Q: The United Nations in mid-July released a survey saying the area under coca cultivation in Colombia increased by 52 percent last year, to 146,000 hectares from 96,000 hectares in 2015, the highest level in two decades. As part of the peace deal signed late last year between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel group, the parties are supposed to work together to help wean Colombian farmers off growing coca. Why is coca cultivation on the rise in Colombia? How does increased coca cultivation affect the implementation of the peace accord? What demand-related factors in the United States, Europe and elsewhere are driving the amount of land under coca cultivation in South America?
A: Barry R. McCaffrey, president of BR McCaffrey Associates, a retired U.S. Army four-star general and former director of the White House Ofﬁ ce of National Drug Control Policy: “Colombia is on the edge. The people have enormous courage and strong conﬁ dence in the armed forces and the Colombian National Police. There is little trust in President Santos (who has a less than 30 percent approval rating). The huge majority of Colombians view the FARC as monsters that are a continuing threat under the peace process that was rejected in a plebiscite last October. The poisonous fuel that runs the FARC is drug money. Coca production is up 52 percent since last year—the highest in 30 years at more than 954 tons. Colombian production is now greater than Peru and Bolivia combined. The direct reason is cessation of aerial fumigation, which worked to strengthen the government control efforts and reduce casualties among the counter drug police. U.S. cocaine consumption is down dramatically in the last decade but growing in Latin American and other parts of the world. (But this is not good news for the United States, which has replaced cocaine with opioids and meth.) Cocaine prices are up. Drugs will always pay more than legitimate farming will, because of market forces. The FARC will continue to be directly involved as a cartel to drug production. Elements of the FARC will not disarm. The 26 demilitarized zones will likely turn into
FARC-protected base areas. The United States under President Trump will slash foreign aid by 37 percent, and there will be no Marshall Plan like the Clinton administration’s ‘Plan Colombia’ of 1999. Pray for peace. Back the security forces.”