Combatting Cocaine Production in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

The coca plant is native to the Andes. Its bush has been cultivated and traditionally consumed by locals for centuries. Many products and the leaves themselves can be legally purchased in Peru and Bolivia.

However, coca leaves are also the raw material for the production of cocaine. As a result, Peru, Colombia and Bolivia are the three largest illegal cocaine producing countries in the world.

According to the UNODC World Drug Report 2012 there has been an overall decline in global production of cocaine between 2006-2010. This was in part due to the reduction of coca bush cultivation in Colombia. In spite of this, the report also underlines that in the same period coca bush cultivation and cocaine production has increased in Bolivia and Peru.

Destroying coca plants in the lush mountains in Medellin, Colombia. Photo by Viewpress. Copyright Demotix (05/30/2012)

Destroying coca plants in the lush mountains in Medellin, Colombia. Photo by Viewpress. Copyright Demotix (05/30/2012)

Drug production and trafficking is a major issue in Latin America that governments are constantly trying to deal with. And at last April’s Summit of the Americas, many were of the opinion that the US-led war on drugs has failed.

Plan Colombia

Ricardo Vargas, a TNI researcher [es] and a leading expert in drug trafficking in Colombia, states that the Plan Colombia, the anti-drug strategy funded by the US, spent more than 8 billion US dollars in strenghthening the army and conducting military actions against insurgent groups linked to drug trafficking.

Vargas argued in an interview that beyond violence:

El gran problema es que la oferta y el tráfico son los grandes temas ausentes en estos debates. Y Colombia es un país básicamente de producción, de procesamiento y de tráfico. Lo que quiere decir que el país aún no ha entrado a analizar a fondo la dimensión más importante que le compete. Con el agravante de que la dimensión de la oferta y el tráfico termina siendo reemplazado por un tema de seguridad.

The big issue is that supply and trafficking are major topics absent in these debates. Colombia is mainly a producing, processing and trafficking country, which means that the country still has not begun to analyse in-depth the most important dimension of its competence. With the added dimension that supply and trafficking ends up being replaced by security concerns.

Bolivia's new ecological battalion

Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, recently declared that drug trafficking is one of the major challenges and also announced a new Ecological battalion, a task force that aims to prevent illegal coca cultivation in National Parks.

However, journalist and blogger based in La Paz Andres Gomez claims a deep contradiction [es] in the president's discourse:

la ONU alertó que el 93 por ciento de la hoja de coca del Chapare se va al mercado ilegal (por no decir narcotráfico), e informó que en el país hay más de 30 mil hectáreas.

Recientemente, una investigación del Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación (CELIN) certificó que el país apenas requiere alrededor de 8 mil hectáreas para el consumo tradicional (acullicu y uso medicinal) de la hoja de coca. Según la Ley 1008, que todavía rige, en el país debiera haber apenas 12 mil hectáreas, pero hay más de 30 mil.

el presidente Morales reconoce que el narcotráfico es un problema para el gobierno de Bolivia, pero el presidente de las federaciones cocaleras, que es la misma persona, defiende la producción de sus bases, cuyo destino principal es el mercado ilegal.

(The) UN warned that 93 percent of the coca leaf from the Chapare region goes to the illegal market (not to say drugs), and reported that the country has more than 30 thousand hectares.

Recently, a Latin American Research (CELIN) investigation certified that the country only requires about 8 thousand hectares for traditional consumption (“chewing” and medicinal use) of the coca leaf. According to Law 1008, which still rules, in the country should have only 12 thousand hectares, but there are over 30 thousand.

President Morales acknowledges that drug trafficking is a problem for the government of Bolivia, but the president of the coca growers federation, which is the same person, defends the production of their unionised (coca), whose main market is the illegal one.

Peru, a traffic corridor

Since the year 2010 Peru, is the largest pure cocaine producer in the world. One of the major challenges for Peruvian authorities are the increasing number of cocaine trafficking roads.

According to analyst Alfredo Palacios Dongo, former Commander in Chief of the Peruvian Army, and owner of the blog Planteamientos Peru [es]:

Las rutas internacionales de la cocaína desde el Perú, además de hacia el corredor entre Centroamérica y México hasta EE UU, está aumentando sus envíos hacia Brasil, Argentina, Chile y Bolivia. […] Brasil, país con gran demanda de droga –segundo consumidor mundial con 11 millones de consumidores, después de EE UU, con 22,6 millones–, y que además tiene una epidemia de “crack”

International routes of cocaine from Peru, in addition to the corridor between Central America and Mexico to the US, is increasing its shipments to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.[…] Brazil, a country with high demand of drugs – second largest consumer with 11 million of consumers, only after the US with 22.6 million, and that also has the “crack” epidemic

Andean community and joint initiatives

The Andean Community is currently implementing the Anti-illicit Drugs Programme (PRADICAN), a European-funded project seeking to standarise statistical information about production, trafficking and consumption of drugs in the Andes, as well as coordinating the responses of member-states.

The Andean Community states [es] that an integral approach is needed, targeting primarily the following measures:

  • as a matter of priority, blocking the road used by drug dealers
  • trafficking “fase that generates the highest added value in the final price of drugs”,
  • reducing the access to supplies and chemical precursors
  • addressing the drug issue as a public health issue and not only as a violent war
  • joint actions in order to both cut off illegal funding streams and intelligence and early warning systems against drug trafficking networks.
ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.


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