Washington, DC: After years of progress in combating coca cultivation and cocaine production, Colombia is once again the world’s largest producer of cocaine and is the origin of approximately 90 percent of the cocaine seized in the United States, according to the DEA Cocaine Signature Program.
This was underscored by William R. Brownfield, the US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in his testimony before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues here this past Wednesday (2 August 2017).
The Assistant Secretary pointed out that between 2013 and 2016, coca cultivation in Colombia increased by more than 130 percent, from 80,500 hecatres (ha) in 2013 to 188,000 ha in 2016. Perhaps more troubling, pure potential cocaine production surged by more than 200 percent in the same time period, from 235 metric tons produced in 2013 to 710 metric tons in 2016.
Brownfield said: “At a time when the Colombian government is implementing a peace accord that promises to keep the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) off the battlefield and out of the illicit economy, we have a limited window of opportunity to roll back the recent troubling narcotics trends that threaten the safety and health of citizens here in the United States as well as in Colombia and throughout the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”
Brownfield said since 2000, the United States has invested more than $10 billion to improve citizen security, disrupt the drug trade, and combat criminal networks to advance peace and prosperity. Correspondingly since 2002, homicides in Colombia also have fallen by more than 50 percent and kidnappings have dropped by 90 percent; in 2016, Colombia had its lowest reported homicide rate in 40 years.
Brownfield also presented an alarming picture by stating that cocaine use and overdose deaths in the United States also are on the rise. Following a dramatic decline in cocaine overdose-related deaths in the United States since 2006, this figure has steadily increased since 2012, reaching 6,784 overdose-related deaths in 2015, the highest on record since 2006.
This surge is due to multiple factors, Brownfield said adding these include Colombia’s decision in 2015 to end the U.S.-supported aerial coca eradication program as well as counter-eradication techniques implemented by coca growers. The dramatic increase in coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia is deeply concerning, he observed.
The Colombian government has been a steadfast partner of the US in the fight against crime and narcotics since before the start of Plan Colombia in 1999. Achieving the shared goals will not be easy, nor quick, Brownfield said expressing confidence that that the US and Columboa will continue to effectively work together to tackle the considerable challenges.
The US Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and law enforcement testified on counter-narcotics efforts in Colombia after the peace agreement. Implementation of an effective counter-narcotics plan for Colombia is more important now than ever, he asserted.