Colombia Cocaine Output Soars to Clinton-Era Peaks, Defying U.S.

(Bloomberg) -- Colombia’s cocaine production has never been higher, surpassing levels seen before U.S. President Bill Clinton launched the Plan Colombia counter-narcotics program.

The amount of land planted with coca shrubs rose 17 percent to 171,000 hectares last year, enough raw material to produce 1,379 tons of cocaine, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said Wednesday. That’s more than triple the output five years ago.

Colombia Cocaine Output Soars to Clinton-Era Peaks, Defying U.S.

Coca output now surpasses the previous record of 163,000 hectares in 2000, the year Plan Colombia started. The U.S. has given Colombia more than $10 billion in aid over that period, more than to any other country outside the Middle East and Asia.

Plan Colombia didn’t change conditions in the country’s cocaine producing regions, which suffer from an absence of the state, land titles, roads or legal economic opportunities, said Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.

“The reasons farmers resorted to growing coca didn’t go away as a result of $10 billion in U.S. aid,” Isacson said in response to written questions.

A 38 percent slump in world coffee prices since the start of 2017 has also led some farmers to switch to coca.

The recent rise in cocaine production has undermined the peace process with Marxist rebels as the private armies of drug traffickers moved into former guerrilla zones to take control of cocaine profits, stoking a new wave of violence. It also soured relations between Bogota and Washington, though the government of President Ivan Duque, who took office last month, is putting greater emphasis on policies favored by the Donald Trump administration such as forcible eradication, and less on voluntary crop substitution programs.

Virtually all of the world’s cocaine comes from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, with Colombia producing more than half the total. The U.S. has provided aid to Colombia for at least six decades, with this being dramatically stepped up under Plan Colombia.

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