(Washington, D.C.)The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released the following statement regarding the annual survey of coca cultivation in Colombia:
The results of the 2006 U.S. Government survey of cultivation in Colombia indicate that statistically there was no change in the amount of coca being grown between 2005 and 2006. The 2006 coca cultivation estimate is subject to a 90 percent confidence interval of between 125,800 and 179,500 hectares. The 90 percent confidence interval for the 2005 estimate was between 127,800 and 160,800 hectares. The significant overlap between the two years’ estimates means that it is not possible to infer year-to-year trend information.
The survey estimates that there were 157,200 hectares under cultivation, an increase of 13,000 hectares from the 2005 estimate, subject to the confidence limitations described above. The 2006 area surveyed increased by 19 percent compared with 2005, and almost all of the increase was identified in these newly surveyed areas. Because they had not been previously surveyed, it is not possible to know with certainty if the coca found in these areas is in fact newly planted and had not been producing for a period of time.
Rapid crop reconstitution, a move to smaller plots, and the discovery of previously unsurveyed coca growing areas, have posed major challenges to the techniques and methodologies used to understand Colombia’s coca cultivation and cocaine output. After losing one-third of the estimated coca cultivation to herbicidal spraying between 2001 and 2004, traffickers and growers implemented the widespread use of techniques such as radical pruning and replanting from seedlings. Such countermeasures result in crops that are initially unproductive or significantly less productive than mature fields. Yet, when surveying a field, it is impossible to know with certainty whether it is a mature, productive field, or a field which has been sprayed with glyphosate, and then pruned or replanted. Moreover, farmers appear to be focusing on expanding cultivation into areas off-limits to the spray program, such as national parks and the area along the border with Ecuador, where Colombia suspended spraying in 2006 due to protests from the Ecuadorian government. Building on joint research aimed at understanding the yield of the coca bush, the U.S. Government and the Government of Colombia will work in advance of next year’s estimate to better reflect the impact of coca eradication on cultivation estimates and estimates of the output of finished cocaine.
Colombia’s anti-drug efforts have also affected the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), a terrorist organization that depends on drug trafficking, kidnapping, and theft to sustain itself. According to a U.S. government study, FARC drug profits declined from $90150 million in 2003 to $60–115 million in 2005. The FARC’s overall profit per kilogram of cocaine declined from a range of $320460 in 2003 to $195320 in 2005. Coca eradication and other activities drove up FARC costs related to its drug activities, particularly the cost of buying cocaine products from farmers and producers.
FARC rebels trained and equipped to shoot down unarmed spray planes have required the deployment of armed security helicopters and search and rescue aircraft in the vicinity of spray operations. FARC forces protect growers who cooperate with them, and force others to grow; some press reports suggest that the FARC has used the threat of physical harm to coerce some indigenous populations to cultivate coca. Strengthening their control over the population through economic dependency they ensure a monopoly on coca leaf sales while isolating farmers from Colombia’s democratic government and free economy.
To address these challenges, and to support the Government of Colombia’s efforts to liberate its people from the domination of illegal armed groups, the U.S. Government, working with the GOC, is shifting the focus of its aerial eradication in coordination with Colombian civil and military efforts to target the areas of most intensive coca cultivation. Complementing Colombia’s Democratic Security Strategy, which seeks to bring security, as well as increased availability of health care, transportation, justice and education services to isolated parts of the country, the U.S. Government will seek to work with the Government of Colombia to increase the tempo of spraying, to help counter the growing tendency toward pruning and replanting.