Tuesday, June 24, 2014

UN: Bolivia’s Coca Crop Drops to 12-Year Low

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has released its latest survey of coca cultivation in Bolivia, which finds that the amount of coca grown in the country has fallen for the third straight year.

As La Razon and the Wall Street Journal report, coca leaf cultivation in Bolivia fell by 9 percent last year compared to 2012, and now stands at around 23,000 hectares (56,800 acres). The figure is the lowest level recorded by the UNODC since 2002, and represents a 26 percent drop since 2010.

The Bolivian government has attributed the reduction to its unorthodox approach to coca cultivation, which relies on a mix of regulation of legal crop quotas and eradication of surplus and illicit plots. Praising what he called a “record” drop, President Evo Morales noted that the country is on track to meet its goal of reducing coca cultivation to 20,000 hectares (49,420 acres) by 2015, and even suggested the benchmark could be met ahead of schedule.

However, just because the total area used to grow coca has fallen does not necessarily mean cocaine production in Bolivia has decreased. As the Associated Press notes, the UNODC does not estimate potential cocaine production based on its coca cultivation observations. The omission is important, because reports suggest the methods used to make cocaine in the country are increasingly becoming more advanced, relying less on open air maceration pits and more on sophisticated labs. As a result, a greater concentration of cocaine alkaloids can be extracted using less raw coca.

Still, estimating total cocaine production is an inexact science at best. The most well-known estimates come from the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has asserted that Bolivia’s potential cocaine production increased since 2006 even though the amount of coca grown there has fallen.

But the accuracy of the ONDCP figures is doubtful. As the Andean Information Network pointed out, last year the office quietly readjusted its estimates of Bolivia’s cocaine production potential for 2011 -- dropping it to 190 metric tons from 265 -- after its methodology was questioned by independent analysts.  No explanation was given for this modification, nor for retroactive decreases made to ONDCP estimates of the previous five years, potentially amounting to a tacit admission that they were inflated.

News Briefs
  • On Monday, Argentina took a first step towards negotiating with hold-out creditors, asking a U.S. judge to put a stay on his ruling against the country in order to allow it to make a June 30 payment on its restructured debt. And in a signal that talks will soon be underway, the WSJ reports that the judge appointed a lawyer to oversee negotiations. The move comes in the wake of a concerted media effort by Argentina over the weekend to promote its version of the case, in which the government took out full page ads in major U.S. papers to warn that “paying the vulture funds is a path leading to default.” James Bosworth points out that this represents a slight but significant shift in rhetoric for the Argentine government.
  • Venezuelan opposition figure Maria Corina Machado, who was recently questioned by authorities over an investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate President Nicolas Maduro, has been barred from leaving the country. Machado is a vocal critic of the government, and earlier this year conducted an international tour in which she spoke out against alleged corruption and police abuses against protesters.
  • Yesterday a FIFA disciplinary committee dismissed allegations of discrimination levied against Mexican fans for yelling a widely-used anti-gay slur at World Cup matches, finding that it was not “considered insulting in this specific context.” As Animal Politco reports, Mexico’s National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination (Conapred), issued a statement arguing that the use of the word reflected widespread homophobia, machismo and misogyny prevalent in Mexican society.
  • The Guardian takes a look at Lima’s “Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion,” a museum dedicated to commemorate victims in its armed conflict, noting that conservative sectors and the military have strongly objected to accounts of the violence that point to abuses committed by security forces.
  • According to a new report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of refugees and internally displaced people has topped 50 million “for the first time in the post-World War II era.” While the number of those displaced in Colombia has fallen, the UNHCR finds that its internally displaced population is second only to Syria, at 5.3 million.
  • The International Crisis Group (ICG) has released a report on violence along the Guatemala-Honduras border, offering a timely look at the kind of violence in Central America that is partially fueling a surge in undocumented immigration to the U.S. from the region. As an InSight Crime analysis points out, one interesting finding of the ICG report is its assertion that an increased crackdown on trafficking and the declining U.S. market for cocaine over the last decade has meant that smuggling networks have had to adopt more cutthroat methods of competition.
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has announced yet another cabinet-shakeup as his approval rating sunk to a new low of 21 percent, Reuters reports. According to El Comercio, Humala appointed new ministers of interior, foreign relations and transportation and communication yesterday. Daniel Urresti, who previously oversaw efforts to rein in illegal mining, will serve as the president’s sixth interior minister since taking office in July 2011. 
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero looks at the arrival of over 200,000 Spanish-speaking Latin American fans to the World Cup in Brazil, even more than the number of U.S. ticketholders. While many visitors are having to cut costs on food and lodging to adjust to steep prices in places like Rio de Janeiro, their presence alone points to the  steady emergence of a small but economically empowered middle class in Latin America.
  • The Miami Herald reports on Brazil’s attempts to promote sustainable tourism during the World Cup, a move that has earned praise from some environmentalist groups.  
  • According to Uruguay’s El Pais, some there have taken advantage of the marijuana law starting to go into effect last month to legally register the first-ever marijuana growing cooperative in the country, one of three forms of cannabis cultivation authorized under the law. The group has registered with the Ministry of Culture, a preliminary step before it can obtain a license from the Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) to begin growing and harvesting the drug. 

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