Tuesday, July 31, 2012

White House Cocaine Production Data Differs Sharply from UN

In remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) R. Gil Kerlikowske shared new data about shifting cocaine production trends in the Andes.

In 2011, Colombia saw its potential cocaine production fall 25 percent from 2011, representing a 72 percent from since 2001. This means that Colombia is now producing less cocaine than Bolivia or Peru for the first time since 1995, Kerlikowske said.

The ONDCP’s complete statement on its official findings is available on its website.

As the LA Times observes, one of the most significant implications of the White House data is that Peru is now considered the world’s largest producer of cocaine. According to the White House estimates, last year Peru’s total cocaine production reached 358 tons, compared to Bolivia’s 292 tons and Colombia’s 215 tons. Such figures appear to suggest that the “balloon” effect is being felt strongly in the Andes, as dropping cocaine production in Colombia is compensated by rising rates in Peru.

Bloggings by Boz notes that if the US figures are to believed, this is a largely positive outcome for Colombia, although explaining this trend is more difficult. “It's good news there is less cocaine production in Colombia and there is less cocaine abuse in the US. Getting to the causal reasons as to why those things occurred is a tough discussion,” Boz writes.

Notably, the White House numbers differ sharply from those released last week by the United Nations. The UN found that Colombia’s potential cocaine production output is at around 345 tons. As Adam Isacson at Just the Facts points out, this is a divergence of 77 percent, published within just five days or each other.

The UN and US also presented sharply different findings on whether Colombia’s coca production is going up or down. The UN found that the total area under coca cultivation actually increased for the first time in five years. According to El Tiempo, the White House reportedly found that the total number of hectares under coca cultivation actually decreased by 17 percent.

US Ambassador Michael McKinley told El Tiempo that the White House figures have “95 percent” accuracy. Another spokesperson for the Office of National Drug Control Policy told El Tiempo  that the US used superior technology to collect its data, which is more capable of detecting disperse coca cultivations.

The UN and White House data have rarely coincided closely in the past. But the fact that both sets of numbers point to such different trends may indicate that it is becoming more difficult to come to a realistic assessment of what regional coca and cocaine production actually looks like. Both the UN and the US primarily rely on data and imagery collected by satellites to form the basis of these reports. But the satellite technology cannot accurately measure small plots of coca of just a few hectares. And increasingly, coca is being cultivated in Colombia in tiny plots, or hidden among larger crops, making it more difficult to be detected by satellite.

News Briefs
  • Tuesday, Venezuela becomes a full member of Mercosur. The country that had previously blocked Venezuela from gaining full membership, Paraguay, was suspended from the trade bloc earlier this month, opening the way for Venezuela’s entry. Brazilian economist Celso Grisi told the AFP that the admission had more to do with “ideological” rather than “economic” reasons, a view apparently echoed by Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who spoke positively about Venezuela’s entry, but admitted there were “political considerations” involved. Mercopress reports that while Mercosur convenes in Brasilia, Mujica will likely focus on “other issues” besides Venezuela’s new membership, including several energy agreements. Analysis by Reuters notes that the decision to allow Venezuela’s entry could fuel further criticism that Mercosur “has become little more than a political club for left-leaning leaders who harbor ambitions of Latin American unity.”
  • As the BBC reports, President Hugo Chavez’s trip to Brasilia for the Mercosur summit is his “first official trip abroad” since his cancer diagnosis last year. Chavez praised Venezuela’s entry into the trading bloc, even as a leader of Venezuela’s main farming association told the AP that he worried what an influx of cheap goods from Argentina and Brazil could do to the Venezuelan economy. At the top of Venezuela’s Mercosur agenda, Chavez said that he expected to begin talks with Argentina and Brazil about a new energy alliance, reports Mercopress.
  • Brazil and Ecuador have expressed willingness to help Haiti set up a new army, reports Reuters. One unidentified spokesperson for Brazil’s defense ministry told the news agency that Brazil is preparing to send an assessment team to Haiti, and has pledged to provide training and other support for the new military force. President Michael Martelly made reviving the army a key promise of his presidential campaign, saying that an army would be necessary to replace the UN peacekeeping force and to help battle organized crime.  But he later backtracked from his pledge amid concerns from US and UN officials that it could undermine efforts to build up an effective civilian police force. 
  • Colombian guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) claimed responsibility for kidnapping two oil sector workers in Eastern Colombia. While the ELN currently has a formal alliance with rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which promised earlier this year to cease all kidnapping, the ELN has made no such public pledge. 
  • Puerto Rico signed a new penal code which increases prison sentences for homicide and other crimes, reports the AP. The tougher legislation comes after the US island territory registered a record number of homicides last year. 
  • Nightclub owner Henry Farinas, who drove the vehicle in which Argentine folk singer Facundo Cabral was shot and killed last year in Guatemala, has been charged with laundering over $1 billion in drug money in Nicaragua. Farinas is being charged alongside Costa Rican Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez in a case that has already revealed an intricate drug trafficking network in Central America. 
  • McClatchy with a feature on US gamblers that have found safe-haven in Costa Rica, after the US enforced tougher legislation against online poker playing. 
  • Activists in Mexico have protested against the burial of unidentified bodies in unmarked graves. 
  • The LA Times World Now blog reports that the closing of a Church-run migrant shelter in Tultitlan, Mexico, led a local priest to open a makeshift shelter of tents for the primarily Central American migrants. The closing of the migrant shelter is indicative of a larger trend in which migrants have little support other than Church volunteers. 
  • A Newsweek essay by Colombian novelist Hector Abad affectionately describes life in Medellin, Colombia.

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