Rodeo prison, and congresswoman Iris Varela "with a reputation for fistfights more than negotiation" was put at its head. The blog notes that the crises in the prison system have continued unabated since then, with 20 percent more inmates dying in 2011 than in 2010, and deadly conflicts breaking out in Caracas’ La Planta and in a prison in Merida state.
  • In the Arauca province of northeast Colombia, police say that a journalist and an environmental engineer abducted from their homes in the town of Saravena on Tuesday may have been taken by the ELN rebel group, as the Latin American Herald Tribune reports. The two women were being employed as contractors by companies building an oil pipeline in the area. On the other side of the country, the FARC rebels released a statement saying they were prepared to release two helicopter pilots who were kidnapped in Cauca after their helicopter crashed there on June 10, reports Colombia Reports.
  • In Brazil, indigenous groups in the Amazon have taken hostage three engineers who are working on the Belo Monte dam. The WSJ reports that the engineers had met with the tribes for talks on how to mitigate the environmental impact of the project, but have been prevented from leaving as their proposals were unsatisfactory to the groups.
  • Venezuela has deported drug lord “Diego Rastrojo,” a leader of the Rastrojos gang, to Colombia, after capturing him on June 3, reports the AP. Meanwhile, InSight Crime lists five potential game-changers in the trial of Walid Makled, a Venezuelan drug kingpin who the Colombian authorities opted to extradite to his home country instead of the US, despite his claims to have evidence of his ties to the Venezuelan military and government.
  • In part 4 of their series on Peru’s drug trade, IDL-Reporteros reports that the use of “backpackers” -- individuals carrying loads of cocaine on their backs -- has been significantly reduced as a method of trafficking drugs out of the VRAE region. Some 80 percent of the drugs that exit the region through Cusco is now carried in vehicles. With map showing the routes for cocaine leaving the country, much of it going to Bolivia.
  • Rio Real reports that city authorities say investigators have found no evidence for the theory that a pacifying police officer (UPP) who was shot dead Monday was killed in reprisal for the kidnapping of a drug traffickers’ wife. Rio’s public security authorities say the attack was part of a strategy of intimidation against the occupying police force in Complexo do Alemao. Rio Real notes that “in the context of pacification police arrests for corruption this year, it’s not hard to believe in conspiracy theories.”
  • InSight Crime says that El Salvador should take note of the failings of Colombia’s paramilitary demobilization, as it moves ahead with a peace deal with its "mara" gangs.

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